Jimmy Garoppolo, other former starters look to reinvent themselves in NFC West

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The quarterback carousel has spun at a dizzying rate this offseason. In all, 21 QBs have changed teams over the past month. Seven of those were starters headed into last season and will be asked to serve as backups heading into this season.

And four of those signal-callers will play in the NFC West: Jimmy Garoppolo with the Rams, Sam Howell in Seattle, Desmond Ridder with the Cardinals and Joshua Dobbs in San Francisco. Combined, the four quarterbacks went 16-32 as starters last season.

The frenetic quarterback movement is the latest example of the NFL’s continued struggles to evaluate QBs in the draft process and to develop them once they arrive in the league, particularly those prospects who are not first-round picks and need time and good coaching to prosper. 

Take Dobbs for example. The former fourth-round pick began 2023 as a serviceable starter for the Cardinals as Kyler Murray recovered from ACL surgery. Once Murray was healthy, the Cardinals traded Dobbs to Minnesota, where he led the Vikings to an upset comeback victory over the Atlanta Falcons after joining the team just five days earlier. By December, however, Dobbs had regressed to the point where he was demoted to Atlanta’s emergency, third-team quarterback.

Ridder was a third-round pick by the Falcons in 2022 and Howell a fifth-rounder by the Commanders that same year. Both were projected as potential long-term starters and had chances to start last season, but when they experienced growing pains, their teams sent them packing. After all, they weren’t first-round picks.

“The NFL has a QB evaluation and development problem,” FOX Sports NFL analyst Bucky Brooks wrote on X. “There’s no other way to spin it. The league doesn’t know what leads to success at the position. And coaches do not know how to play around a QB’s flaws. Until those issues are fixed, we will continue to see a revolving door at the position.”

Offensive masterminds like Rams coach Sean McVay and Niners coach Kyle Shanahan have taken advantage of a weakness in the market because of their ability to develop quarterbacks with NFL traits.

Shanahan said one of the reasons he has brought in Dobbs to compete with Brandon Allen for the backup job behind Brock Purdy was the way Dobbs played against San Francisco while with the Cardinals.

“I just thought he was tough to play against, especially in Arizona,” Shanahan told reporters at the NFL owners meeting about signing Dobbs. “The way he ran their scheme, he made them tough to beat. I loved how consistent he was. You could tell that whatever their game plan was, he always executed it extremely well.” 

Are the 49ers approaching midnight of their Super Bowl clock?

Are the 49ers approaching midnight of their Super Bowl clock?

McVay molded 2016 No. 1 overall pick Jared Goff into an efficient manager of his offense, as the Cal product helped lead the Rams to a Super Bowl in 2019. Two years later, believing Goff had topped out, McVay traded him to the Detroit Lions in favor of gunslinger Matthew Stafford. He had a sub-.500 record (74-90-1) in the Motor City, but under McVay’s tutelage, Stafford won a Super Bowl with the Rams. 

Sometimes, even a short period of time with McVay pays dividends for quarterbacks. With Stafford injured in 2022, Baker Mayfield reignited his career in a five-game fill-in stint in L.A., which led to a starting job with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Mayfield took the Bucs to the postseason last season and was rewarded with a three-year, $100 million deal. 

Shanahan has had similar results with the 49ers, turning “Mr. Irrelevant” Purdy into a Super Bowl performer and developing his backup, Sam Darnold, enough in one season that Darnold grabbed a starting job in free agency with Minnesota, signing a one-year deal worth up to $10 million.

McVay’s latest project is a familiar name for Shanahan: former 49ers signal-caller Jimmy Garoppolo. A year ago, Garoppolo was one of the top quarterback signings in free agency, inking a three-year, $73 million deal to join the Las Vegas Raiders. But after suffering yet another injury and the Raiders firing coach Josh McDaniels midseason, Garoppolo found himself looking for a job. He landed in Los Angeles, signing a one-year deal worth $4.5 million as a reclamation project behind Stafford.

Why Brock Purdy is simply a more efficient Jimmy Garoppolo

Why Brock Purdy is simply a more efficient Jimmy Garoppolo

Garoppolo believes working with a quarterback expert such as McVay will give him the best chance to become an NFL starter again, like Mayfield did before him. 

“The league’s a crazy thing, man,” Garoppolo said when asked about all the quarterback movement in free agency. “You see what happened to Joe Flacco last year. I mean, the guy was sitting on a couch and then he comes out and goes on the run he did.”

The former Super Bowl MVP went from watching games at home to starting for the Cleveland Browns after Deshaun Watson and Dorion Thompson-Robinson went down. The 39-year-old Flacco led Cleveland to the playoffs, won NFL Comeback Player of the Year and is now the backup for Anthony Richardson with the Indianapolis Colts. 

“So the quarterback thing, it’s a weird thing in this league,” Garoppolo said. “It’s really about when you do get your opportunity to play, you got to take advantage of it. You got to play well and play well early, especially as a young guy. I think that’s a big part of it. Everyone wants to be so quick to pull the trigger on guys nowadays with social media and whatnot, but you just have to know who you are and where you stand in the quarterback rankings and just be yourself, man. Enjoy it.”

Jimmy G, along with Howell, Ridder and Dobbs, will enjoy it more if he has a chance to start again.

Eric D. Williams has reported on the NFL for more than a decade, covering the Los Angeles Rams for Sports Illustrated, the Los Angeles Chargers for ESPN and the Seattle Seahawks for the Tacoma News Tribune. Follow him on Twitter at @eric_d_williams.

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