Jimmy Garoppolo will have that. To wit: if he plays out his contract, which the 49ers certainly hope he does, Jimmy G will earn $137.5 million over the next five seasons, the highest-paying contract in NFL history with an average annual value of $27.5 million.
So the question necessarily becomes, is he worth it? The answer, in a single multi-hyphenated word, is abso-freaking-lutely.
There’s no questioning the importance of the quarterback position. It’s nearly impossible to sustain playoff-level competitiveness without a very good one, and difficult to win a Super Bowl without a great one. The evidence is overwhelming.
The best evidence that Garoppolo is on that level is best expressed with another question: Did you watch this past season? Those of us who watched every snap of the 2017 49ers seem to be overwhelmingly in favor of this deal as a result of witnessing what can easily be described as the two different Niners teams we saw. If you’re concerned that your red-and-gold-colored glasses have impaired your vision, please allow me to confirm from a relative outsider’s perspective.
The first 49ers squad was a young, messy group that struggled to finish a win and required binoculars to find any bright spots; more or less what you would expect from a team at the beginning of a massive rebuild, sitting on more salary cap space than any other franchise in the league. The other was an exciting winner that played spoiler to some playoff plans and suddenly looked loaded with potential.
It wasn’t just his undefeated record, his confident play without much time to digest a complicated system or that spectacular NFL Turning Point video from the win over Tennessee. It was his leadership qualities.
“We saw the physical traits, but really what we learned in these last three months is what kind of person this guy is, and at that point we were full speed ahead on trying to get this done,” Lynch said Friday.
If you’re wondering, just what kind of person it is that this regime is looking for, Lynch gave us that too: “Do you love the game, absolutely… Do you have those innate skills that makes everyone else around you better? We saw that. Do you put your teammates before yourself? He did that. He kind of kept just checking the boxes. … There are qualities that the great players in this league share, and he demonstrated a lot. Was it a short sample size? Sure. But it was convincing.”
If you’re stuck on sample size or precious with the York coffers, there is more tangible, less aesthetic evidence to support the decision to splurge on a young signal-caller of Garoppolo’s ilk and experience (or lack thereof).
For one thing, his professionalism and leadership is not a locker room secret. After hearing his new teammates rave about him for three months, we got another out-front example in his measured, thoughtful comments at Friday’s presser. The man started by thanking the media “for coming out today,” for goodness sakes, and went on to thank the Yorks, Lynch, Coach Kyle Shanahan and his teammates before he even mentioned himself. He oozes class and consideration at the podium, matching the confidence and control he shows under center.
Add to that the fact that the 49ers have little to lose from a financial perspective — they had so much space to play with coming into the offseason that they are still more than capable of being a major player in free agency.
Lynch certainly sounded like a man who still intends to make things happen this offseason: “We’re going to be aggressively prudent … and do things that we feel are a fit and give us an opportunity to be a better organization. We’re going to make those moves. This takes up some of that room, but that was a trade-off we were happy to make, and we still have a lot left.”
Jimmy G’s run as the highest-paid player in NFL history is likely to be a short one. Past MVPs Aaron Rodgers and Matt Ryan are both in line for extensions, and both could easily exceed Garoppolo’s haul. Drew Brees could even draw a bigger annual value for next season.
Also consider the continuing narrative of franchise ownership, a tale that has verged on horror story at times over the past couple of decades but has taken a considerable turn for the better in the last year. Jed York was a pariah among the Faithful after he turned Jim Harbaugh into Jim Tomsula, but we’ve hardly heard from him since his hire of Lynch and Shanahan, and what we’ve heard about him is encouraging.
In the words of the GM, “You’ve let us do our work, you’ve supported us throughout. Any time I come to you and say, ‘What do you think?’ you say, ‘That’s why I hired you,” and you say the same thing to Kyle, so we can’t thank you enough.”
This deal is another reminder that York has empowered an active, intelligent front office and is staying the heck out of their way.
It really all comes back to where we started, though — quarterback is the most important position in all of sports, and if you believe you have a great one you simply must do whatever you can to retain him for as long as possible.
If you need a QB, you almost certainly have to gamble: either by spending starter money on someone who has mostly been a backup, or by committing valuable draft resources to the position. Great quarterbacks with a wealth of NFL experience don’t grow on trees, and when they grow at all they are usually cherished and protected.
John Lynch said it best in his opening remarks on Friday: “We all know it — this position’s key. If you don’t have one, you’re looking for one. We feel like we got our guy now, and we’re thrilled about that.”
If all it takes is a whole bunch of straight cash, homie, then those are bones well-spent.
Matt Kolsky is a sports media professional and lives with an aging Shih Tzu/Schnauser mix in Berkeley. You can hear him on 95.7 the Game, usually on weekends. You can listen to his podcast, The Toy Department, on iTunes or wherever fine podcasts are free. You can find him on Twitter @thekolsky, he will respond to most tweets that do not contain racial slurs.