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How Jimmy Garoppolo's Contract Allows 49ers to Make a Play for Tom Brady

The 49ers seem like a team that trusts its quarterback. 

Head coach Kyle Shanahan said before Super Bowl LIV that Jimmy Garoppolo's nickname is Dirk Diggler (Mark Wahlberg's character in "Boogie Nights") because "where you want it, he'll put it there."

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Garoppolo's teammates have been enamored with him ever since he arrived in the middle of the 2017 season. Shanahan put the football in Garoppolo's hands and asked him to be aggressive late in the fourth quarter against a surging Chiefs team in the Super Bowl.

Didn't go well, but that's trust.

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There were also instances on Sunday night when it looked like the team's trust - particularly Shanahan's - might've wavered. Even if it was brief.

At the end of the first half, with an opportunity to stop the clock and put together a scoring drive, the Niners opted to let time bleed. They were happy with going into the locker room tied 10-10, even against a hard-to-subdue offense like Kansas City's that was due for an explosion. Late in the game, Garoppolo missed open throws to Emmanuel Sanders (which resulted in a television shot of an exasperated Shanahan on the Niners sideline) and George Kittle that could've changed the outcome. 

Now, here are the Niners, looking at the 2020 offseason, and they have a choice to make. 

Odds are they trust Garoppolo. They got to the fourth quarter of the Super Bowl with a 10-point lead with him as their guy. One quarter of one game likely won't skew that perspective. It probably shouldn't, especially considering that he's still a relatively young No. 1 - last season was his first full year as a starter - coming off a torn ACL that ended his 2018 prematurely. 

But what if there are lingering doubts about how Garoppolo performed in the Super Bowl? What if somewhere in the backs of Shanahan's and general manager John Lynch's minds, they think they can do better than the passer who had a 75.9 quarterback rating and a 2-to-3 touchdown-to-interception ratio in three postseason games this year?

When they signed Garoppolo to make him the highest-paid quarterback in football - albeit briefly - the deal's structure was unique. He was guaranteed $34.2 million in 2018 and had a massive cap hit of $37 million. Last season, he was guaranteed $17.2 million and the cap hit came down to $19.9 million. 

In 2020, the Niners can get out from under the deal if they so choose. None of Garoppolo's salary is guaranteed until April 1, and if he's released prior to June 1, the move would save the Niners $22.4 million in cap space. It would also free up the old post-Brady plan at quarterback in New England to be the new post-Brady plan.

Normally, this would never be a conversation. And maybe it shouldn't be even considering the circumstances. But the circumstances are that this offseason, as of now, there are an unusual number of starting-caliber quarterbacks about to become available.

The Niners wouldn't want to lose Garoppolo to sign Jameis Winston or Phillip Rivers, one would think. But what if they were able to encourage Drew Brees not to retire and think about a locale other than New Orleans? What if they were able to woo Tom Brady and sell him the idea of playing for a Super Bowl contender in his hometown? 

Brady was at Candlestick Park with his family for "The Catch." As recently as last weekend he was professing his love for Joe Montana, who he saw in Miami at the NFL's celebration of its All-Time Team. Brady's parents still live in the area.

Plus, the Niners actually inquired about Brady back when they initially pursued Garoppolo years ago. Belichick promptly told them off.

"I'm not gonna deny that," Lynch told Rich Eisen following the trade in 2017. "That did happen. He did shoot me down real quick. It was somewhat in jest, somewhat of being a smart-aleck as well. 'OK, if you're not going to give him up, what about Brady?' He nearly stepped through the phone. It was a pretty visceral reaction from him. But, hey, you have to take your shot, right?"

The Niners have their shot this offseason if they want it. 

In addition to the enticing nature of playing for the team he cheered on as a kid, Brady would have a chance to play under one of the brightest offensive minds in the league, behind a talented offensive line, and he'd be aided by a strong running game. The best tight end in the league, Kittle, resides in San Fran. And the Niners are also in possession of a promising young receiver in Deebo Samuel. Meanwhile, the Niners defense appears built for sustained success after a statistically dominant 2019.

If Brady is looking to be surrounded by talent, if he's looking for a big market that might suit his burgeoning business as well as his family, if he's looking for a real shot at another ring, the Niners would have to shoot toward the top of the list of good-on-paper destinations that have been kicked around by those of us in the media in recent weeks.

It just comes down to whether or not San Francisco trusts Brady's old backup. Forty-eight hours ago, they were sniffing a Lombardi Trophy with him behind center.

But the way in which they structured Garoppolo's contract gives them an out - if they want it.

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