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49ers offseason plan, Pt. III: Trade up for a franchise QB

CFP National Championship Presented by AT&T - Ohio State v Alabama Photo by Alika Jenner/Getty Images

We have been through two separate offseason plans. The first one was the most likely scenario that had the San Francisco 49ers keeping Jimmy Garoppolo and landing a quarterback in the NFL Draft. That was under the assumption a QB falls to the Niners at No. 12. If you trade up for a quarterback, I have a hard time imagining that you keep Garoppolo on the roster. In today’s NFL, those guys play right away.

The second plan involved the 49ers not necessarily swinging for the fences, but we had them attempting to hit one off the wall. The Niners hypothetically traded for Matthew Stafford, but the Rams colluded with Detriot beat out other offers to land the former Lion.

There will be a change at quarterback in today’s offseason plan. “No risk it, no biscuit,” as the Super Bowl-winning head coach Bruce Arians would say. It’ll force the 49ers to step outside of their comfort zone, but it’s time to shake things up. We’ll get to who and why later. First, let’s discuss who the Niners bring back during free agency.

Who stays?

  • Trent Williams
  • Jason Verrett
  • Ahkello Witherspoon
  • D.J. Jones

It’s slim pickings this time around. In this version of the offseason plan, the Niners are in a cap crunch and realize their best bet is to re-sign their two top priorities while the majority of the other bigger named free agents walk in free agency.

That includes Kyle Juszczyk, Kendrick Bourne, Kerry Hyder, Jaquiski Tartt, Richard Sherman, K’Waun Williams, and more. Again, the team is sure to re-sign more than Wiliams, Verrett, Jones, and Witherspoon. We’ve seen them make daily moves as far as bringing back ERFA’s. I suspect we’ll see plenty of one-year deals with the salary cap expected to hover around $180 million.

Players I expect back include Jordan Willis, then Emmanuel Moseley, Ross Dwelley, and Marcell Harris — all three restricted free agents — to name a few.

Based on how he played late in the season, it’s not going to be easy to party ways with Witherspoon. In this scenario, and knowing where we’re headed as far as the lack of money available and draft picks, the Niners roll into 2021 with Verrett and Witherspoon as their starting cornerbacks.

Before you roll your eyes, understand that Witherspoon played lights out in his four starts. He allowed a completion percentage of 52.2%, only 6.7 yards per target, and broke up three passes with an interception. Equally as impressive, Witherspoon was an aggressive run defender who only missed one tackle. Ahkello gets one more shot.

I know he’s been banged up, but D.J. Jones is such a good football player that I’m not letting him go anywhere. When Jones is on the field, the 49ers' run defense is among the best units in the NFL. Fred Warner and Dre Greenlaw’s life become worlds easier with Jones clogging up the middle.

Who signs from outside of the building?

  • C Alex Mack
  • EDGE Denico Autry
  • CB Troy Hill

Don’t expect San Francisco to make a splash in free agency outside of bringing back Williams and Verrett. Mack feels like a no-brainer and figures to sign a contract that wouldn’t break the bank. You enter 2021 with Williams-Tomlinson-Mack-Brunskill-McGlinchey as your starting offensive line. That’s an improvement from a season ago.

Autry is a name that hasn’t come up. The 31-year-old could serve as this year’s version of Hyder. This time, Autry won’t have to contribute as much as the Niners needed Hyder to during 2020. If you remember, during the playoffs, Autry had an impressive strip-sack on Josh Allen. During that game, Autry registered four stops. He finished the season with 7.5 sacks and eight QB hits.

He’ll serve as the veteran pass rusher off the bench and give the Niners a formidable pass rush with Bosa-Kinlaw-Armstead-Autry. With the Colts this past season, Autry pressured the quarterback 8% of the time. That’s quite a step down from Hyder’s 12%, but you’re also paying him half as much as you would for a player who put up Hyder’s numbers in 2020. We’re pinching pennies and counting on that Bosa guy to do the thing where he’s better than everyone else again.

Hill is a name you’ll recognize as he’s spent the past five seasons playing for the Rams. Hill has played everywhere for the Rams, from outside cornerback to in the slot to safety. The Niners value versatility in the secondary, so Hill would be a welcomed addition and a K’Waun replacement. Hill only allowed 6.4 yards per target last season and only one touchdown on 61 targets. He finished the season with eight pass breakups and three interceptions.

Something tells me DeMeco Ryans will be more aggressive as a blitzer than his predecessor. Hill rushed the passer 21 times this past season, per Sports Info Solutions, and has a pressure rate of 28.6%. He’s not K’waun, but that number is higher than Williams’s 20.8% pressure% from this past season. Hill is an inferior tackler than Williams, but he doesn’t mind sticking his nose in the running game.

Extensions, restructures, and releases

  • Fred Warner extension
  • Mike McGlinchey extension
  • Laken Tomlinson extension
  • Jimmie Ward restructure
  • Dee Ford release
  • Weston Richburg release

Warner’s extension feels inevitable, so we don’t need to waste our time discussing that. Instead of picking up McGlinchey’s fifth-year option, the 49ers elect to extend him.

There will be a healthy portion of Niner fans who hate the idea of signing McGlinchey, but he’s one of the best run-blockers in the NFL. Sports Info Solutions credited McGlinchey with more total points earned in 2020 than either of his previous two seasons. McGlinchey’s worst plays come at the worst possible time, so it’s easy to latch onto them. He’s nowhere near as bad as his wrap, though.

We discussed Ward and Tomlinson on Monday. This is another way for the team to create more wiggle room by shuffling money around.

Ford and Richburg’s release feels like foregone conclusions at this point. The team can maximize manipulating the salary cap by doing the aforementioned extensions/restructures and releasing both Ford and Richburg with a post-June 1 designation. Doing so would free up nearly $10.5 million in cap space. Since you’re allowed two post-June 1 designations, these two players make the most sense for San Francisco.

At the end of the season, John Lynch couldn’t say for sure whether or not either of those two would be physically ready to play. That was telling.

It’s time to take a swing

There has been plenty of analysis and talk saying the 49ers should pay more for a backup quarterback. Names like Marcus Mariota have come up. Andy Dalton is a popular name. If you’ve watched Dalton play, there is no reason to believe he’d be a fit in Shanahan’s offense. This has been said 100 times, but if you need a better backup quarterback, you need a better starting quarterback.

I also can't entirely agree with the notion that Shanahan won’t hand the keys to his offense to “a” rookie. Now for any rookie, that’s probably the case. Trey Lance needs to sit a year. Justin Fields is not Trey Lance.

In the 2017 NFL Draft, the Texans traded up from No. 25 to No. 12 to take Deshaun Watson. They gave Cleveland No. 25 and a first-round selection in ‘18. That’s it. Now No. 3 is far more valuable than No. 12, so it’ll cost the Niners a bit more to trade up with Miami, but they can get it done.

In 2018, the Bills traded up from No. 12 to No. 7 to select Josh Allen. They gave Tampa Bay two second-round picks and swapped firsts.

  • 49ers trade No. 12, a future first, and a ‘21 third-round comp pick in exchange for No. 3 overall to select Fields

I know the Ohio State quarterback stigma comes with Fields, but we’re talking about a Kyle Shanahan offense. We’ve seen firsthand this past season how tough of a player Fields is. If you’re worried about him not having played much under center, that’s fair.

Per Sports Info Solutions, Fields only took 44 dropbacks from under center compared to 659 snaps from shotgun. In 2020, Fields went 27-for-36 for 412 yards, two touchdowns, with 11.9 yards per attempt from under center. It’s more about knowing where to go with the football than having your back turned to the defense for a split second.

Shanahan won’t hand over the keys to just anyone because rookies are prone to mistakes. Fields had a turnover worthy rate of 2.8%, per PFF. He rarely puts the ball in harm's way while aggressively attacking downfield. 70% of Fields passing yards came through the air.

PFF gave Fields a 94.5 passing grade at the intermediate level and a 96.5 passing grade on throws over 20 yards. You already know about his arm, but you may not be familiar with Fields’s accuracy:

Fields had the second-highest adjusted completion percentage among all draft-eligible QBs at 80.8%. That is not a typo. That number comes while averaging over ten yards as his average depth of target.

You can see how mobile Fields is in the clips above. I remember against Indiana, Fields, who didn’t have the ball, chased down his own running back as Fields attempted to lead block. Your running game, specifically in high-leverage situations such as the red zone and short-yardage, goes to an entirely different level.

I understand why some may be concerned with a few in-season blips this past year from the Ohio State quarterback. Fields put up a couple of stinkers. Some say he holds onto the ball too long. I don’t think he was ever on the same page as some of his wideouts, who looked to be running option routes, and that’s why Fields was sitting back in the pocket and waiting for them to make a decision.

As a talent, there aren’t five better players in this draft than Fields. San Francisco doesn’t know when the next time they’ll have an opportunity to draft a player as talented as Fields. “Hoping” Jimmy Garoppolo stays healthy next season is betting against history. Thinking the best way to go about your quarterback position is by investing in multiple players doesn’t make much sense from a team-building standpoint.

Whenever you hear people talk about the 49ers, they say the team is “stuck” with Garoppolo. I can think of many words to describe that sentence, but instilling confidence isn’t one. I’m not sure I’m completely on board with the thought process that “Jimmy is the QB now that Stafford is with the Rams.” I agree that neither Sam Darnold nor Carson Wentz are shoo-in upgrades over Garoppolo. The same cannot be said for Fields.

If anything, Stafford forces your hand to make a move and get your guy at QB. Who knows when the next time you’ll have an opportunity to be in a position to land a franchise QB. Fields has an “easy” arm, as seen above, is a marksman as far as accuracy goes to all levels, loves to pull the trigger deep, has the necessary pocket awareness/movement skills for when the play breaks down and should run a sub 4.6 40-yard dash. Best of all, Fields marvels in the quick-game and knows where to go with the football—two areas where you must excel in a Shanahan offense.

In this scenario, the 49ers try to move Jimmy on draft day. There will be some team out there who needs a QB. There isn’t enough to go around, and Garoppolo should land as a starter in 2021. If the team cannot find any suitors, they release Garoppolo.

This is not about QB wins. This is not about 2019. This is about the process and how we got here. Assuming everything will work as it did in 2019 is assuming the 49ers will take over in opponents' territory for a game-winning drive as they did in Week 3 against Pittsburgh, or Jared Goff will throw for 78 yards he did in Week 6.

I know we like to look at 13-3, but we’re ignoring the ten games Garoppolo had with an interception, three games with multiple interceptions, and ten fumbles in 16 games. San Francisco has an opportunity to draft a quarterback who fits their scheme to a tee and do so without mortgaging their future or roster. Nobody will notice missing next year’s first-round pick because nobody complained when Houston or Kansas City missed their first-rounders in 2018.

If the goal is to do what is best for your team in the now and the future, moving up for a quarterback like Fields feels like the best move the 49ers could make if they want to continue to compete beyond this season. Imagine the flexibility over the next couple of seasons with a rookie contract at QB. That’s precisely how the Niners can extend their window.

It’s time to pull the trigger, Kyle and John. Get out of your comfort zone and get a difference-maker at the position. Fool me once, shame on me. Fool me twice...