The San Francisco 49ers are suddenly down to two healthy quarterbacks in the middle of training camp, with Thad Lewis’ ACL tear and Colin Kaepernick’s “dead arm” (which is hopefully just comatose, but who knows?).
Suddenly there’s a need for one or two more QBs. Chip Kelly can throw passes in practice, but he can’t absorb hits in the fourth quarter of preseason games when the shakiest offensive lineman are struggling to stop the rush.
Of the available free agents, Mike Vick probably makes the most sense. He won Chip’s first NFL quarterback competition, and could help teach the system to his teammates as well as run the offense. He’s also super fun to watch and would liven up the dead part of the remaining non-counting games.
Or maybe it’s time to reconsider another QB, one who succeeded last year against top college talent in the legacy version of Chip Kelly’s Oregon offense: Vernon Adams, Jr.
Adam is a longshot for several reasons, including his Vick-like height and smallish hands (9 1/8”, about the same as Jared Goff after the Rams rookie’s post-Combine “growth”). But most importantly, Adams is playing for the Montreal Alouettes of the Canadian Football League.
VA is their 3rd string QB and has thrown only 9 passes in 7 games, but a contract is a contract. According to Article 20, Section 1 of the CBA, Montreal would have to release him before the end of the season and that’s unlikely, as Eagles writer Dave Mangels points out, since Montreal traded a 2017 first round pick for Adams.
Chip Kelly has a good relationship with the CFL in general and Montreal’s coach/GM Jim Popp in particular. He was the University of New Hampshire’s liaison for the CFL and scouted parts of Canada for the Wildcats; the results of that familiarity were apparent in the Niners signing of WR Eric Rogers and tackle Colin Kelly.
But even so, this would be a mighty tall order. Could the famously innovative coach engineer the first cross-league trade? Arrange a cash payment, or share some of his practice gadgets in return? Those are extremely unlikely.
Whatever quarterback the team signs is unlikely to see the field short of a disastrous run of injuries anyway, but the team may already be halfway to that point. In Kelly’s first NFL season, 3rd string QB Matt Barkley saw action in two games as both Vick and backup Nick Foles missed games with injuries and concussions.
But in training camp, familiarity with Kelly’s style of offense is very helpful. The Eagles signed several camp bodies out of Oregon, especially in Chip’s first year, to help everyone keep up with the tempo and innovations of practices. Thad Lewis himself may have been a camp body kept for that purpose, since he played for Chip last year in Philadelphia.
In preseason games, the Niners need a quarterback who can execute Chip’s offense just to be able to evaluate their many unproven skill players. There are only three such QBs out there: Vick, Adams, and Darron Thomas, who led the Ducks to the national championship game in 2010 but is now playing for something called the MLFB.
I’m under no illusions that Vernon Adams, Jr. is a future NFL star. In previous columns I’ve estimated his ceiling as a quality NFL backup: not someone likely to survive 16 games of NFL hits, but a guy who arguably has the talent to win a playoff game in a pinch.
Even so, this may be a crazy pipe dream of mine. But as we consider it, let’s pause a minute to savor some of his great performances last year in the East West Shrine game, against USC, California, Stanford, and in particular, his triple overtime heroics against Arizona State.