The 2020 season did not go exactly as planned for the San Francisco 49ers. Amidst an off-season plagued by a global pandemic leading to a shortened training camp, the 49ers swore that they would embark on a ‘Revenge Tour’ in 2020; avenging their Super Bowl loss to the Kansas City Chiefs.
Flash forward four months and the 49ers currently sit at 6-9 going into Week Seventeen. To put it bluntly, this has been the season from hell for Kyle Shanahan and co.
Amongst all the injuries and off-the-field chaos that has derailed the 49ers season, there is one outlying decision to make heading into 2021; what to do at quarterback?
The 49ers would only eat $2.8 million in dead cap if they were to move on from Jimmy Garoppolo in 2021. They could also trade the most handsome quarterback in the NFL to any number of quarterback-needy teams.
Thus, the option is certainly there to part ways with Garoppolo. I broke down whether or not the 49ers should move on from Jimmy G here. If San Francisco does decide to cut ties, who are they going to get under centre in 2021?
Earlier this year, several veteran names were thrown around in connection with the 49ers in 2021. Aaron Rodgers and Matt Ryan amongst them. However, the individual circumstances surrounding both those quarterbacks makes it highly unlikely that those two players would be parting with their respective teams.
With that in mind, one veteran quarterback that might find his way to the Golden State is Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford.
Stafford is currently in year three of a five-year contract signed back in 2017. Nevertheless, due to the Lions appointing an entirely new front office and head coach this off-season, there is a high chance there could be a fresh face at quarterback in Detroit come 2021.
With Stafford’s contract winding down as his age increases, the Lions are going to be seeking to trade the gunslinger as soon as possible, making things easier for a possible move to San Francisco.
On the field, when healthy, Stafford is a top ten quarterback. Despite his age of 32, soon to be 33, Stafford brings all the upside of a veteran quarterback.
In each season where Stafford has started more than ten games, he has thrown for over, or close to, 4000 yards. Moreover, since 2013, Stafford has never dropped below a 60% completion percentage. A feat even more impressive when you consider he’s had to carry a poor Lions side for the past few seasons.
It’s been said a million times at this point but it is important to remember that Kyle Shanahan is one of the best offensive play-callers in the NFL. Thus, I think he is tired of putting up with sub-par quarterback play. The one season where Kyle has a competent quarterback for 16 games, the 49ers rolled to the Super Bowl.
If you ask me, it’s a possibility that Shanahan is tired of holding his quarterback’s hand through games and teaching him checks at the line of scrimmage and to not hold the ball for too long.
With that said, taking a chance on a rookie quarterback and hoping he turns into the next Patrick Mahomes, Lamar Jackson or Deshaun Watson is tempting.
As things stand, the 49ers are touted to be picking in the 12-14 range during the 2021 NFL Draft. If John Lynch did want to select a young gunslinger than the 49ers would likely have to move up to do so as there are many quarterback-needy teams this year.
Trevor Lawrence and Justin Fields are realistically out of the picture. So, if the 49ers are looking to select a quarterback, they’ll be eyeing the Zach Wilson, Mac Jones group.
Even then, with Zach Wilson’s stock increasingly rising after putting together a series of impressive performances for BYU, the 49ers will have to trade up to secure a future franchise quarterback.
Would the 49ers trade their future to move into the top five and take a rookie quarterback? It’s unlikely. The 49ers front office has operated sensibly and although John Lynch has parted with draft picks before, he may be hesitant to gamble the future for an unknown.
This is especially true when you factor in the roster turnover that is going to take place this off-season for the 49ers. Cornerback, guard, centre, receiver and safety are all areas in which the 49ers need to bolster heading into 2021.
Trading the house for a rookie quarterback may not be the safest of decisions.
Carson Wentz provides both the upside of a veteran quarterback as well as being somewhat of an unknown prospect.
Make no mistake about it, the 2020 season has been an absolute disaster for Carson Wentz. The former 2017 MVP frontrunner looked as if he forgot how to play quarterback at times for the Eagles this season.
The meteoric rise of Jalen Hurts has made things even worse for Wentz. As a result, Wentz’s agent recently floated rumours that the 2016 2nd overall pick wanted out of Philly if Hurts were to take his place as the starter.
If the 49ers were to acquire Wentz, you would hope that offensive guru Kyle Shanahan would piece Wentz back together and help the gunslinger rediscover that 2017 form.
However, after witnessing an absolutely abysmal season of quarterback play from Wentz, it would be a risk to attempt to piece back together a player that fundamentally might be broken.
Sam Darnold is similar to Wentz in that he does possess NFL experience but is also somewhat of an unknown. Three years under Jets management has seemingly broken Darnold and under Joe Douglass. The Jets seem deadset on drafting a quarterback in 2021, whether its Lawrence or Fields.
Similar to Wentz, Shanahan would be the perfect head coach to ‘fix’ Darnold, who has flashed moments of brilliance at times during his career.
If the 49ers can acquire Darnold on the cheap, then it could turn out to be a fantastic bargain.
The most exciting option for the 49ers would be to draft Zach Wilson. The BYU quarterback has everything you would want in a modern-day quarterback. He can scramble, extend plays, make the simple throws and has a cannon. However, as the 49ers sit at 6-9, the price to pay to secure Wilson may be too high.
The most reasonable option would be to draft a Mac Jones or a quarterback in the later rounds and keep Garoppolo for one more year. Allowing time for the quarterback to learn and grow within Shanahan’s system.
Signing a veteran quarterback and keeping Jimmy G does not seem to be in the picture, since Garoppolo would cost the 49ers $26 million in cap space in 2021. However, depending on how much money Sam Darnold is after, there is a real possibility of a quarterback battle between Darnold and Garoppolo commencing in 2021.
If Stafford were to become available, then expect the 49ers to be involved with any potential dealings. It’s not that often that a top ten type talent at quarterback becomes available. But that would mean moving on from Garoppolo.
Whatever the 49ers decide to do at the quarterback position in 2021, one thing is for sure. There will be injuries and suspensions and extenuating circumstances that derail your NFL season. A franchise quarterback can help counteract all those things. There is no more valuable position in all of sport.
If the 49ers want to truly break through the ceiling and build something long-term under Shanahan, they need to find the answer at quarterback. And sooner, rather than later.