None of those reasons mattered more than their resolute belief that Garoppolo was the type of franchise quarterback capable of elevating the players around him to previously unprecedented places. That belief, coupled with Garoppolo and the Niners' finishing flourish to 2017, generated perhaps the most buzz a 6-10 team has ever had.
However, a quarterback capable of elevating a team can also mask many of that team's problems. In the Niners' case, Garoppolo's presence accelerated expectations and Garoppolo-mania concealed this reality: The Niners are still a team early in the second year of a massive rebuild.
Now that the Niners have lost their star signal-caller for the season, the long-term implications for him and the franchise are far reaching. Let's take a closer look at what Garoppolo's season-ending ACL injury means for him and the 49ers going forward:
Losing Garoppolo is devastating for the Niners and their fans, but it's especially disheartening for him. Think of it this way: If, as expected, backup quarterback C.J. Beathard is able to stay healthy and start the next six games, he will have more starts (11) in two NFL seasons than Garoppolo has in five. This season was incredibly important for Garoppolo not only to establish that he is capable of performing for a full season but also to get much-needed seasoning in coach Kyle Shanahan's offense. Considering the leap someone like Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan made from Year 1 to Year 2 in Shanahan's scheme, it wasn't outrageous to expect Garoppolo to really break out with a monster 2019 season. That could still happen but it's going to be much more of a projection with Garoppolo coming off a serious knee injury.
For the 49ers, losing Garoppolo likely means any realistic chance they had of making the postseason is gone. Their plan is to roll with Beathard and, frankly, it's the right one. There might be other veteran quarterbacks they could acquire who could offer an upgrade in the short term but for what reason? Would getting to 6-10 or 7-9 with some veteran help this team long term? Would it help more than potentially drafting in the top 5-10? The answer, to all of those questions, is no. It's no secret the Niners need edge rush help and next year's draft looks to be stocked with pass-rushers (Mel Kiper Jr.'s latest rankings have four ends and nine defensive linemen in the top 15). So it wouldn't be the worst thing in the world if they were in a better position to land one. That's not to say the Niners are tanking the season. Shanahan is a competitor and he really does believe in Beathard. While nobody likes the idea of a lost season here in Week 4, this franchise's focus has to be on the big picture.
Speaking of the big picture, the next 13 games will give the Niners a better sense of where their roster stands as they head into offseason No. 3 under Shanahan and general manager John Lynch. The three-game sample we've seen to this point has offered some good (Matt Breida and two young linebackers) and some bad (major question marks in the pass rush and secondary). Shanahan has never hesitated to play young players. He's not suddenly going to start a youth movement, but he will play young players if he believes they give the team the best chance in the short and long term. One position to keep a keen eye on is wide receiver. Beathard and Dante Pettis had good chemistry in the preseason, can that continue? What does Pierre Garcon have left? Can Trent Taylor regain his late 2017 form? Without Garoppolo to throw them open, this group will be tested further. The Niners will learn a lot about what they have over the final 13 games and it should go a long way in shaping what the team looks like in 2019.
On the flip side of all of that is the outside chance that Beathard is able to step in and offer production similar to Garoppolo. Beathard isn't as accurate as Garoppolo and so he'll need to rely more on hitting on chunk plays rather than some of the intermediate success Garoppolo relies on. Opportunities to step up and into the spotlight abound all over the Niners' roster but Beathard's is the biggest. If he stays healthy, he could start 13 games. If he plays well, he could set himself up for a future as a starter, even if it's not in San Francisco and the Niners would benefit from having either a solid, proven backup or a valuable trade chip. It's probably a long shot but crazier things happen in the NFL all the time. That would be the ultimate win-win for Beathard and the Niners.