In a league where the last two decades have been defined by recurring Super Bowl appearances from names like Tom Brady and Ben Roethlisberger, most quarterbacks are under tremendous pressure to live up to expectations and prove their worth as “franchise” material.
No starting QB might be under more pressure entering 2019, however, than Jimmy Garoppolo.
Nearly two years after he was acquired via trade by the San Francisco 49ers and anointed “the guy” with a $137.5 million contract, the 27-year-old signal-caller has just eight starts to show for what’s now the seventh largest annual salary in the NFL. Not only is the former Tom Brady backup still tasked with emerging from the shadow of one of the greatest QBs to ever play the game, but he’s set to open Year Three of the Kyle Shanahan regime with only 12 touchdowns, eight picks and a torn ACL under his belt in San Fran.
Aside from Carson Wentz and Derek Carr, he’s the only QB among the top 10 highest-paid at the position to start zero playoff games. Despite two Super Bowl rings he won behind Brady, he’s also the only player in the top 30 highest-paid players across all positions to never appear in the postseason. With a potential 2020 out in his big-money deal, it’s essentially now or never for Garoppolo to justify Shanahan and Co. keeping him around as the Niners’ long-term leader under center.
And yet the Illinois-turned-California star is not sweating it. While promoting a partnership with Men’s Wearhouse for the company’s annual Suit Drive, which collects gently used professional attire to distribute to more than 150 nonprofits across the nation, Garoppolo spoke with CBS Sports about everything from Brady and 2019 expectations to his future in San Francisco.
CBS Sports: What inspired you to be a part of Men’s Wearhouse’s annual Suit Drive?
Jimmy Garoppolo: Yeah, it’s their 12th year with it, and it seemed like a good match. It’s kind of that football player mentality — look good, feel good, play good. It’s for a good cause, you know, helping people who don’t have as much. I donated a suit to Men’s Wearhouse for it, and it’s something great to be a part of.
CBS: How much does something like this help you declare your platform is bigger than just football?
JG: People always get tied up with athletes as if they just do football, just do basketball, but there’s more to it. Any chance you get, you want to help people who are less fortunate. It’s a great thing to do.
CBS: On the field, how much motivation do you get knowing you’re one of the highest-paid quarterbacks with only 10 starts under your belt — that you’ve got to go out and prove you’re worth it?
JG: There will always be motivation. You’re motivated by yourself more than a ton of pressure, but that pressure is a good thing, too. We’ve had good OTAs so far, and the summer before training camp will be important. Every OTAs, every training camp, you’re always making personal goals, and there’s an opportunity to go out and do some exciting things.
CBS: What were some of your personal goals for this offseason?
JG: Well, getting my knee back to normal is a big one (laughs). Obviously that was No. 1 this offseason, and that’s been great.
CBS: You’ve also spoken recently about working with QB coach Tom House this offseason. How much has that impacted your preparations for 2019?
JG: Those guys are awesome down in L.A. We were working on mechanics, the throwing motion. Nothing drastic, but if you could better your game by 1%, you want to do it.
CBS: It’s been six years since the 49ers made the playoffs, but you’re also known for going 5-0 at the end of your first season in town. How close is this team to breaking that streak, replicating 2017’s finish and getting into the postseason?
JG: Like I said, there’s opportunities. This season’s going to show us a lot. It’s our job to make that happen. And that’s what all the preparation is for. You can’t just throw your helmet out there and expect to win.
JG: Yeah, those guys have been tremendous. Whether it’s providing more competition on the practice field, all that stuff, for those new guys, it’s not the easiest offense in the world to learn, so for them to pick it up so quickly has been pretty impressive. Now we’ve just got to take this into training camp.
CBS: Plenty of people still know you from your days in New England. Have you kept in touch with Tom Brady over these last two seasons, and did you connect while rehabbing?
JG: Yeah, we’ll shoot each other a text here and there, just saying hi, seeing how it’s going. Whether I have a question for him, he’s always been awesome for whatever it is. He’s really down to earth and just experienced so many things in this league. He’s been awesome in that way.
CBS: You’ve been in San Francisco for a few years now. Even being limited on the field, what have you learned about carrying the label of being a San Francisco 49ers quarterback — what has that meant to you?
JG: Oh yeah, it’s been awesome. The people out here in the Bay Area, initially they were so welcoming, and since then, they’ve still been so welcoming. The Bay is a special place. And then there’s a weight with that. There’s a standard to it. A standard to be the best quarterback I can be for this team.