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Colt McCoy trade: What do the 49ers see in the backup QB?

An exploration of what the newly acquired backup quarterback brings to the 49ers

Ezra Shaw

As was widely reported on Monday, Colt McCoy is heading to the San Francisco 49ers. I had originally intended for this piece to be an examination of the Niners' considerations in addressing the backup quarterback vacancy. Now that they've already addressed the need, it seemed logical to explore what the team potentially sees in the Cleveland castaway, and what he brings to the table in San Francisco.

1. Starting Experience
Sure it wasn't for very long, and it didn't equate to many victories ... but Colt McCoy has starting experience. In his defense, that experience has to be taken with a grain of salt, given the fact that it was with the dreadful Cleveland Browns. He compiled a 6-15 record over 21 career starts, all of them coming in 2010 and 2011. 2010 was highlighted by victories against New Orleans and New England, but McCoy hardly had a hand in those wins. He threw for a combined 248 yards, no passing touchdowns and one rushing touchdown. If it's any consolation, he didn't throw a pick in either contest. Even if it isn't a very impressive starting resume, you want a quarterback that's been under the bright lights and is familiar with the pressures that come along with it.

2. College Success
McCoy authored an illustrious career during his collegiate years at Texas. He garnered a multitude of awards and accolades, and led the 2010 Longhorns to the BCS National Championship game. Of course, college success doesn't always translate to the NFL stage. This has been the case with McCoy so far but again, to be fair, it's difficult to gauge how much of that falls on his shoulders and how much of it is due to the fact that he's been on a paltry Cleveland squad.

3. Decent Mobility
He's never, ever going to be mistaken for Colin Kaepernick or Robert Griffin III in this department, but McCoy can scramble around in the pocket and buy time if the situation calls for it (nevermind that horrid pass at the end of the linked video clip) or pull the ball down and head for pay dirt. Making something out of nothing and extending plays is a huge component of quality quarterback play; If pass rushers collapse the pocket, you want a guy that can evade the pressure and make a play. McCoy's decent quickness and modest build can help him in eluding defenders behind a stout 49ers offensive line.

4. A Sizable Chip on the Shoulder
Harbaugh can identify with players that are out to prove something and can coax some pretty impressive things out of them on the field. He played that way himself, during a thirteen-year NFL career. As a coach, he took an oft-ridiculed Alex Smith, built him up, and turned that public perception into motivation. The results speak for themselves, as Smith transformed his career under Harbaugh and turned into a pretty darn good quarterback. The Niners recognize that McCoy's professional experience and development have been hampered by an inauspicious environment in Cleveland and I'm sure McCoy harbors some animosity toward the organization as a result. Even if that isn't the case, he certainly wants to prove that they made a mistake in letting him go and validate himself as an NFL quarterback. The "Quarterback Whisperer" element of Harbaugh thrives on getting the most out of his quarterbacks and relishes the challenge to develop them. This is another piece of clay for Harbaugh to mold, another opportunity for him to "attack with an enthusiasm unknown to mankind", as he would put it.

5. Current/Future Potential Value
The 49ers nabbed a young, experienced quarterback with an NFL career that's still yet to be defined. Doing so only cost them one of their many seventh round picks in 2013, and a fifth round pick (No. 164 overall). In exchange, they receive McCoy and, the real kicker of the deal, a sixth round pick (No. 173 overall) in this year's draft. The $1.5 million dollar hit against the cap (he's actually due $2.325 million, but Cleveland is on the hook for the balance since that was part of his signing bonus) certainly isn't ideal by any stretch, especially considering Kaepernick is only receiving $740,844 this year, but Kaepernick's low number makes it easier to absorb and justify.

In another potential parallel to Alex Smith, Colt McCoy could provide value and trade ammunition down the road. Should he shine in the preseason or see any praise-worthy action during the regular season (although vehemently hoping against a scenario that would necessitate the latter), quarterback-needy teams will take notice and he could become a decent commodity a la Matt Cassel or Matt Flynn, should the Niners re-up his contract. If they like what they have in him and he doesn't see regular season action, the 49ers have huge leverage in being able to offer a low contract number and reduce his annual salary significantly. With that said, the Niners will look to appreciate his value and either keep him on board as backup to Kaepernick, or flip him to another team if an attractive offer presents itself in the future.

6. Competition, Competition, Competition... and Chemistry
Harbaugh is a fervent proponent of old school football principals and one of the more crucial principles is competition. The 49ers head coach is well versed in facilitating competition on his teams and it's worked out to great advantage thus far on both the collegiate and professional levels. If nothing else, McCoy's arrival lights a fire underneath both himself and Scott Tolzien, making both better quarterbacks in the process.

Then there's the age factor. All three quarterbacks on the 49ers roster are within a year of each other, almost eerily so. Kaepernick and Tolzien are both 25 years old and their birthdays are only a day apart from one another (September 3rd and 4th, 1987). McCoy is almost exactly a year older at age 26, with his birthday coming the day after Tolzien's. The weird coincidence in which their birthdays fall consecutively is nothing more than an interesting, if meaningless, side note. Kidding aside, youth and close proximity in age could foster a competitive, college-esque air at the quarterback position. The natural concern there would be that a younger group like that lacks an authoritative, veteran perspective and presence... but that's where Harbaugh comes in. As a former quarterback, he has the luxury of playing that role without having to sacrifice a spot on the roster for it.

So while the current salary number and previous NFL track record of Colt McCoy may not instill a boatload of confidence, there's a silver living for detractors and plausible evidence suggesting why the 49ers made the move. Now it's just a matter of seeing how it plays out.