The San Francisco 49ers are worried that Jimmy Garoppolo, the team’s emerging star at quarterback, has torn his left anterior cruciate ligament, which would end his season. And the questions will immediately swirl as to whether this could open the door for a return to the N.F.L. by Colin Kaepernick.
The 26-year-old Garoppolo was injured at the tail end of a 13-yard run as he tried to rally his team in the fourth quarter. His left foot stepped out of bounds on the play, with his knee buckling awkwardly, before he endured hard contact to his upper body on a hit by Steve Nelson.
After the game, Coach Kyle Shanahan acknowledged to reporters that the team feared the worst.
“With Jimmy we’re fearing A.C.L.,” Shanahan said. “We’ll find out tomorrow. I haven’t had a chance to talk to him yet. I feel for him.”
Garoppolo came to the Niners in a trade with the New England Patriots last season and proceeded to go 5-0 as a starter for a team that had been 1-10. Even though Garoppolo had just seven starts over four seasons, San Francisco locked him up with a huge contract that includes more than $70 million in guaranteed money.
It has been an uneven start to this season, with the 49ers going 1-2 thus far, but Garoppolo had his team rolling after an early deficit on Sunday, and had completed 20 of 30 passes for 251 yards and two touchdowns in the game before the injury. In his place, C. J. Beathard had his only pass attempt wiped out by a penalty.
Beathard, a third-round pick in 2017, went 1-4 as a starter in his rookie season, and will presumably be the team’s new starting quarterback in what could quickly turn from a year in which San Francisco was expected to compete for a playoff spot to one where the team is a contender for the No. 1 pick in the draft.
In addition to the injury to Garoppolo, the 49ers lost their expected starter at running back, Jerick McKinnon, to a preseason injury and had Richard Sherman, a veteran cornerback, leave the stadium on Sunday in a walking boot with an injured calf, which he expected to have examined on Monday.
Beathard said he spoke with Garoppolo briefly after the game and said keeping the team’s morale up will be a key to not surrendering the season. He believes his experience last year can help.
“It’s huge having already played last year,” Beathard said of his readiness. “I feel like it will really help me going forward.”
With no third-string quarterback on the roster, San Francisco will be in the market for a veteran to start, or to serve as Beathard’s backup.
One name that will immediately come up is Kaepernick, a former 49ers starter, who has been out of football for the last two seasons after having spent the 2016 season with San Francisco, when he protested police brutality by kneeling during the national anthem.
Kaepernick has not taken a snap in a game since Jan. 1, 2017, and is in the middle of a lawsuit against the N.F.L. in which he contends that the league’s 32 teams have colluded to not sign him.