SANTA CLARA — Before the bye week, the 49ers answered the biggest question facing their new braintrust: Will they win a game? Now, the question is when the team will unveil its quarterback of the future.
The thinking goes, a team can’t trade a future second-round pick for someone who’s welcomed like a conquering hero, only to plant him on the bench. The Niners need to know what it has in Jimmy Garoppolo. He’s going to be a free agent after this season, and it’ll be decision-time then. Without game reps, how can the personnel department ensure it’s properly informed?
Yet, Kyle Shanahan remains unswayed.
“He just hasn’t been here long enough, and I think he’ll get an opportunity to be better each week. I don’t think we’re going to see Jimmy’s best football, to be fair to him, until next year because that’s what guys need,” Shanahan said Wednesday. “But C.J. did play his best football last week, which definitely, to me, made the decision easier.
There’s no reason to rush Garoppolo when he can learn a ton behind the scenes. Shanahan and General Manager John Lynch know his pedigree, they like him and fans shouldn’t be worried, they insist.
And in the near term, Shanahan doesn’t want to take another step backward in implementing his complex playbook. He’s already done that once this season, out of necessity, when Brian Hoyer proved incapable of playing the placeholder.
Another reboot means another delay for everyone on the team because, contrary to popular belief, Shanahan isn’t assessing just the quarterback position. He said he doesn’t want to scale back anything, and his Week 12 opponent has noticed an evolved approach, too.
“You can see the offense growing,” Seattle Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll said in a conference call on Wednesday. “You can see Kyle be able to expand and do more stuff. He’s an incredible offensive coordinator and play-caller that we’ve respected for a long time. I think they’ve just grown and they’re getting more proficient at what they’re doing.”
Shanahan said he announced his decision to start Beathard on Wednesday for two reasons: First, it would be exhausting to keep the will-they or won’t-they talk alive. Second, there’s no competitive disadvantage to picking one publicly when the two choices play a similar style.
Shanahan’s willingness to acknowledge the outside noise speaks to his familiarity with this situation.
In 2014, when he was the offensive coordinator for the Cleveland Browns — another team going through a seemingly endless rebuild — he was forced to draft and play Johnny Manziel before he was ready.
By coming to Santa Clara under the terms he did — with a six-year contract that allows him to be patient, and an empowering hand-picked general manager — Shanahan wasn’t going to allow mistakes of the past to repeat themselves.
He doesn’t care what anyone else might think about his assessment process. Shanahan is going to rebuild the Niners his way.