One could argue that across the four major sports in America, or any sport in general, that the quarterback position is the most integral position of all. The difference between one football team having a capable quarterback and another team not having such can dictate success on the playing field for an entire organization.
This argument can be made using the example of the 2017 San Francisco 49ers, a team that lost the first 9 games of the season for the first time in their franchise’s history. Future fortunes would change on the night of October 30th, 2017, when the team finalized a deal for then-Patriots quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo for a 2nd round draft pick in the upcoming 2018 NFL draft. Garoppolo started his first game for the team in Week 13 versus the Bears in Chicago, a homecoming of sorts for the kid who grew up in the Chicago suburbs. The 49ers escaped with a victory by the score of 15-14 and never looked back, winning 5-straight games to end the season. This provided hope and optimism to a fan base that has not had any since the team parted ways with head coach Jim Harbaugh in 2014.
The hope and optimism are tempered for the time being, as Garoppolo is slated to be a free agent because 2017 was the last year on his rookie deal. Now Garoppolo will never see the market knowing the 49ers will franchise him if a long-term extension cannot be reached by the deadline of March 6th. Here’s the issue, these long-term deals are tough for front offices and player representatives to work out. John Lynch and Kyle Shanahan know what they have in Garoppolo, however with the franchise tag being an option for the 49ers to use, is a lengthy contract the best route to take right now? The 49ers faithful would sure say so, but that may have been the same thought process Raiders fans had after the 2016 season when Derek Carr was on the path to becoming the league’s MVP before breaking his leg late in the season.
The Raiders still granted Carr a contract extension, paying him an average of $24 million dollars a year. In 2017 Derek Carr finished the year with 22 touchdown passes and 13 interceptions while posting an 87.5 passer rating. The Raiders finished the season 6-10 and there are questions around the league whether Derek Carr is worth his price tag going forward. This is a factor in why Raiders owner Mark Davis has now brought back Jon Gruden as head coach to help protect and further develop the investment the franchise has in Derek Carr.
Another conundrum is Kirk Cousins with the Redskins, a team who has tagged the quarterback the two previous seasons, paying him nearly $50 million guaranteed over the course of that time. If the Redskins viewed Cousins as a franchise quarterback, which plenty of other teams already do and will pay Kirk as if he is, paying him $50 million guaranteed with a long-term contract extension may have been the way to go, rather than now being at risk of losing him via free agency this spring.
With those two examples, this makes what one would think would be an easy decision for the 49ers to lock up Jimmy Garoppolo over a longer haul. And the 49ers are expected to get this always-difficult deal completed. Once a franchise has a feel and enough evidence that they have now fulfilled the most important position in football, and a position which consistently more than half the league is looking to fill year in and year out, make no hesitation and start printing paper with pens in hand.