SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- Barring what San Francisco 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan would call a shocking development, quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo has played his final snap of the 2020 NFL season as he continues to work his way back from a high ankle sprain.
That doesn't mean, however, that Garoppolo has played his final game as a Niner.
Asked Monday whether he envisions Garoppolo returning as his starting quarterback in 2021, Shanahan reiterated that he does and went into detail as to what will go into their offseason approach with him and the position as a whole.
"Yes, I do believe Jimmy is going to be our quarterback next year," Shanahan said, echoing what he said after Garoppolo sprained the ankle for the second time on Nov. 1.
At that time, Shanahan left a bit of wiggle room for some possible quarterback shuffling, pointing out that no roster decisions for next season would be made so far removed from when it's scheduled to start.
When Shanahan again said Monday that he believes Garoppolo will be the team's quarterback in 2021, he was asked why he's so certain of that given the size of Garoppolo's contract and his injury history.
Again, Shanahan explained, as he and general manager John Lynch often have, that they will always look at all options that could make the team better.
"You can't say anything with certainty," Shanahan said. "You don't sit here and make promises on anything. When you build a football team, it's your job to put the best team together year in and year out."
But Shanahan's backing of Garoppolo is more directly tied to the idea that if the 49ers are to replace him, they had better be certain they're getting an upgrade. That's no easy task given that the 49ers are 22-8 in regular-season games Garoppolo has started and 7-26 in all games started by other quarterbacks since Shanahan took over in 2017.
"You look into every avenue and you see if there's something out there that can get you a ton better," Shanahan said. "That's the same answer for every position, but look at Jimmy, look what he's done, look where he's at financially. We better have a very good answer if you're gonna find something better than that because Jimmy has shown in one year that he's the guy who can take us to the Super Bowl, and I also think that Jimmy is going to get a lot better the more he plays."
Garoppolo is scheduled to count $26.9 million against the salary cap next season and $27 million in 2022.
The 49ers could theoretically move on from Garoppolo and save $24.1 million in cap space with just $2.8 million in dead money in an offseason in which the salary cap is expected to drop and they are slated to have around 40 players reach some form of free agency.
But Shanahan doesn't view Garoppolo's salary as particularly onerous, noting that since he signed his five-year, $137.5 million deal in 2018, plenty of other quarterbacks have surpassed him. Garoppolo's $26.9 million salary-cap figure for next season would be the 11th highest in the NFL.
"That's just how much they cost," Shanahan said. "So, it's not like it's something ridiculous or anything like that. We can work all that out. And, not to mention, look at Jimmy's record when he's been here. Jimmy, you can win with. He's proven that. He's proven he's a starting quarterback in this league."
Many of the questions surrounding Garoppolo aren't so much about his contract as they are the combination of his contract and his injury history. With the likelihood that Garoppolo doesn't play Sunday against the Seattle Seahawks, he will have missed 23 regular-season games in the past three seasons.
In addition to the torn ACL that cost him 13 games in 2018 and the pair of high ankle sprains that kept him out of 10 games this year, Garoppolo also had a shoulder injury that prevented him from making a couple of starts when he was with the New England Patriots in 2016.
That, along with the pending free agency for backups Nick Mullens (restricted) and C.J. Beathard (unrestricted), means the Niners will have to take a long look at their quarterback room no matter what as they head into 2021.
"Yes, we have to be able to improve our team and stuff if he does get hurt but also what will help that if you ever have a backup going in to play a whole year will be trying to keep the rest of your roster healthy," Shanahan said. "It was going to be a tough year for Jimmy, too, if he stayed there. Yes, we would have had a better chance because of how good Jimmy is, but it was tough on anybody who was going to get put in that position. So, you're not going to sit and overreact just because our backup quarterbacks had to play all year in some tough situations, but you're going to look at who we can get next year."
To Shanahan's point about the rest of the roster, the 49ers came out of Saturday's win against the Arizona Cardinals with even more injury attrition in a season full of it.
Left tackle Trent Williams (sprained elbow) and rookie wideout Brandon Aiyuk (high ankle sprain) will not play Sunday against the Seahawks after suffering injuries against the Cardinals. Shanahan also ruled out cornerback Richard Sherman for this week as he continues to deal with a calf injury. Williams and Sherman are set to be unrestricted free agents.