Four is enough: 49ers shouldn't hesitate to pay Jimmy Garoppolo

SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- San Francisco 49ers fullback Kyle Juszczyk is plenty busy with his day job but if he were the general manager of a team employing quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo and was about to deal with Garoppolo's forthcoming contract situation, he knows what his plan of attack would entail.

"Max the man out," Juszczyk said. "He deserves it. I think he's everything that we've been looking for."

In a contract negotiation that will involve many millions of dollars, it's going to be a bit more complicated than Juszczyk would make it. That doesn't mean his overarching philosophy is wrong, though.

No matter what happens in the season finale against the Los Angeles Rams next week, the 49ers have no more reason to hesitate. They should be willing to do what it takes this offseason to sign Garoppolo to a lucrative multi-year contract that will cement him as the face of the franchise for the foreseeable future.

As Teddy KGB, the villainous poker player played by John Malkovich in "Rounders" would say, "Pay that man his money." Heck, send the Brinks truck to his house as a Christmas gift.

"Ya'll definitely know that quarterback play is a big part on any team, so as long as you've got a good quarterback on whatever team it is, you're going to have a good chance to win the game," running back Carlos Hyde said. "So that's been our deal right now. Things haven't always been good here but definitely changing and things are definitely getting better. The future is bright and I'm really looking forward to the future."

It's a future that can and should have Garoppolo as the man under center for the Niners. Naysayers will point to Garoppolo's small sample size as the Niners' starting quarterback, offering that it's only been four games. But what Garoppolo has done in a short time is change the way the NFL world views an entire franchise.

This is a team that started the season 0-9, just hoping to win a game or two to save face while trudging toward another top pick in the NFL draft. What Garoppolo has done since is energize an entire organization and fan base. After Sunday's 44-33 win against the Jacksonville Jaguars and their top-ranked defense, the case can be made that this Niners team has generated more buzz and excitement than any five-win team in league history.

Call that an overstatement if you want, but you couldn't walk two feet in the Niners locker room Sunday without a player lamenting that the season is ending next week or excitedly looking ahead to 2018. Garoppolo's jersey has been completely sold out in the Niners team store almost since they began printing them and if the NFL wanted to revive the idea of a longer regular-season schedule, this would be an ideal time to secure the 49ers' vote.

Garoppolo has only been around since Halloween and has spent most of that time with his head buried in his playbook but even he isn't immune to the excitement he's helped create.

"It's awesome," Garoppolo said. "Things are going good right now. There's a buzz in the air. You can feel it as soon as you walk in the stadium. Crowd's going nuts just in pregame. It's exciting. It's a nice thing to be a part of."

It's even nicer for someone like left tackle Joe Staley, an 11-year veteran who has been around some awful teams in recent years and found himself hoping for better days ahead. With Garoppolo in place, those feelings seem far more realistic.

"It's got a lot to do with him coming in and kind of turning the culture and the winning around," Staley said. "He's a pretty humble kid too, so he's a big part of that, a big part of the reason why we have got something special here. Definitely a different buzz, expectations and all that stuff.

"We go into every single game confident, even against the No. 1-rated defense in the NFL. Talking about how dominant they've been this season, we felt very confident with what we were going to be able to do as an offense and a lot of that is because of the way No. 10 is playing for us."

Garoppolo's numbers speak for themselves. In his time with the Niners, he's 100-of-145 for 1,268 yards with five touchdowns and three interceptions for a passer rating of 98.9. He's also rushed for a score. That yardage total is the best among all NFL quarterbacks in their first four starts with a team in league history.

A Niners team that began the season 0-9 is now 4-0 with Garoppolo as the starter. His presence has seemingly elevated the play of those around him, the most encouraging sign that he has the goods to turn into a franchise signal-caller.

"He's so focused on winning that he really doesn't worry about the mistakes going on in the game," receiver Marquise Goodwin. "I think that's what makes him who he is. He's always calm and collected. He's always focused in and keying in on the little details and making sure that everybody else is focused on the straight and narrow."

Since the 49ers acquired Garoppolo in late October, it always seemed the most likely outcome would be him playing 2018 under the franchise tag. Even coach Kyle Shanahan openly acknowledged that possibility. That would allow the Niners to get a longer look at Garoppolo and Garoppolo to get a better feel for the Niners. It's still entirely possible he will get the franchise tag and the 49ers will have the ability to negotiate with him into July.

That was before Garoppolo did what he's done over the past month. And he did it with little experience in Shanahan's offense and a supporting cast still in need of upgrades at multiple positions.

"I've coached some good quarterbacks, guys who've had some good games, some good years," Shanahan said. "But Jimmy is playing at a very high level right now."

While some might say a four-game sample is too small and defenses will catch up to Garoppolo with more time to study him, the opposite is true, too. Imagine what Shanahan and Garoppolo can do with an improved roster in place and an offseason to dive all the way into their offense. If Garoppolo continues to improve, his price is only going to go higher, especially as other quarterbacks around the league sign massive extensions.

That's what makes signing Garoppolo now the wisest investment of all: a rich long-term contract would be about what he's going to do in the future rather than what he's already accomplished.