SANTA CLARA — A new-look Jimmy Garoppolo made his 49ers team practice debut Thursday, and it started with him in a quarterback drill he’d never experienced before, certainly not in a 49ers’ backup role.
His 22-year-old successor, Trey Lance, took the first snap and rifled a pass to the right side, all while Garoppolo knelt two yards in front of him and waited his turn.
Uh, welcome back, Jimmy G.
It was his first practice with teammates since last season’s NFC Championship Game defeat, his first since March shoulder surgery scuttled his trade market, and his first since taking an $18 million pay cut in Monday’s revised deal that shockingly prolonged his 49ers tenure.
Garoppolo’s arm looked fresh as he zipped passes on target during the 30-minute window open to reporters, almost all armed with cell phone cameras recording the dethroned quarterback’s every move.
For the past month, Garoppolo threw on a side field in secluded fashion. He steered clear of team meetings. He was as unsure as anyone where he’d suit up next.
“It was weird. It was different than any situation I’ve ever been in, and I’ve been in some weird ones, too, so that’s saying something,” said Garoppolo, who was traded from New England to the 49ers on Oct. 31, 2017. “I think things worked out for the best.
“There were a lot of ups and downs, rocky roads here and there, but through the whole thing, I’m happy with where I’m at,” Garoppolo added. “I’m happy to be with the Niners, and I think the Niners are happy to have me back. Things are working out pretty well.”
Garoppolo acknowledged “a lot of discussion with other teams,” only to circle back to the 49ers and their familiarity.
“Trust me, there was a lot of back and forth going on just with other teams, and what I wanted my future to look like,” Garoppolo said. “This is what I wanted. I’m happy the way it worked out. The familiarity was a big part of it.”
When news broke Monday of Garoppolo’s return, he and Lance exchanged texts, followed up by a meet-and-greet in the locker room.
“We talked at his locker. It’s all love. Nothing’s changed,” said Lance, who preceded Garoppolo to the podium. “He’s been my big brother. Nothing’s changed that.”
Nothing except the depth chart, that is.
“It’s different roles,” Lance acknowledged. “He’s still going to be a huge resource.”
Added Garoppolo: “Me and Trey, honestly, I know a lot of stuff gets made in the media and (stuff) like that, but we have a good relationship, man. Everyone can say what they want. But we went through it last year and it’s very similar to this situation. It’s not like we haven’t done it before.”
Lance said he wasn’t shocked, nor did he have veto power had he disliked the move.
“It’s not my decision. It’s the organization’s decision,” Lance said. “Jimmy’s been on the roster, on the team, this whole entire time, so obviously I knew it was a possibility to bring him back. No bad blood at all between me and Jimmy since Day 1, so all arms open, excited to have him back.”
This is what Garoppolo signed up for in his new deal, which still gives him an escape clause if another team’s quarterback gets hurt and wants to trade for his starting prowess (35-16 record for the 49ers, including 4-2 in the playoffs).
The quarterback rotation:
— QB1: Lance, the 2021 draft’s No. 3 pick who went 1-1 in his rookie starts as Garoppolo’s temp.
— QB2: Garoppolo, the 49ers’ starter in two of the past three NFC Championship Games and in the 2019 season’s Super Bowl
— QB3: Brock Purdy, the reigning “Mr. Irrelevant” as this year’s 262nd and final pick of the draft.
Shouldn’t that order crush the ego of someone who, back in January, won playoff games at Dallas and Green Bay, then nearly made it to another Super Bowl if not for the Los Angeles Rams?
“You’ve got to check your ego a little bit,” Garoppolo replied. “You’ve got to know who you are as a player in this league, who you are as a person. That’s going to carry you a long way. That’s why I’m not too concerned about that.”
Seven months ago, Garoppolo bid an emotional, premature farewell via video conference with reporters: “Been a hell of a ride. Love you guys. See ya.”
#49ers Jimmy Garoppolo’s final words were to thank media for fun ride, then: “Faithful, thank you for everything. Been crazy, the comebacks at Levi’s, comebacks on the road. Been hell of a ride. Love you guys. See ya.”
— Cam Inman (@CamInman) February 1, 2022
A month later, at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis, the 49ers bartered with a couple of suitors for Garoppolo, who essentially pulled himself off the market by electing to have surgery on his right shoulder, which he hurt in a wild-card playoff win at Dallas.
“There were probably two to three teams that I felt this was going to happen,” general manager John Lynch recalled Thursday. “That’s when news broke (of Garoppolo’s March 8 surgery). Then things went the way they went. I’m glad we’ve arrived where we’re at … We’re happy he’s here.”
As “nice” as Garoppolo said it was to avoid surgery on a torn thumb ligament from a Dec. 23 hit in Tennessee, his throwing shoulder proved more serious, and he attempted to fix it via a few weeks of rehabilitation.
“It just wasn’t happening, wasn’t working,” Garoppolo said. ” ‘We’ve got to get the surgery.’ That’s why we made that choice. I’m happy the way it worked out. I don’t think it was the exact way I wanted it to work out, but everything happens for a reason.”
Thus, the NFL’s wildest quarterback market in recent memory left him stranded in Santa Clara.
“You know in the back of your head that could happen, but you’ve got to take care of your body,” Garoppolo said of his trade market. “If your body is not going to be able to go out there and perform, then what are you worth? I had to get that taken care of. That was Priority No. 1.”
Why not force his exit?
“There was a thought of that at one point; trust me, there was,” Garoppolo added. “But that came and went. Things just kept falling into place. I’m one of those people I don’t want to ruffle the feathers too much here and there, and kind of just want to go with the flow. That’s the way training camp was going and I was happy with it.”
As for his re-entry with teammates on the field Thursday, he didn’t look totally at ease, nor did he appear out of place, other than listening to new quarterback coach Brian Griese’s instructions on new warmup drills. “It’ll take a couple of days to get back into it,” Garoppolo said.
Once the starting offense lined up, Lance took those snaps, as advertised. Then it was Garoppolo’s turn, and he completed a 15-yard crossing pass to practice-squad receiver Willie Snead IV.
“I’m a 49er,” Garoppolo added, “and happy about that.”
— Wide receiver Deebo Samuel (knee), defensive tackle Arik Armstead and linebacker Dre Greenlaw did individual conditioning as practice began.
— Left tackle Trent Williams returned to practice after missing the previous two sessions because of an illness.
— Former 49ers defensive coordinator Vic Fangio came to observe practice, as he did earlier in the offseason.
— Blake Hance lined up as the second-string left guard. Claimed Tuesday after the Browns waived him, he arrived at the 49ers’ hotel at 1:30 a.m., and, a few hours later, was getting schooled up by offensive line coaches Chris Foerster and Joe Graves.
Contributed by local news sources