SANTA CLARA, Calif. — Amid the rumors that Tom Brady was going to come home to wrap up his career with his childhood favorite team, the San Francisco 49ers, the idea never really gained traction with the two people who mattered most: coach Kyle Shanahan and general manager John Lynch.
But that doesn’t mean the Niners didn’t at least consider it. Briefly.
Speaking on “The Rich Eisen Show” on Tuesday morning, Lynch addressed for the first time the speculation that the Niners had strongly considered swapping out incumbent starter Jimmy Garoppolo for Brady, who grew up in nearby San Mateo and became an unrestricted free agent in March.
“When you’re talking about one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time with Tom Brady, of course you’re going to have some internal discussion,” Lynch told Eisen. “And then you hear rumors that hey, he’d like to come home, that kind of thing.
“So of course Kyle and I have discussions. We’re always into getting better, so you always look at everything, especially a situation like that. But within a day or two, Kyle and I looked at each other and said, ‘You know what, we really like what we have in Jimmy.’ We love everything that he brings and we really believe it’s a long-term answer. I would tell you we’re more convinced than ever about who our quarterback is in Jimmy Garoppolo.”
Lynch also revealed that even as he and Shanahan discussed the Brady alternative, they kept Garoppolo in the loop on their plans for him and let him know that he was going to be their guy moving forward.
Garoppolo started every game at quarterback for the Niners in 2019, the first time he’d done so for a full season in his career, and San Francisco won the NFC West division, won the NFC and came up just short of winning Super Bowl LIV.
Upon returning from a torn ACL in his left knee, Garoppolo threw for 3,978 yards (fourth most in a season in Niners history) and completed 69.1% of his passes in the regular season. He was also the only quarterback in the league to finish in the top five in the league in completion percentage, yards per attempt and passing touchdowns.
Garoppolo received criticism for his struggles in the final quarter of the Super Bowl as the Niners coughed up a 10-point lead to the Kansas City Chiefs. He had a QBR of 5.6 in the fourth quarter of that game, going 0-for-6 with an interception when under duress in the final 15 minutes. He also overthrew open receiver Emmanuel Sanders for a potential game-winning touchdown with about a minute and a half to go after the Chiefs had taken the lead.
The Super Bowl loss left some wondering whether the Niners could trade Garoppolo and sign Brady as the final step to get over the hump and win a Super Bowl.
The Niners, though, believe that Garoppolo has plenty of upside left, and they’ve already told him the ways they think he can improve.
“Every time, he puts [misses] on himself, and that’s what gives us a lot of confidence,” Lynch said. “And we have challenged him. … We think there’s places in his game where he can improve and the great thing is Jimmy embraces those, and we’re gonna try to get the best out of him. And we think he’s already been tremendous, so I would leave it with that. We’re as convicted as ever about him being our quarterback and leading this organization into the future.”
At February’s NFL scouting combine, Lynch gave Garoppolo a strong endorsement, and Shanahan did the same. The Brady rumors, however, kicked up after the combine and continued to linger until Brady narrowed his choices to the Los Angeles Chargers and Tampa Bay Buccaneers, before ultimately choosing the Bucs in mid-March.
Lynch and Shanahan had opportunities to squash those rumors, but Lynch explained why they chose not to, pointing out that just a week earlier they had signed off on Garoppolo. They also made sure Garoppolo wasn’t left questioning his standing as the rumors swirled.
“Kyle and I had just made a statement at the combine, stating how much we believed in Jimmy,” Lynch said. “Then these rumors come out. … If you start chasing every rumor out there and making a statement on it, then you are doing that all the time. Yes, this was a bigger one, but the important thing was we had talked to Jimmy and told him exactly what I told you.”