The quarterback carousel continues to turn in the NFL, and among the reported teams looking to get into the mix are the San Francisco 49ers — but not everyone is sold on parting ways with Jimmy Garoppolo as the best solution to last season’s woes.
Legendary Niners linebacker Patrick Willis told Fox News in an interview this week that he believes San Francisco should stick with Garoppolo despite an injury-ridden season, adding that he’s already shown the franchise that he can make it a Super Bowl contender.
“I think they’ve seen him at his best,” the seven-time Pro Bowler said. “Now if they go get him that defense, that same type of defense they had when they went to the Super Bowl and he can stay somewhat healthy, then yes, obviously they can win with him.”
Willis, who was drafted by the 49ers with the No. 11 pick in 2007, explained how injuries play a big role in management’s perception of your value as a player — a situation Garoppolo is facing.
“Sports is very interesting, and to be in the NFL it gets even more interesting from a business standpoint as well as just performance,” he explained. “It’s that saying, the cliche of ‘what have you done for me lately.’”
“In football, it’s really about [that mindset], and injuries are one of those things that can make a team really be suspect when it comes to you, especially if you’re not able to get through the injury and still be able to perform.”
Garoppolo was drafted by the New England Patriots in 2014, where he remained backup to Tom Brady for four seasons before being traded mid-season to the 49ers. He got his start a few weeks later, and in 2018, he was offered a five-year, max $137.5 million contract.
Garoppolo’s first season as the 49ers’ starter came to a quick end when he tore his ACL in Week 3; however, he would bounce back quickly.
Garoppolo would lead the Niners to their first 8-0 start since 1990 and take them all the way to the Super Bowl, where they would ultimately lose to the Kansas City Chiefs in the final minutes of the game.
A persistent ankle injury in 2020 saw the young quarterback on and off the field, and with names like Deshaun Watson and Russell Wilson floating around as possibilities, Garoppolo’s future with the team has become murky.
Willis understands the struggle better than anyone.
“I personally went through that a little bit myself having some injuries, but I was still able to somehow find a way to perform and be productive, and with Jimmy, I feel that, yes, he’s had some injuries, but I feel like at this moment … I feel like it could be tough. Part of him is probably like, I’m here but I’m not seeing my coaches necessarily come out and say like they did a couple of years ago, ‘this is our guy.’”
Willis said he dealt with a number of injuries over his eight seasons in the NFL, but it was all about mindset. He recalled a saying teammate Justin Smith used to say.
“He said once, ‘Man, if we only played the game when we felt good, we would never play.’”
Willis explained that when he played the game, he felt players “were only as safe as you were being productive.”
“You can only stay somewhere for so long before it begins to wear its welcome, and in this date and time, it’s like everything is on shuffle, repeat, shuffle real fast, meaning if you ain’t relevant and you ain’t keeping it hot, then they’ll mess around and have you move somewhere else.”
He continued: “When I came in as a rookie and had that rookie season I had, I knew right then and there … I got to come with it.”
Willis had a rookie year for the books.
He led the league in tackles, received both first-team All-Pro and Pro Bowl honors, and was named NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year. He would go on to have six seasons with 100 or more tackles and was named to six more Pro Bowls.
Since retiring from the NFL, Willis has joined CoachTube.com, an online platform offering instructional courses in a wide range of sports.
He said became involved as a linebackers coach sometime around 2017 after feeling the need to share what he learned over his eight years in the NFL.
“I learned a lot of information from playing the game and I would love to share and give that back.”
Willis said he saw the platform, which predominately offers coach-to-coach training, really “take off” once the pandemic hit as all levels of sports, high school and college, were forced to go virtual.