After another disappointing outing, the San Francisco 49ers will go into another offseason where we will see significant changes.
Quarterback Nick Mullens continued his quest to help the Niners shoot up the draft board with three turnovers that resulted in 17 points for the Dallas Cowboys. In last week’s loss to the Washington Football Team, Mullens had a fumble and interception that were taken back to the house.
Over his five last starts, Mullens has turned the ball over 10 times, which resulted in 37 points for the opposition. Every quarterback has interceptions, but the number of times Mullens has errant throws that he just completely misses where the defender is on the field have been frustrating
INTERCEPTED. #DallasCowboys— NFL (@NFL) December 20, 2020
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The fact Kyle Shanahan hasn’t decided to start C.J. Beathard should give us an indication of what the head coach thinks about the 2017 third-round pick. The two games against Dallas and Washington were entirely winnable with a semi-competent quarterback. Instead, San Francisco lost both affairs and will miss the playoffs for the sixth time in seven seasons.
This sets up a fascinating offseason for the 49ers where they will have to make some decisions on what to do at the most crucial position in the game. Jimmy Garoppolo will hopefully be ready to go for the start of the 2021 season, but it remains to be seen if Lynch and Shanahan will roll with him again next year. Mullens is a restricted free agent, while Beathard is a UFA. Given Garoppolo’s injury history, the franchise needs to bring in a veteran backup if he returns next season.
What are some of the team’s options to address the QB position during the offseason?
The 2021 NFL Draft
As things currently stand, San Francisco will have the 11th pick in the 2021 NFL Draft. There are three teams ahead of the Niners who are likely taking a quarterback. The New York Jets, Jacksonville Jaguars and Carolina Panthers have major question marks at quarterback and are in line all pick in the top four.
Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence is a shoo-in to go No. 1, while Ohio State’s Justin Fields is widely regarded as the second-best prospect at the position in this year’s class. After Lawrence and Fields, some of the other options expected to be available are Trey Lance, Zach Wilson and Kyle Trask.
The Atlanta Falcons, Dallas Cowboys and Detroit Lions are also ahead of the 49ers on the draft board and could move on from their own veteran options. But, if the Niners lose their final two contests, they should be picking somewhere in the top eight. Lynch and Shanahan could also look to trade up to get their man but would likely have to give up a ton to move up the board.
Another option for San Francisco is to take a QB in the middle rounds to try and groom behind Garoppolo for the next year or two. Unfortunately, other than Russell Wilson and Dak Prescott, no other QBs selected in the third round or later over the last 10 years has amounted to much.
The reclamation project
As mentioned above, New York will likely take a QB in the 2021 draft just three years after selecting Sam Darnold third overall. Shanahan and Lynch could trade a mid-round pick for Darnold and bring him in to compete with Garoppolo. Darnold’s cap hit is just over $9.7 million for 2021, and whichever team he’s on can pick up his fifth-year option for the 2022 season. Darnold hasn’t had a chance to succeed with Todd Bowles and Adam Gase as his head coaches.
Trading for a veteran
The Falcons may look to move on from veteran Matt Ryan after firing head coach Dan Quinn earlier in the season. The 35-year-old had his best years when Shanahan was his offensive coordinator, winning NFL MVP in 2016. Ryan is due roughly $119 million over the next three seasons.
Detroit also let go of its head coach, moving on from Matt Patricia. Matthew Stafford has been with the organization since he entered the league in 2009 and has failed to win a playoff game. It would most likely cost San Francisco a first-round selection to get Stafford, but the total package will be less than it would take to move up the draft board. Stafford has two years left on his deal with a cap hit of just under $35 million in 2021 and $27.95 million in 2022.
Stick with Garoppolo
To me, this is the best option for the 49ers. Garoppolo is 22-8 as the starter since being traded to San Francisco. The team was seven minutes away from winning the Super Bowl in 2019. We have also seen the results when he’s on the sidelines and Mullens in starting. No one will mistake Jimmy G for the second coming of Joe Montana, but the team has shown it can win with him as the starting quarterback.
Garoppolo has his limitations. His decision-making leaves a lot to be desired, and his struggles with throwing head-scratching interceptions are apparent. The Niners ran all over the Minnesota Vikings and Green Bay Packers in their postseason victories last season, which resulted in Garoppolo’s playoff stats being underwhelming. But, looking at the results, Shanahan was correct in leaning on the rushing attack against a pair of opponents who had no answer against the run.
The 29-year-old has two seasons remaining on his deal. He’s owed $26.4 million in 2021 and a dead cap hit of $2.8 million, per spotrac. Garoppolo’s contract has him making $27 million in 2022, with a dead cap of $1.4 million, meaning the organization can walk away from him with a minimal financial impact over the next two years.
Garoppolo’s injury history is obviously concerning. He has missed 21 games over the past three seasons, so questioning his durability is entirely valid.
San Francisco has some high-end talent on the roster. George Kittle, Fred Warner and the returning Nick Bosa give the organization a nucleus they can build around for years to come, but management has to get the quarterback position right.
The 49ers should bring Garoppolo back for one more “prove it” season, but sign a capable backup who won’t torpedo the team’s record if Jimmy G goes down. The other option is drafting the long-term solution and letting him develop behind Garoppolo.
Either way, it’s going to be an exciting offseason.
What do you think is the Niners’ best option at the QB position next season?