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What a win today means for Sam Darnold

There’s an incentive that Darnold can earn if the 49ers win today

Baltimore Ravens v San Francisco 49ers Photo by Michael Zagaris/San Francisco 49ers/Getty Images

The San Francisco 49ers and Los Angeles Rams have nothing to play for. The Niners have locked up the No. 1 seed, while the Rams have clinched a playoff berth.

Brock Purdy and Matthew Stafford are out today. Enter Sam Darnold and Carson Wentz. Despite this game's meaningless result, both quarterbacks have plenty to play for.

Darnold, 26, is a free agent after this season. He’s only thrown 20 passes. Darnold will likely attempt more throws against the Rams. He’s playing for a job.

I’m not saying Darnold will pull a Matt Flynn in 2011 and throw six touchdowns, leading to a record contract. We just watched Gardner Minshew play nearly an entire season. The following quarterbacks threw at least 200 passes in 2023:

Minshew
Joshua Dobbs
Zach Wilson
Desmond Ridder
Kenny Pickett
Aidan O’Connell
Will Levis
Jake Browning

Bailey Zappe will join that list today, and Tommy DeVito would’ve had he started.

A successful outing in Week 18 could land Darnold another opportunity. That’s all he can ask for. A victory against the Rams triggers an incentive in Darnold’s contract. He earns $58,824 for every game he’s active. But for any game in which Darnold plays 25 percent of the snaps and the 49ers win, Darnold earns $300,000.

Darnold’s contract is structured so that his LTBE (likely to be earned) incentives cap out at $1.2 million. Here are the other two:

  • 50% of total regular season snaps + playoff berth: $1M
  • 50% snaps in a playoff game: $100,000 ($400,000 max)

While he hasn’t played much, Darnold has helped Brock Purdy all season. Here’s Purdy on what he’s learned from Darnold this season:

“He brings up these little things that are huge for me as a quarterback. Obviously on the sideline and stuff, he’s bringing up just good things, tendencies that he’s seen on film that they could possibly do during the game and to not forget about. So, he’s done a tremendous job. He’s a very selfless guy. He puts the team first. He’s for the room, not just about himself or anything like that. The dude is for the room and for this organization, so very thankful to have him.”

Those roles will be reversed on Sunday, as Brock said he’ll be the quarterback on the sideline with the headset on.

Darnold believes he’s grown as a player despite not seeing the field as a starter. When asked if he regrets coming to the Bay Area last offseason, Darnold answered, “No. No. Zero regrets.”

There are $300,000 reasons that Darnold wants to end this season with a victory.