How High is the Bar For Jimmy GQ in 2018?

It can't be argued that when Jimmy Garoppolo took over as 49ers quarterback Thanksgiving weekend last season, he took a team who's play could be best described as tragic and made them watchable — hell, even exciting — for the final month of the year. He rekindled hope in a once-dominant franchise that has gone 61-117 (.343) since 2003 under anyone not named Harbaugh. He became the eighth different quarterback over the last 15 seasons to lead San Francisco in passing, and he looked damn good doing it.

Still, there are those in Niner-land who winced a little when the team quickly decided to go all-in with the superstar now aptly dubbed Jimmy GQ, handing him nearly $75MM in guaranteed money and making him the highest-paid player in the NFL.

Seven career starts, 183 completions, 12 touchdown passes, and $137.5 million little reminders of what is being asked of Garoppolo: usher in the next 49ers dynasty.

This scenario has a precedent in San Francisco, sort of. Steve Young famously spent four seasons backing up Joe Montana, and was in his seventh season overall when he took over the Niners quarterback job to stay in 1991. Garoppolo was Tom Brady's understudy for three seasons, and will be entering his fifth NFL campaign in 2018.

In some regards, Garoppolo has it easier than Young did. For one, he is a fresh face in the Bay Area and took over a team that was going absolutely nowhere prior to his arrival on the scene. On the other hand, Young was already familiar to San Francisco fans, and was tasked with taking the wheel of a McLaren going 220 mph and not crashing it.

In addition, fans had already seen Young start for a full season in Tampa, and the results were dreadful. Yes, that franchise was famously inept in those days, but quarterbacks and head coaches often take the brunt of the blame. Garoppolo will be a full-time starter for the first time in his career, so he is likely to get a little more benefit of the doubt.

Still, the 26-year-old Illinois native is taking the helm of a proud franchise and fan base that still remembers when San Francisco revolutionized and set the standard for offensive football. Under Montana and Young, from 1981-1998, the 49ers finished in the top 10 in scoring every season, leading the NFL in points scored six times. With Jeff Garcia as the primary signal caller from 1999-2003, the team finished in the top 10 in scoring three more times. Overall, San Francisco placed in the top 10 in 20 of 22 seasons.

It has now been 15 seasons since they finished among the top 10 in offensive points.

The franchise enjoyed a brief revival from 2011-2013 primarily on the strength of a stout, smash-mouth defense and an offense that was solid, but not great. Then the team moved to Santa Clara, had an ugly divorce with Jim Harbaugh, and slipped right back to the bottom of the league. The team now enters its fifth season at Levi's Stadium, with the soulless billion-dollar brainchild of Jed York & Co. yet to come alive with any of the spirit and personality of The Stick.

So what will be the standard of success for Jimmy GQ and the Niners this season? The team has finished last in the NFC West the past three seasons, so we can begin with rising from the cellar. The Cardinals appear to be in a transition phase, moving on from ancient Carson Palmer and bridging the gap to freshly drafted Josh Rosen with a combination of journeymen in Sam Bradford and Mike Glennon.

The Seahawks aren't quite the same powerhouse they once were, but it's hard to envision a complete drop off from a team that has now created a culture of winning regardless of who is on the roster. And then there is the Los Angeles Rams, who appear poised to step forward as a powerhouse in the NFC.

Is it wild card or bust for San Francisco in 2018? To at least be in the conversation seems to be the minimum expectation for the team, barring any string of critical injuries. That being said, to expect 10+ wins from a team that had the worst defense in football in 2016 and is still looking to re-establish their identity on that side of the ball is a bit of a stretch.

So let's call it 9-7, and home games with more than half the seats filled, shall we? How's about it Jimmy? Atta kid. How can you say no to that smile?

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