Jimmy Garoppolo's five-year contract extension worth north of $100 million remains one of this offseason's biggest storylines. That's a lot of coin to give to a player who has only made seven NFL starts. And yet, the San Francisco 49ers were forced to decide whether or not Garoppolo was capable of taking the reins as a franchise quarterback.
As expected, the 49ers went all in on Jimmy G., making him the unquestioned face of the organization. So now Garoppolo is not only compared to his former mentor Tom Brady, but he's also linked to the 49ers illustrious history at the quarterback position. Fair or unfair, there's a lot of expectations and pressure on how Garoppolo will perform in 2018 and beyond. Or maybe not?
"The pressure that you put on yourself is always going to be greater than any outside person could put on you," Garoppolo said on Monday.
That's the kind of mental makeup that surely helped San Francisco's brass feel comfortable signing Garoppolo to such a lucrative deal. The 49ers hype train got moving following the team's 5-0 record to close the 2017 season. Signing Garoppolo to an extension while adding players like Richard Sherman, Jerick McKinnon and Weston Richburg ensured that there's no bringing that train back to the station.
Sherman, McKinnon and Richburg all noted Garoppolo as a significant factor in their decision to sign with San Francisco. Those comments only add to the quarterback's mystique. Garoppolo is embracing those expectations, but he's also insisting that the excitement surrounding the 49ers goes well beyond himself.
"I think it's a team thing, really," he said. "It's always nice to hear that, but the way we turned it around at the end of the year and got a little bit of momentum going into the offseason, it was recognized throughout the league. But, now we're back to square one. This is a whole different team than last year. You've got new guys, everyone's learning new stuff and we've got to rebuild from the ground up now."
Garoppolo and the rest of the team are in the middle of Phase 1 of the offseason program. The workouts are led by strength and conditioning coach Ray Wright and have a healthy mix of competition sprinkled in. This time is about camaraderie and team building just as much as it is geared to get players in shape for 2018.
"The conditioning is never fun, I'll say that," Garoppolo joked. "Ray and his staff, they've done a great job with us mixing and matching different workouts, different types of workouts and they always end it with a competition. It's offense versus defense versus special teams. I love that stuff. You see the competitor come out in guys or it doesn't. You kind of see who you want in your foxhole with you."
Garoppolo and the team's pass catchers have taken things one step further. In addition to their throwing sessions during the week, the group also met over the weekend to get more work in. The CBA limits the players to four hours of activity during the week. On Saturday and Sunday, players aren't allowed to use a football at the team facility.
Of note, this past week was Garoppolo's first opportunity to throw to Pierre Garçon and McKinnon. The group spent time going slow to work on the minutia while also getting full-speed reps which allowed Garoppolo to let it rip.
"It's just something that I like to do," Garoppolo said of the players-only sessions. "It kind of gets us away from the coaches and everything, and allows me to talk to the receivers about specific things, or the tight ends or running backs. We try to get everyone out there that we can. I understand people have things that they have to get to.
"But, we had a great showing this Saturday. It was good. Just to be on the same page with those guys, talking through route concepts and how they see it versus how I see it, it just gets us on the same page."
In 2017, the 49ers were free of expectations from the outside world. Most viewed wins and losses to be largely irrelevant in Year 1 of John Lynch and Kyle Shanahan. That won't be the case next season. Playing 16 games of meaningful football, at a minimum, is where the bar has been set for 2018.
Garoppolo has made it clear that he's unfazed by the spotlight shifting back to the Bay Area. He expects the same thing.