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Recapping a wild 49ers offseason: It always comes back to the quarterbacks

Going back and looking through all of the storylines that shaped San Francisco’s offseason

Photo by Michael Zagaris/San Francisco 49ers/Getty Images

We are under two weeks away from turning the chapter on an offseason that will go down as one of the more eventful offseasons in the San Francisco 49ers franchise history. The storylines didn’t allow us to look away from the second the regular season ended.

The soap opera is near the end, so let’s recap what happened during the past half-year in Niner's land.

One foot out of the door

You have to start with the quarterback when talking about the 49ers. No matter what the team did this offseason, it would be a direct reflection on the signal-caller. The news was non-stop, and we’re still not out of the woods yet.

First, there was Matthew Stafford. Then, there was Deshaun Watson. The Niners weren’t only tied to prominent names. For good measure, add strong contenders for Andy Dalton and some flirting with Teddy Bridgewater to that list. Oh, and who could forget those two weeks of Sam Darnold? There are other names we’ll get to a little later.

After every rumor tied to Jimmy Garoppolo known to man, he remains on the roster. As the 49ers sent their 2021 first-round pick plus two future first-rounders to trade for a quarterback who just turned 21-years-old and played in one college football game during the 2020 season, Jimmy G has some company.

Eventually, it was reported that the 49ers fell for Lance back in February. Despite their failed efforts to land a veteran quarterback this offseason — the national media was quick to say any quarterback tied to the Niners was false — Kyle Shanahan recently explained how he tried to get involved in a trade for Stafford with the Lions.

Shanahan is a happy camper now that he has Lance, but where does this leave the current quarterback whose writing is on the wall in bold font and just so happens to carry a $26 million cap hit?

Not every question was answered this offseason, as we’ll find out what happens next at quarterback for the 49ers. Keeping Jimmy Garoppolo had a direct effect on who the team pursued. Let’s rewind to free agency.

Keeping the core intact

Heading into free agency, the 49ers priorities were clear:

  • Sign Trent Williams
  • Add a veteran pass rusher/interior offensive lineman
  • Sign two cornerbacks
  • Add speed on defense
  • Find a WR3

This was an unusual offseason as the loss of revenue from the season prior caused the NFL’s salary cap to stay stagnant. So in choosing to keep their starting QB — we’ll never know how Jimmy’s market was or how hard the team really tried to move him — San Francisco had enough cap space to check all of the bullet points above, but they had to pick and choose while spending wisely.

The Niners entered free agency with $24 million in cap space but needed to save some of that for their draft class and a potential Fred Warner extension.

Signing Williams wasn’t ever in doubt, though Kansas City came calling in the final hour. Had the 49ers not retained their star left tackle, we’d be looking at an entirely different offseason and perhaps an exodus that would have led to a rebuild just one offseason after a Super Bowl.

Fret not, because money talks. After signing a six-year, $138 million contract, Williams became the highest-paid offensive lineman in NFL history, including $55 million guaranteed.

A couple of days before, the team re-signed fullback Kyle Juszczyk, who you won’t find anyone who has a bad word to say about the All-Pro fullback. Re-signing D.J. Jones was smart, but the 49ers rolled the dice on a hybrid defender from the Rams.

If you knew who Samson Ebukam was before March 15, you’re either a Rams fan or a football junkie. Ebukam had rushed the passer on a part-time basis during his career while he primarily played off-ball linebacker. However, when he did rush, Ebukam was effective. He had the same sack rate as Kerry Hyder and pressured the quarterback over 2% more than the 49ers leading sack man in 2020.

Leading up to free agency, we talked about the team pursuing talent like Carl Lawson or Haason Reddick. You know, up and coming stars who were young and had produced at the NFL level.

Instead, likely due to cap constraints, San Francisco hedged their bets on some Nick Bosa guy returning and every one after that falling in line. This, and I’m not sure it’s close, could go down as the biggest blunder of the offseason if Ebukam doesn’t pan out.

The team restructured Dee Ford’s contract, which is now a two-year, $24 million deal. Ford’s previous contract was complicated and would have triggered $11.6 million had he not passed a physical in May. Instead, the 49ers wound up saving $11 million in cap space.

Bosa is coming off a season-ending ACL injury. Ford producing feels like a pipedream. Arden Key isn’t going to scare any offensive coordinators, and Jordan Willis was suspended for six games after violating the NFL’s PED policy. That leaves Arik Armstead, who is better than given credit for, but nobody would confuse him as a pass-rushing demon.

One-year deals for Jason Verrett, Emmanuel Moseley, K’Waun Williams, and Jaquiski Tartt kept the secondary intact. The addition of veteran center, and someone who Kyle Shanahan is familiar and can trust, Alex Mack, feels like it’ll go down as the steal of the offseason for San Francisco.

Think about everything we just went over. All of this happened in March, and none of that came close to what was about to happen next.

The trade that shaped the 2021 NFL Draft

On March 24, ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler reported that the 49ers were “up to something” at quarterback. Fowler mentioned the 49ers pushed for Mitch Trubisky and Dalton before he was guaranteed the starting job in Chicago.

So, what was the big bomb Fowler dropped? That the Niners were going to make a big splash for...Gardner Minshew? Riveting.

At the time, we mentioned that it certainly felt like the 49ers were “up to something” at QB, given the construction of the roster. Depth was added at the necessary positions, and all signs pointed to a QB via the draft.

How would that happen at No. 12? By the end of March, five quarterbacks were going in the top-10 in every mock draft. It had gotten to the point where we were talking about the Davis Mills’ of the world. Yes, things were that bleak.

Then, on Friday morning, San Francisco traded up to No. 3 with the Miami Dolphins for three first-round picks and a ‘22 third-round pick, which eventually turned out to be a compensatory pick.

Excuse me...what?

Instantly, the conversation turned to who the 49ers would select and what they would get in return for Jimmy G. The last line in that trade article asked, ‘do you really trade all of that future capital for a rookie quarterback to sit on the bench?’ Add that to the list of questions that remain unanswered.

From Chris Simms to Adam Schefter to even some of the local beat, we heard that Mac Jones was the guy for a month. Of course, this was all based on feeling and who Shanahan had previously liked, but that didn’t stop the egos from acting as if this were fact.

My initial reaction was that the trade-up was for Lance, as there had been discussion that the team loved the North Dakota State gunslinger dating back to the summer. So much so that I didn’t think Jones was a realistic option:

Then, I let the outside noise get in the way, and my personal feelings affect how Kyle Shanahan thinks.

Somehow, everyone was wrong. Those who predicted Jones or Fields were wrong as neither of those QBs went in the top-10. Those who were in on Lance thought it was because the team wanted him to redshirt for a year and sit behind Jimmy G.

The Niners ended up getting their guy, but you can’t say in good conscience that the team ended up paying market value for Lance, especially after the other two QBs in the draft fell. He better be really, really good.

Lost along the way

The amount of news that has gotten lost in the shuffle this offseason has been staggering. Remember when Kevin Givens faced an assault charge the morning of the trade? Givens has since been cleared and has returned to the team.

The Jets reportedly turned down a first-round pick from the Niners for Sam Darnold.

On the first day of the NFL Draft, Aaron freaking Rodgers was under the impression that he’d become a 49er. We’ve learned how that conversation between Green Bay and San Francisco went since then, but the news was nonstop this offseason, making it difficult to remember everything that transpired.

We spent a couple of weeks in late May asking whether the team should acquire Julio Jones. Somehow, this team is connected to every player who becomes available. Shanahan’s ties with Julio didn’t hurt, but he proved to be too much of a luxury for the team to pursue.

He’s not with the team any longer, but what Richard Sherman went through last week will be a blip on the radar when we look back at this offseason, as unfortunate as that is.

The injury bug didn’t forget about you

Jeff Wilson Jr., the team’s leading rusher last season, tore his meniscus...standing up...and will start the 2021 regular season on the PUP list. Unfortunately, that wouldn’t be the only time the injury bug bit the 49ers.

After losing Tarvarius Moore and Justin Skule to season-ending injuries, the team decided to cancel mandatory minicamp — likely to avoid further injury.

In an offseason where just about everything happened, the Niners were also fined for violating the OTA rules.

Turning the page

Now, we football. We’ll soon see the 49ers shiny new draft picks, and it won’t take long to figure out how valuable they’ll be to the team.

All eyes will be on Lance, and why wouldn’t they, but second-rounder Aaron Banks is expected to start, while Trey Sermon and Ambry Thomas will fight for roles at their respective positions.

Oh, and the Niners have a new defensive coordinator who paints a picture that the defense will be far more aggressive than under Robert Saleh. Will we see Ford contribute this season? How about more three safety looks with Tony Jefferson?

On the other side of the ball, the focal point among fans has been who starts at the third receiver position. Kendrick Bourne is in New England. That leaves a question mark after Brandon Aiyuk and Deebo Samuel.

We’re over the offseason, and now we focus on training camp. We’ll look back at the moves made this past offseason in hypotheticals and “what ifs,” and most of the questions will come back to one person...Jimmy Garoppolo.