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Thomas: Rebuilding teams need to stop overvaluing the QB

| Thursday, January 23, 2020

The stage was set. I was in the Baumer Hall 24-hour lounge, watching the first half of the NFC championship game between the Green Bay Packers and the San Francisco 49ers. The 49ers faced a 2nd and 9 at the Packers 18-yard line, already up 20-0. One spectator said, “I just want to see a touchdown right now,” to which I responded: “If you don’t believe Jimmy G. [Garoppolo] is about hand this ball off for a touchdown, you don’t deserve to watch the game.”

The reaction to my joke is not important. What is important, however, is that on the ensuing snap, good ol’ Jimmy G. took the snap and tucked into the gut of Raheem Mostert, who burst through a hole for an 18-yard touchdown run. Standing in the lobby, getting ready to leave the dorm, I announced to anyone who was still watching the joke of the game that Garoppolo was the best quarterback of all time. Coming after a game in which Patrick Mahomes added to his legacy with a sparkling performance in the AFC championship, this was obviously a facetious and stunningly false comment. 

But my laughable cold take on Garoppolo prompted me to consider another question: What direction is the NFL truly headed in, and how do you create a regular contender in today’s NFL?

Is a dynamic quarterback simply not the most important piece of a team anymore? There’s no doubt in my mind that Russell Wilson, Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees and possibly Kirk Cousins are all better QBs than Garoppolo, yet it is his 49ers that are headed to the Super Bowl. Why? Because success in the NFL is becoming more based on the run, especially in the playoffs. And you don’t even need a unit of a back like Derrick Henry. Check out the 49ers again, who have Tevan Coleman and reclamation project Raheem Mostert racking up yards on the ground. 

While the Chiefs are in the Super Bowl largely because of their quarterback, Mahomes is a generational talent, and most teams can’t rely on that. So what is the best way to build a perennial contender? 

Once more, look at the 49ers. They truly embraced the grind of the rebuild. After an 8-8 season in 2014, the 49ers lost 11 games, and then 14 games. During this time, the 49ers gradually put the pieces in place for their future, drafting Deforest Buckner — a major defensive contributor this year — and Solomon Thomas, who has become a solid depth piece. In 2017, the 49ers got their coach in Kyle Shanahan, drafted playmaker George Kittle and, in 2018, a stud pass protector in Mike McGlinchey. And then when they figured they were close to contention, they traded their QB in for Garoppolo. Garoppolo came at an affordable price, and he wasn’t a star necessarily, but he has fit the 49ers system. His season-ending injury gave the 49ers one more horrible season last year, but the ’Niners got Nick Bosa out of the lost season, drafting the Ohio State star second overall. This year, San Francisco signed Coleman, Mostert and drafted Deebo Samuel. Suddenly, or rather, extremely gradually, the 49ers had a formidable defense — a solid quarterback with a bevy of weapons to work with and a young coach with a good track record. They took that potential and turned it into a 13-3 season and a Super Bowl berth. 

Skill position players tend to have a short shelf life, so the 49ers — by getting the majority of their weapons right before they were ready to contend — ensured they could maximize their value. So having looked at how to correctly rebuild your team, we now look at how not to do it — presented today by the Cincinnati Bengals. The Bengals still have one of the worst offensive lines and a horrific defense. They’ve drafted some good skill players, using second round picks on Joe Mixon and Tyler Boyd. But Mixon already showed some signs of struggling with the offensive line, and Boyd can only get the ball if there are more weapons to compliment him on offense. The Bengals are almost certainly going to draft Joe Burrow first overall, and they’ll have turned several years of losing records into a handful of good playmakers with a horrible team around them. The NFL nowadays is won in the trenches. Get your offensive line in shape, fix your defense, get some weapons and then get your quarterback. The skill positions should be the final steps. The Bengals are relying on Burrow to be a Mahomes in the coming years, when what they really need is to draft a Bosa, a McGlinchey, a Samuel, a Kittle and then find their own Garoppolo. The times are changing in the league; the 49ers recognized this and adapted, while the Bengals are putting on a clinic of what not to do in a rebuild. 

Moral of the story: Don’t let your obsession with one talented player overshadow the importance of 21 others. In other words? Be a 49er, not a Bengal.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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About Aidan Thomas

A senior marketing and ACMS major at Notre Dame, I've countered the success I've enjoyed as a New England sports fan with the painful existence of a Notre Dame football fan.

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