SANTA CLARA, Calif. — Let there be no confusion. The San Francisco 49ers want Jimmy Garoppolo to be their franchise quarterback now and well into the future.
That’s a point that San Francisco general manager John Lynch drove home in Tuesday’s season-ending news conference, after Garoppolo’s five starts helped the Niners finish with a flourish.
“Look, we want Jimmy to be a Niner for a long, long time, and that process is going to take place here and we’re eager to get that done, to have the opportunity,” Lynch said.
Garoppolo is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent in March. But Lynch made it clear that the 49ers have no intention of letting Garoppolo test what would surely be a feeding frenzy were the quarterback to hit the open market.
While Lynch indicated that the 49ers don’t intend to negotiate with Garoppolo publicly, he did give his word to the Niners’ fan base that the goal is to keep Garoppolo for the long haul.
“I think one thing that we really believe is that those things should take place between us and his representatives, not occur and transpire in the public,” Lynch said. “That’s the way we’re going to treat that. But you have our assurances and the fans do that we’d like nothing more than to make him a Niner for a long, long time.”
While the 49ers and coach Kyle Shanahan have talked openly in the past about potentially using the franchise tag to keep Garoppolo, his strong finish to the season, during which he led San Francisco to a 5-0 record, has bolstered the team’s already strong belief that Garoppolo has what they want in a franchise signal-caller.
The 49ers acquired Garoppolo on Oct. 31 from the New England Patriots for a 2018 second-round draft pick. Garoppolo, who got his first start on Dec. 3 against the Bears, set a franchise record for passing yards in his first five starts with the team (1,542), doing so despite having minimal time to absorb Shanahan’s offense.
That performance undoubtedly raised Garoppolo’s price tag, though Lynch said that both sides agreed right after the trade to put off contract talks until after Garoppolo had a chance to settle in to his new surroundings.
Garoppolo seemed to want to bet on himself in hopes of a bigger deal after increasing his sample size. That’s a gamble that appears to have paid off.
Asked whether he is willing to pay Garoppolo the type of money usually awarded to more established starting quarterbacks, Lynch seemed to indicate that it wouldn’t be a problem.
“We’re going to work hard to try to keep him as a 49er for a long, long time,” Lynch said. “We’re really happy with the way he played. We think he’s got some abilities that are unique, and we want him here.”
When he spoke to the media on Monday as he and his teammates cleaned out their lockers, Garoppolo played a bit coy when asked about his forthcoming contract negotiations. He also referred to next season’s Niners in an inclusive way on multiple occasions and one day earlier discussed how he felt he and the 49ers were a good match.
Garoppolo plans to spend a chunk of the next month at home with his family near Chicago before returning to the West Coast. He has traditionally trained in Los Angeles and said he plans to do so again, though he will split time between there and the Bay Area. He also intends to have a conversation with his agent, Don Yee, sometime soon about his contract.
“I like being here,” Garoppolo said. “We had a good thing going at the end of this year. You know, we’ll see what happens.”
While Garoppolo has publicly maintained a poker face on his contract status, Lynch said he feels good about the situation based on what’s taken place behind closed doors.
“I think we’ve had conversations with him and we know where he stands, and we’re comfortable with that,” Lynch said.
If the 49ers are unable to work out a long-term contract with Garoppolo soon, they can use the franchise tag to create a bigger negotiating window with him. The first day the Niners can use the tag is Feb. 20 and they have until March 6 to use it.
In the event the Niners decide to use the tag, they could declare Garoppolo their “exclusive” franchise player, thus eliminating any chance he’d have to negotiate with other teams and offering him a one-year deal worth around $25 million.
Financially, the 49ers don’t have any obstacles when it comes to signing or tagging Garoppolo as they project to have well over $100 million in salary cap space after they roll over what’s left on this year’s ledger.
Still, the Niners’ preference is to find a common ground and strike a deal with Garoppolo soon so they can begin using what’s left of their cap space on building up the roster around him.
“Obviously, Jimmy came in and he was fabulous,” Lynch said. “He was great for us and he made people around him better and I think that’s the mark of a player who has an opportunity to be special is, do you make people around you better? He did that.”