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Which remaining free agent QBs could 49ers target?

Joe Flacco signed with the Philadelphia 76ers leaving San Francisco with slim pickings.

Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images

The quarterback position remains a hot topic when it comes to the San Francisco 49ers. As things stand, it looks like incumbent starter Jimmy Garoppolo will be under center for Week 1 of the 2021 season.

Although the Niners are 24-9 (including playoffs) with Jimmy G as the starter, his detractors point to the 23 games Garoppolo has missed over the previous three seasons.

San Francisco has won just six of those 23 matchups with either Nick Mullens or C.J Beathard at quarterback for the injured Garoppolo, who suffered a high-ankle sprain in Week 2 of the 2020 campaign and never really got back to full health.

It wasn’t just Garoppolo who missed extended time last season. High-end talents like Nick Bosa, George Kittle, Deebo Samuel, Richard Sherman and Raheem Mostert also suffered injuries that kept them out of the lineup for multiple games as the 49ers finished with a 6-10 record.

During their season-ending media availability, general manager John Lynch and head coach Kyle Shanahan stuck by Garoppolo. Still, they added that they need to bring in a veteran to back him up if he can’t stay on the field again in 2021.

A week into free agency, it looks like the Niners might have to reverse course. Various NFL insiders reported that San Francisco was doing its homework on QBs Andy Dalton, Mitchell Trubisky and Jacob Brissett, but all three signed with other clubs.

Ryan Fitzpatrick is poised to be the starter for the Washington Football Team next season after inking a one-year deal, while Tyrod Taylor joined the Houston Texans. The 49ers reportedly brought in Super Bowl-winning veteran Joe Flacco for a visit last week, but he left without a deal and signed a contract with the Philadelphia Eagles. Now, there aren’t many proven options left in the free-agent market.

There a couple of names that stand out, including former Niner Alex Smith.

Smith was drafted No. 1 overall in 2005 by San Francisco, and he wound up playing eight seasons with the team. San Francisco went 38-36-1 with Smith as the starter, and he helped the team make it to the NFC Championship Game during the 2011 season. After losing the starting job to Colin Kaepernick in 2012, he was traded to the Kansas City Chiefs in February of 2013.

When Patrick Mahomes took over K.C.'s starting job, Smith was traded to Washington before the 2018 season. He led the team to a 6-3 start before suffering a compound fracture in his right leg during a game against the Houston Texans.

The 36-year-old went through 17 surgeries on his injured leg to fully repair the bone and clean out a bacterial infection. Smith missed the entire 2019 campaign before returning last season and helping Washington win the NFC East.

With limited cap space, Smith will be a cheap option for Lynch and Shanahan. The 49ers’ offense collapsed with Mullens and Beathard filling in for Garoppolo last year, so it makes sense to bring in a proven backup.

The negative on Smith is his susceptibility to injury due to the surgically repaired leg. San Francisco’s roster is one of the best in the league when healthy and can’t afford not having a reliable backup given Garoppolo’s injury history.

However, Smith was as durable as they come before hurting his leg. He only missed four starts for the Chiefs between 2013 and 2017. Smith has proven he can win anywhere. He went 50-26 with Kansas City and 11-5 with Washington.

Another option could be former NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year, Robert Griffin III. The 31-year-old spent two seasons with Shanahan as his offensive coordinator in Washington, so there is some familiarity. Griffin spent the last three seasons with the Baltimore Ravens and started two games.

Some of the other remaining free agent QBs include Chase Daniel, A.J. McCarron, Matt Barkley and Colt McCoy. Not exactly a murderer's row.

Another avenue to explore is bringing in a veteran signal-caller via a trade. Earlier this month, The Athletic’s Joseph Person reported Lynch called the Carolina Panthers to see what the price would be to acquire Teddy Bridgewater.

The rest of the NFL has gotten the message, as well: San Francisco is among the teams that have called Carolina to gauge the Panthers’ interest in potentially trading Bridgewater, according to league sources. San Francisco general manager John Lynch indicated last week the 49ers would like to find a solid backup as insurance for oft-injured starter Jimmy Garoppolo.

The Panthers hold the No. 8 selection in the 2021 NFL Draft and could take a rookie QB to partner with second-year head coach Matt Rhule. Bridgewater’s guaranteed salary is $10 million for next season, with a cap hit of $23 million per Over the Cap.

After restructuring Dee Ford’s deal, San Francisco has roughly $20 million in cap space, per Over the Cap, which gives Lynch and Shanahan some wiggle room. The 49ers re-signed Jordan Willis and inked free agent Zach Kerr to a one-year deal to provide some depth on the defensive line. Assuming Willis and Kerr signed contracts in the $1 million range, the Niners should have roughly $18 million left over.

Approximately $9-10 million of that will be saved for the incoming draft picks, so San Francisco has some extra cash available to play with. There are still some positions where the 49ers need to add some depth, namely the offensive line and secondary, so it will be interesting to see how Lynch and Shanahan spend the money.

The Niners hold the 12th pick in the draft and could take a prospect like Trey Lance or Mac Jones — if they’re still available — or trade up to get Zach Wilson or Justin Fields. San Francisco could also select a QB in the later rounds and give him time to learn behind Garoppolo.

If Lynch and Shanahan decide to stand pat at QB, Josh Rosen and Josh Johnson are the only signal-callers on the roster behind Jimmy G. We saw what happened during the 2018 and 2020 seasons with Garoppolo hurt, and that’s not something the 49ers want to repeat in case their starting QB misses extended time again.

Do you think the Niners should try and sign one of the available veterans? Or wait until the draft to add some depth behind Garoppolo?