While some assumed that Jimmy Garoppolo was destined for the franchise tag, John Lynch and the San Francisco 49ers had other plans.
The team's deadline deal for Garoppolo flourished into a five game winning streak to close 2017 and set San Francisco up with its quarterback of the future. Garoppolo exceeded even the loftiest of expectations with 1,560 passing yards and eight total touchdowns down the stretch.
"It was about three months and a week ago we sat here in this very room and we had traded for Jimmy, and we thought we had a special player," Lynch said. "But Jimmy's diligence and his work ethic and the way he bonded with his teammates, we talk a lot about talent and spirit, the things we look for […] at that point we were full speed ahead on trying to get (a deal) done."
On Thursday, the 49ers agreed on a lucrative long-term deal to make Garoppolo the face of the franchise. A negotiation process that has the ability to last years – in the case of top free agents like Kirk Cousins and Le'Veon Bell – was executed just days after the culmination of the NFL season.
There's no doubt that having the foundation of the franchise set before the start of free agency was critical for Lynch. As any NFL expert would tell you, success begins with the quarterback.
"It's a big day for our franchise. There was a parade in Philly (on Thursday). I think when you watch those things, understand that's where we want to go and we have a lot of work to get there. But we feel like this is a big piece," Lynch said on Friday. "From Day 1 when Kyle and I started having conversations, we all know it, this positon is key. If you don't have one, you're looking for one. We feel like we've got our guy now and we're thrilled about that."
In a matter of weeks, Garoppolo led San Francisco to a perfect 5-0 record to close the season while leading the league in a number of categories during that time span. Even in his small NFL sample size of 23 games and seven starts, Garoppolo proved himself worthy of the hefty payday.
But there's still much work to be done. Garoppolo is a big piece of the puzzle, no doubt, but Lynch is now tasked with building around his high-profile QB.
"Winning a bunch of games at the end of the year, is that a good thing? Absolutely. But does that guarantee us anything? No," Lynch said. "The work we do this offseason, that will guarantee us what our prospects are and what our success is going to be."
With the largest cap space available in the NFL heading into 2018, the dollar was never the issue. Rather, time was.
Lynch hopes to use Garoppolo as a selling point when he goes into the free agent marketplace beginning March 14. But San Francisco has plenty more to offer than its franchise quarterback.
And sunny California makes a compelling case for itself.
"It's 75 degrees and sunny outside, we've got this guy, who wouldn't want to be here?" Lynch laughed. "We want to become that. We want to become a destination where everyone wants to be. We've got a long way to go. We were 6-10, okay, so this is a big day for us, but we have a long way to go, and we're fully aware of that."
A long way to go? Yes. But the 49ers are closer to their end game than they were 48 hours ago.