SANTA CLARA — In just three starts, Jimmy Garoppolo has put to rest most of the concerns that he was a product of small-sample-size success.
He will have bad starts, and the 49ers will lose games with him as quarterback, but Garoppolo has been able to do something that no one else has since Jim Harbaugh left the building: Jimmy G has the Faithful thinking playoffs.
Obviously, that won’t happen this year; starting 0-9 tends to do that. But after winning three straight — including one against a team in the playoff hunt — it’s not unreasonable to ratchet up expectations for 2018.
In true football coach fashion, head coach Kyle Shanahan said he’s going to take it day by day. When it’s time for the roster to take another major step forward in the offseason, he and general manager John Lynch will take care of it.
But even Shanahan has to admit that having a franchise quarterback, one capable of putting together a win streak, makes life easier for the foreseeable future.
“It makes it a lot more exciting going into the offseason, just because you can see [enthusiasm] in the players. … I don’t hear them talking about vacation or talking about what they’re going to do in January,” the first-year head coach said. “I see guys generally coming in excited to get the game plan and go to work, and I think that’s pretty unique from a group of guys when you’re out of the playoffs.”
Shanahan has been building his wish list for free agency and the draft as the season has progressed. But he’s not going to betray the long-term vision he’s been touting since arriving in Santa Clara.
“I look at the positions where I think we can get better and things like that,” he admitted Monday at the team facility. “You’ve got to look at what’s available each year, too. You don’t just go to the store and pick exactly what you want. You’ve got to see what’s available in free agency, what’s available in the draft.”
Shanahan’s patience is a reminder that he’s playing the long game and has no plans to change that, even if Garoppolo’s strong play has sped up the rebuilding clock.
There will be quality cornerbacks, offensive linemen and pass rushers available this offseason, and the Niners are in a great position to capitalize. Not only will they have a top-10 draft pick (that they could trade), but they’ll also have an estimated $117 million in cap space (the second-most in the league). This time around, San Francisco-ish will be a destination for promising players looking to take the next step in their careers.
Wide receivers are seeing Marquise Goodwin rack up 100-yard games and thinking about what Shanahan’s system with Garoppolo at the helm could do for their careers.
The tide changes quickly in the NFL. Look no further than the Jacksonville Jaguars, the 49ers’ opponent this Sunday. And the Faithful have the New England Patriots to thank.
“They’re definitely they’re on my good side right now,” Shanahan said.