Bears-49ers: Jimmy Garoppolo ‘what if’ game will be front and center

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What if the Bears had traded for Jimmy Garoppolo this past offseason instead of drafting rookie Mitch Trubisky?

That’ll undoubtedly be the question on the minds of a large contingent of Bears fans on Sunday when the San Francisco 49ers come to Soldier Field for a Week 13 matchup.

Garoppolo will make his first start at quarterback for the 49ers, which immediately adds an extra layer of intrigue to an otherwise meaningless December game between teams with a combined 4-18 record.

When the Bears parted ways with Jay Cutler after eight rocky seasons, how the team would fill the seemingly unfillable void at the quarterback position was the hottest topic of the offseason.

Some Bears fans wanted a veteran free agent. Others wanted the team to draft one. Still others had their sights set on Tom Brady’s backup, the one who looked promising last season in his brief fill-in duty for the suspended future Hall of Famer.

“If he’s good enough to start for Bill Belichick, why not for the Bears?” the question was inevitably posed. “Aaron Rodgers backed up Brett Favre for three seasons and turned into a pretty damn good player,” or so went the theory.

Although he almost assuredly inquired into the availability of Garoppolo, Bears general manager Ryan Pace ultimately went the route of free agency and the draft and bypassed the trade market, probably deeming the Patriots’ asking price for Garoppolo — rumored to be two first-round draft picks — as a bit too steep.

Veteran Mike Glennon became the Bears’ consolation prize, as the team doled out more than $18 million in guaranteed money to the soon-to-be “bridge quarterback,” who was going to keep the rest of the team moving forward while the rookie Trubisky learned and developed before taking the reigns of the offense someday in the future.

That experiment lasted all of four weeks before the bridge collapsed and Trubisky jumped in the saddle.

Fast forward to the trade deadline in late October and the asking price for Garoppolo reportedly came down, as the 49ers shipped a 2018 second-round draft pick to the Patriots to land their new quarterback of the future.

Now Bears fans will get an opportunity to see what could have been with Garoppolo.

What if a second-round pick was all that the Patriots were looking for in return for Garoppolo all along? Did Pace make a mistake by passing up on that? Yet another thing Bears fans will be pondering this Sunday.

It’s only natural, whether you’re a supporter of Trubisky or not, to play the “what if” game. We do it in all other areas of our lives, so why not with our beloved team’s quarterback? Bears fans already have been playing the what if game after watching fellow rookie quarterback Deshaun Watson light the world on fire in the first half of the season before tearing his ACL.

Pace, as you know, passed on Watson in the first round in April’s draft and took Trubisky instead, thereby forever linking those two players’ careers for better or worse. Those comparisons died down, if only temporarily, because Watson has been out of the limelight, but they’ll surely resurface in 2018.

What if Garoppolo throws for 300 yards and three touchdowns in leading the 49ers to a blowout victory over the Bears? What if Trubisky completes just 10 passes for little more than 100 yards and turns the ball over twice?

It’d only be natural to wonder if Pace made a mistake by not acquiring Garoppolo. But I’d caution you not to overreact by one performance, to allow the remainder of the 2017 season to play out and see where both these teams go in the offseason.

It’s too easy to play the what if game and recognize that the grass is greener somewhere else. But there’s no guarantee that Watson would have done as well in Chicago as he has done in Houston — or even that he could have done better with the cast of characters in Chicago than Trubisky has. Timing and circumstance matters, and things were set up a lot better for Watson to succeed than for Trubisky, who wasn’t even supposed to play this season.

Same thing goes for Garoppolo. It’s arguable that the Bears are a better football team than the 49ers, record or not. But the team does have a good offensive-minded coach in Kyle Shanahan who will bring more out of Garoppolo than John Fox or Dowell Loggains could do for Trubisky. Add to that fact that Garoppolo is a young veteran who has been in the league for a few years now and I would not be surprised if he outplays Trubisky on Sunday.

Comparing quarterbacks is a marathon, not a sprint. This can best be exemplified by the fact that Cutler was a Pro Bowl quarterback with the Broncos in 2008, which was Rodgers’ first year as a starter with the Packers, and Cutler was thought, by many, to have a brighter future ahead of him than Rodgers.

So much for that comparison.

I wouldn’t blame you for wondering “what if” on Sunday, but I’d also implore you not to start the hashtag #FirePace campaign on Monday and call Trubisky a bust if he gets outplayed by Garoppolo.

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