Once again, we reach the position on the team that will probably lead to the most explosive debate. The future of the 49ers QB position has been hanging over the head of this franchise and fanbase since Jeff Garcia left town. We drafted Alex Smith #1 overall, and at one point (late in 2006), it seemed like he was going to step up and be that guy. A disastrous 2007 and injury plagued 2008 seemed to end any hope of that. Now, maybe Smith will be back? I won't say this is getting ridiculous, but it's certainly not the simplest situation in the world.
For this assessment, we're only looking back at J.T. O'Sullivan and Shaun Hill. Alex Smith will be looked at as part of the looking ahead and Jamie Martin gets no consideration given the circumstances.
Shaun Hill: All things considered, could Shaun Hill have done much more to gain a vote of confidence heading into 2009? In his 8 starts the team was 5-3 and the offense seemed to reach some level of consistency that was clearly not there under JTO. Hill finished the season with 13 TDs, 8 INTs, a 62.8 completion percentage and a QB rating of 87.5. Not spectacular, but he clearly got the job done. A closer look at his splits shows a guy who could be downright dominant in the 1st and 4th quarters, decent in the second quarter and downright horrible in the third quarter. A more consistent third quarter and imagine those overall numbers?
Coach Singletary would not give Hill the starting nod heading into 2009 and I actually have no problem with that. If Hill had been clearly dominant it would have been one thing. However, Hill had plenty of ugly hiccups that he needs to address. It's a little harsh to say "you're our guy unless something better comes along," but that's the nature of the NFL. Maybe it could have been handled a little more subtly, but Shaun Hill is a big boy and should be able to handle it. Hill has plenty of areas to improve in his performance and competition might push that improvement (of course there's also the issue of his practice abilities).
The argument for having Hill start in 2009 is that they won with him and he commands the respect of the offense, like any good leader should. Although he's not a gun-slinger like JTO, he did other things to get people excited. It might be the run for a first down without his helmet or tossing the ball to an offensive lineman every time he rushed for a TD. Furthermore, while he made some bad decisions at times, he can usually make the throws a decent QB needs to make. The team doesn't need him to make the big play down the field all the time. And he's not simply a game-manager in the mold of Trent Dilfer with the Ravens. He can manage the game but still make sizable plays.
J.T. O'Sullivan: JTO seemd to embody everything that was the Mike Martz offense. Crazy highs and ugly lows. JTO would blow up with a big play and then one series later, get blown up by an ugly turnover. There seemed to be no middle ground with him. It was literally all or nothing and unfortunately, the nothing took over most of the time. For quarterbacks with at least 100 passes, JTO finished dead last in DYAR and second to last in DVOA for QBs. He seemed to cough up the ball several times a game and the offense was never consistent when he was on the field (except against the Lions, who don't count).
The upside to JTO is he was one of several reasons Mike Nolan was fired, so he's got that going for him. Some people have suggested maybe bringing him back since he has some skills. Given that he was brought in by Martz I don't think that will be happening. It wouldn't surprise me to see Martz bring him along to his next NFL stop, wherever that might be.
So the question becomes, who is that new quarterback that could compete for the starting position? There are several ways to handle this. If the team drafts a QB, I'd imagine that player would spend the entire season as the emergency #3 QB. They would either rework Smith's deal or bring in some older veteran that is more than just a Dilfer sitting in the background guy.
The question in this instance is who do you draft and when? A lot of people think the 49ers would grab Bradford (or maybe Stafford or Sanchez) with that 10 pick. While I'll hold short of calling that an insane suggestion, I do think it's not the best idea in the world. My suggestion since late in the season has been to draft somebody somewhere inthe 3rd-5th rounds and develop them. Some options include Rhett Bomar of Sam Houston State and Graham Harrell of Texas Tech. I know next to nothing about Bomar and not much more about Harrell's NFL prospects, but I throw them out because 1) they're projected in that range and 2) it's just a matter of getting some names out there.
The other option is going the free agency route. There is of course the Matt Cassell route, which some people would like to see happen. I'm not a fan of throwing out that kind of money and possibly draft picks (if he's franchised), so count me out of that bandwagon. There is always everyone's favorite, Jeff Garcia. He's not a long term answer, but when healthy he's been quite solid, even though he's 38. I guarantee people out there would love to see the 49ers sign him. I'm not one of them, but I know they're out there. The only other real legit option (unless y'all want Rex Grossman!) is Kurt Warner, who's 37 and an unrestricted free agent. Although a different style of player than Garcia, I lump those two together as similar types of free agent QBs.
So there you have it. I'll leave you with a poll that is kind of all over the place. Given the craziness of free agency and whatnot, just throw out what you think will happen heading into Week 1 of the regular season.