We spent the better portion of the past two months discussing backup quarterbacks from Mitch Trubisky to Joe Flacco. On Friday morning, the San Francisco 49ers shocked everyone when they traded up with the Miami Dolphins to the third pick in the draft.
It’s a quarterback-driven league. The Niners had one of the top defenses in the NFL, and that meant nothing last season as they didn’t have a quarterback. So why make a move now?
Well, mortgaging your future seems desperate. San Francisco doesn’t seem to fall into the “desperate” category, but they’re well aware of the type of quarterback it takes to win in this league. I point to the Bills game from this past season. The defense, outside of one coverage bust, did everything they possibly could against Josh Allen.
That didn’t matter.
By creating for himself and throwing lasers all over the field, Allen had one of the most impressive quarterback performances you’ll see. Robert Saleh has been one of the best defensive coaches in the NFL these past two years. He didn’t have an answer for Allen’s physical tools. From the arm strength to mobility, Allen gave the Niners fits on Monday night.
After that game, Kyle Shanahan spoke about how he’s evolved as an evaluator:
“So, I evaluate quarterbacks in terms of trying to find people who can have a chance to be one of those elite-type guys and there’s a lot of different ways to do it. You can see now there’s plenty of different ways, so you don’t think that’ll ever change. I don’t think you have one certain thing you’re looking for. You’re just trying to find a guy who is better than 98 percent of the people on this planet or in this country and when you find that, you get him and adjust to him.”
From Jimmy Garoppolo to Matt Ryan to Brian Hoyer, Kyle’s never had a quarterback who was supremely gifted physically or “elite.”
Quarterbacks who make plays off script and out of structure are the most difficult to prepare for. When you say that, the instant rebuttal is, “pocket quarterbacks still win in the NFL.”
Nobody is disputing that. Both of these things can be true. Deshaun Watson is, to me, the best pocket QB in the NFL. His decision-making and precision are unmatched. Watson also makes his play-caller look better than he is.
For the 49ers and Shanahan, they finally realized that an elite talent paired with an elite play-caller would take this offense to levels it’s never seen. RGIII and Ryan were special under Shanahan. Too often, we forget the other side of the argument. Kyle now has an opportunity to find a quarterback who can elevate him.
Trey Lance and Justin Fields fit that mold.
Both are superb runners, though Lance is one of the best running quarterbacks to come out of the draft in a long time. Both have cannons for arms, and both make the correct football play. That’s before we get into their “superstar” ability to fix a broken play or turn something into nothing.
If the defense reads a screen, you now have a quarterback who can do more than throw the ball at the running back's feet. Your first read is covered? There’s an unblocked defender? No worries, now you have an athlete. A defense is loading the box because they cannot stop the run? Cool, now you have a thrower who will make defenses pay outside of the numbers.
I don’t think fans are aware of how handicapped the offense has been under Shanahan these past two seasons. Now that San Francisco made this trade, it’s time to acknowledge the team isn’t sold on its current starter and aware of his faults.
Now, it’s up to the 49ers to select the correct player. The pieces are there. The roster is as strong as you could have hoped for. Yet, none of that matters if the quarterback doesn’t perform.
We’re headed into Year 5 of the Lynch/Shanahan regime, and we still don’t know if the team has a quarterback. They know this was likely their last chance to land a franchise quarterback. Everyone else in the NFC West has one. I refuse to believe that the Rams landing Matthew Stafford didn’t play a part in this move for the 49ers. It’s no longer a penciled-in victory when you play the Rams.
You can’t beat Los Angeles by not scoring or barely moving the ball in the second half anymore. The game is evolving, and no position is as much as the quarterback position.
It was a ballsy move by the 49ers. Now, they have no choice but to hit on this pick. No pressure, boys.