Jimmy Garoppolo now has a face to associate with the identity of his chosen successor. How he handles such an inevitable transition will be another story.
San Francisco selected its future under center last weekend with the third-overall pick, spending it on North Dakota State passer Trey Lance. The choice completed a month-long build-up of anticipation (and varying predictions) for the 49ers' decision after trading multiple first-rounders to move up to the third spot and find a long-term option under center.
Garoppolo, though, doesn't quite see it as the beginning of the end for himself in San Francisco. He might also have an unrealistic view of the current score.
"It's kind of coming full circle," Garoppolo said during an appearance on ESPN Radio on Tuesday. "You go through this NFL career and you start as a young guy coming in. Tom (Brady) kind of showed me the ropes. The competition between us was awesome. It really made me grow as a rookie and as a young player. So, that's kind of what me and Trey, we'll mold our relationship into that. But it will happen naturally. It's one of those things you can't force anything. Just let it come as it may."
He'll like to point out that he too was once seen as the anointed heir to the throne of a legend: Tom Brady. Garoppolo, though, is no legend behind whom a franchise is planning in case of emergency, but instead a quarterback whose worst ability -- availability -- has become his most important, and equally damning. With Lance now in the fold, it would seem Garoppolo is around primarily because of his value as a bridge quarterback and a mentor -- not a hero playing out the string of his professional career.
Make no mistake: These two situations are vastly different. Garoppolo was selected in the second round of the draft out of Eastern Illinois and was seen as someone who could sit behind Brady and learn, potentially developing into a worthy successor. Lance is coming to town with the expectation of taking Garoppolo's job, and even if 49ers brass has said it still wants Garoppolo involved and doesn't see Lance taking the starting gig with ease, you simply don't trade three first-rounders to grab a developmental prospect with a long road ahead of him.
It might not happen overnight, but it's going to happen. Lance isn't headed for a future that includes multiple years sitting behind Garoppolo, especially if Garoppolo continues to miss games due to injury. They will, however, begin 2021 as teammates, provided a suitor doesn't offer San Francisco a package (and a resulting chunk of cap relief) for Garoppolo that is too good to pass up.
"He's going to come in here," Garoppolo told CBS Sports Radio. "I know there's going to be competition between us, like it was with Tom when I got drafted to New England. But at the end of the day, all you can ask for is the opportunity ... I'm ready for the competition."
To Garoppolo's credit, he's been incredibly positive -- almost unrealistically so -- about this entire development, at least publicly. The man with a million-dollar smile has certainly said all the right things when in front of a microphone.
Niners coach Kyle Shanahan and general manager John Lynch have been equally as positive, though they've been more forthcoming than Garoppolo might be to this point. At the very least, they appear to be on the same page.
"The communication has been good," Garoppolo said. "There really hasn't been anything unsaid. Everything has been put on the table. I'm just happy to have the opportunity to play football. At the end of the day, that's what I'm here for, that's what I signed up for. As long as I have the opportunity to go out there and win some games and play good football, that's all you can ask for at the end of the day."
It seems, at this point, Garoppolo understands he now has to fight as hard as possible to keep the starting job, even if the clock is ticking down on his time as San Francisco's starter. Perhaps his positive outlook is simply out of necessity -- i.e., don't look down while walking the tightrope -- in order to maintain a healthy outlook on his now murky situation.
After all, the alternative is much worse. Might as well enjoy the time while Garoppolo has it.