Jimmy Garoppolo ready to help San Francisco 49ers rookie QB Trey Lance

ByNick Wagoner ESPN logo
Tuesday, May 4, 2021

San Francisco 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo remembers what it was like to be the rookie apprentice.

Now that experience learning under Tom Brady with the New England Patriotsapparently will shape his approach to working with newly drafted Niners quarterback Trey Lance.

Appearing on the Keyshawn, JWill & Zubin show on ESPN Radio, Garoppolo spoke publicly for the first time since the 49ers traded up to No. 3 in the NFL draft and used that selection on Lance.

"It's kind of coming full circle," Garoppolo said. "You go through this NFL career and you start as a young guy coming in. Tom kind of showed me the ropes. The competition between us was awesome. It really made me grow as a rookie and as a young player. So, that's kind of what me and Trey, we'll mold our relationship into that. But it will happen naturally. It's one of those things you can't force anything. Just let it come as it may."

Garoppolo, 29, actually isn't that far removed from being in a similar situation as what Lance is entering in San Francisco. Like Lance, Garoppolo came from an FCS school (Eastern Illinois for Garoppolo, North Dakota State for Lance), joined a team with Super Bowl aspirations and was expected to learn under a veteran before taking over.

Those memories still linger for Garoppolo, who texted Lance soon after the Niners drafted him.

"I try to use my own personal experiences and just what I went through, what helped me, what challenged me as a young player," Garoppolo said. "I'm going to use those tools that helped me and try to help Trey out. It's hard to come into this league; I know how it was coming from an FCS school to the NFL. It's a bit of an adjustment, the speed, whatever you want to call it, it's just different. So, whatever I can do to help him, I'll be more than happy."

Of course, Garoppolo never got the chance to step into the lead role in New England, which drafted him in the second round in 2014 and gave him just two starts before trading him to the 49ers for a second-round pick in 2017.

Garoppolo did become the starter in San Francisco, where he has carved out a 24-9 record (including playoffs) but has had two of the past three seasons wrecked by a torn ACL (he missed 13 games in 2018) and a pair of high ankle sprains (he missed 10 games in 2020).

Those injuries were the biggest reason that Niners coach Kyle Shanahan and general manager John Lynch made the move up to get Lance this offseason, as the 49ers sagged to a combined 10-22 record in those two seasons in which Garoppolo missed large chunks of time.

In January, Garoppolo acknowledged that he needed to find a way to stay healthy. But the 49ers soon began looking into their quarterback options, a process that eventually led them to Lance.

As Shanahan and Lynch have said, they maintained contact with Garoppolo throughout the process.

"The communication has been good," Garoppolo said. "There really hasn't been anything unsaid. Everything has been put on the table. I'm just happy to have the opportunity to play football. At the end of the day, that's what I'm here for, that's what I signed up for. As long as I have the opportunity to go out there and win some games and play good football, that's all you can ask for at the end of the day. ... All you really need is an opportunity. If you get an opportunity, you've got to take advantage of it, and that's what I'm trying to do."

Shanahan made it clear there was no timetable or definitive plan for Lance to take the starting job and that he expected Garoppolo, who is slated to count $26.1 million against the 2021 salary cap, to remain with the team and continue as the starter.

"I want Jimmy to be here, and I want this kid brought along," Shanahan said Thursday. "I want to see how [Lance] does, and if it turns into a competition, it turns into a competition. I'd be excited about that if he showed he was ready for it and stuff. But we know where Jimmy's at. [Lance] hasn't played football in a year. He hasn't been to an OTA. I'd love to get him out here; it'd be very hard for me to picture a situation where Jimmy's not here on Sunday. Because that would be, I think, very stressful for us, because Jimmy's a very good player and I think we can win with him. So, we'll play that by ear, but I expect Jimmy to be here and I'd be surprised if he wasn't."

And while Garoppolo seems to welcome the competition, he also acknowledged Tuesday that he plans to continue to compete and battle to hang on to the job that's been his for the past three-plus seasons.

"The chip will always be there," Garoppolo said. "That hasn't gone away at all. Since I got in the league, I've had that. I think that kind of comes from just the way you were raised and everything like that. My dad was an electrician, blue-collar guy, and I think it kind of just rubs off on you. It's kind of the way the league is going nowadays. Everybody is drafting young, wants to get the developmental guy and things like that, so I kind of know what it is. I've been on both sides of it now, but at the end of the day, like I said earlier, all you can really ask for is the opportunity. Once you get that, you've got to take advantage of it."

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