For now, we’ll be using the disclaimer of “It’s just one game, and it’s against the Raiders” when describing Nick Mullens near historic performance on Thursday Night. But there’s a big if.
If Mullens were to continue starting, and I don’t see why the 49ers would not start him against the New York Giants, the schedule offers some potentially winnable games. If he plays well enough to win maybe five or six games by season’s end, the 49ers suddenly have more than a backup — they have a trade candidate.
Nick Mullens nearly had a perfect passer rating Thursday Night. Again, it’s against the Raiders defense and the Giants defense isn’t going to provide many answers either. Teams also will need to get film on him so we can watch him regress. For now, the arrow is looking up for him to at least be a decent backup. C.J. Beathard is a career backup. That’s fine. That’s who he is. If Mullens were to play and continue to play lights out with this banged up 49ers team, quarterback needy teams would want him.
For starters, Mullens will have displayed he can play in an NFL system, one of the most difficult systems in Kyle Shanahan. Another thing is his age. He’s only two years removed from college, which would make him a perfect building block for any offense—and he has the NFL experience no rookie in the draft would get (assuming he doesn’t fall apart).
But most important is his contract. Mullens’ contract ends in 2019, the only negative, but it’s a UDFA contract that has a 2019 salary of $570,000 (per Over the Cap). Furthermore, if he were to play out his deal, he would be an exclusive rights free agent due to only have two accrued seasons. The 49ers (or any team if he were traded) would be able to tender him at any salary they want. The following year (2020) he would be a restricted free agent, and the year after that (2021) he would be an unrestricted free agent.
Remember the Jimmy Garoppolo trade and how he netted a ‘generous’ second round pick from the Niners when the going rate for Jimmy G was multiple first rounders? A team would get Mullens for the entire season on the cheap, and then the option to either work out a long-term deal or franchise him.
Also, Mullens is working with much less talent than Garoppolo did during his brief starting stint in New England. Not to mention the larger sample size than the latter had to justify the pick.
Right now, the worst case is Mullens regresses quickly and ends up back on the practice squad, released, or allowed to walk after his deal expires. The middle case is Mullens takes Beathard’s job as a backup and the 49ers find a reliable backup in him moving forward. The best case, if Mullens plays very, very well, is the 49ers could deal him for picks in the draft. It’s too good a situation to not have.
All of this is riding on if Mullens can continue playing well for the rest of the year. And if he ever starts again. But with nothing but sunshine and rainbows coming out of his first start, why not think optimistically?