Before the start of the NFL free agency period, we’re going to look at various positions on the San Francisco 49ers’ roster to determine a few things. The first is whether or not the position improved from 2016 to 2017. The second is to see if free agency is a viable option to improve the position — if it’s even needed.
Season in review
Given the news about Jimmy Garoppolo’s contract extension, I thought we would spend today talking about the quarterback position.
The overhaul is officially complete. A year ago right now, the 49ers had Colin Kaepernick, Blaine Gabbert, and Christian Ponder on the roster. Gabbert and Ponder were due to hit free agency in March, while Kaepernick had an option to opt out before the 49ers would cut him.
The new league year opened and the 49ers had no quarterbacks on their roster. They were quick to pounce on less than stellar talent, signing Brian Hoyer and Matt Barkley. The thought at the time was that Hoyer would serve as a bridge quarterback. The 49ers were connected to Mitchell Trubisky in the 2017 NFL Draft and Kirk Cousins in 2018 free agency. That coupled with what was viewed as a strong 2018 draft class, and it made sense for the rebuilding 49ers to take their time at the most important position.
Come the 2017 NFL Draft, the 49ers did select a quarterback. Except it was one few saw coming. The team traded up into the back end of the third round to draft Iowa quarterback C.J. Beathard. Kyle Shanahan later said he was the only guy he was looking at, and so, they made a move to get it done.
The job was Hoyer’s right out of the gate. He had experience with Shanahan during their year together in Cleveland. Hoyer looked sharp for a stretch then, and again for a stretch with the Chicago Bears. Meanwhile, C.J. Beathard looked sharp enough in the offseason workout program and training camp to convince the 49ers to cut Matt Barkley and roll with the veteran and the rookie.
Hoyer went on to start six games for the 49ers. He had some solid stretches, particularly during three straight losses by a field goal or less. Between Weeks 3 and 5, he had two 300-yard games, throwing four touchdowns and two interceptions. The team couldn’t quite get things done, but it was cause for at least a little hope.
However, in Week 6 he went in the tank, and was benched at the end of the second quarter following a 4-of-11 for 34 yard performance. I think Shanahan could have justified sticking with Hoyer, but he was comfortable with Beathard and made the change.
Beathard did some solid work coming off the bench against Washington, and most notably showed incredible toughness as he took a beating in the backfield. Part of that was due to offensive line struggles, but he also had some issues with not getting rid of the ball fast enough.
And we had a good comparison of that when Jimmy Garoppolo moved into the starting lineup. He played behind the same offensive line with most of the same weapons as Beathard, and looked decidedly better than Beathard or Hoyer. He completed 67 percent of his passes and many of his percentages and rates would have been among the NFL leaders if he had enough snaps. Garoppolo took the offense to a decidedly higher level in all facets of the game.
Here’s a look at the way the position changed from 2016 to 2017:
2016 Week 17: Colin Kaepernick, Blaine Gabbert, Christian Ponder
2017 Week 1: Brian Hoyer, C.J. Beathard, Nick Mullens (PS)
Current: Jimmy Garoppolo, C.J. Beathard, Nick Mullens (Reserve/future)
2018 Free Agents: NOT JIMMY GAROPPOLO!
The market for quarterbacks
We’re going to take a deeper look at the various positions and free agents available in a separate series. That being said, the quarterback position is effectively settled. The team could add a late round draft pick to compete with Beathard, or could sign a camp body in veteran or undrafted free agency.
You can look through the free agent quarterbacks at Rotoworld. I could see the team maybe signing someone near the bottom of the list, but I could also see the team skip adding a veteran free agent. They signed practice squad quarterback Nick Mullens to a reserve/future contract after the season ended, but they will need to add at least one more body to compete in training camp. If I had to guess, I would say the 49ers end up signing a rookie free agent.