Rebuilds are painful and many professional teams have found what feels like a temporary panacea to deal with the pain — tanking for the best possible draft pick. It’s a reasonable strategy but also emotional play and in recent years has become the go-to move. The allure of tanking is real, fueled by fans attracted to the newest trends.
The San Francisco 49ers have opted to go about things in a different way. In early November, they traded for New England Patriots backup Jimmy Garoppolo, who had shown flashes of brilliance during his time as Tom Brady’s understudy. At 0-8, they were on a collision course with the No. 1 or No. 2 pick in next year’s draft.
Then, in the 10th game of the year, the Niners threw tanking aside and put Garoppolo at the wheel, after rookie C.J. Beathard was injured at the end of a game. Since becoming a starter, Garoppolo is 3-0 and has competed 68 percent of his passes. He’s averaging 339.3 yards/game and is drawing lofty, if somewhat hyperbolic praise.
What’s clear is that San Francisco has a man with the tools to become a franchise quarterback. And in hindsight, he was a safer bet than selecting someone coming out of college. All it cost was a second-round pick.
By choosing to showcase Garoppolo, the 49ers have also turned themselves into a more appealing destination for free agents. That doesn’t happen if C.J. Beathard plays out the year and posts L’s. The odds of offensive playmakers joining a side that will bring back injured Pierre Garcon have increased.
This is a far greater reward than picking a few spots higher in the draft. The 49ers will now go into the offseason with confidence and someone to build around. Allowing Garoppolo to play — and win — is looking like a genius decision.