The San Francisco 49ers made a difficult decision after their win over the Oakland Raiders: keep Nick Mullens starting. Despite difficulty, it was obvious given Mullens’ near-record setting performance. He may finish 2018 as the starter, he may not. One thing is certain:
C.J. Beathard will need to be moved in 2019.
When Beathard was drafted, he was looked at as the clear 49ers backup, and the play his rookie season backed it up. He was far from horrible, but not inspiring either. When the 49ers made a last-minute trade for Jimmy Garoppolo, it was a matter of time before Garoppolo, or someone else came in for the starting role. Beathard understood. Garoppolo. He’s a rookie, Garoppolo is a veteran.
Garoppolo got extended in the 2018 offseason and it the quarterback hierarchy was made clear: Beathard was the backup, Garoppolo was the starter. Of course, it had a shake up when Garoppolo injured his knee in Week 3 and Beathard came in. While not horrible, he took far too many sacks and failed to notch a single win. Blame here can also be placed on the 49ers defense, but Beathard looked incomplete, despite his improvement from his rookie season. Then Beathard hurt his hand, Mullens came in, and after that aforementioned Raiders game, Beathard once again was kept to the sidelines.
At this point, one has to wonder just how much of this Beathard can take. This is twice now that Kyle Shanahan has moved on from the backup. Once for a clear-cut starter and now for a third string UDFA.
If he’s the backup, and other options display something potentially better ... then why would he remain on the team in 2019?
Shanahan continues to praise Beathard at every opportunity, saying the story is not over and Beathard can still achieve great things, but what should he say? What can he say? Actions speak louder than words and the action is they think Nick Mullens is a better quarterback than C.J. Beathard, at least right now. And the other action is twice now they don’t think Beathard’s the guy to cut it. Maybe Beathard is a good quarterback and is still developing, but considering his coach doesn’t want to stick with him could fracture the relationship. How many times can your coach tell you “We think someone’s better” before a relationship has cracks?
Switching quarterbacks is very, very dangerous, which is why it’s done with kid gloves. This is a special case, considering the team has Garoppolo firmly entrenched as the starter. Look at the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and that carousel, or even the 49ers when they went back and forth between Alex Smith and Troy Smith. How embarrassing do both of those look?
Obviously, the 49ers have made the right decision so far. If this was the first time something happened like this it’d be one thing. But this is the second time in as many seasons Beathard has been in the league where the coaching staff has decided to move onto someone better. Even if Mullens proves he’s not as good of a quarterback as Beathard, it’s hard to see why you’d keep Beathard around after you’ve suggested he can't get the job done.
Even if Mullens regresses to where Beathard comes back under center, it’s time to move on. The coaching staff already tried. Twice.