The San Francisco 49ers have some crucial questions to answer this offseason regarding their quarterback situation. With Matthew Stafford traded to the Los Angeles Rams, objective assessments now reveal that the 49ers have the worst starting quarterback in the NFC West.
Assessing the San Francisco 49ers Quarterback Situation
Jimmy Garoppolo has played admirably when healthy. The 49ers record with and without him these last few seasons is evidence of solace that the team can be successful with him as a starter. However, in a division with no easy victories and facing off against the likes of Stafford, Russell Wilson, and Kyler Murray, it’s easy to see why the 49ers might be anxious for an upgrade.
If Garoppolo is essentially the fallback option for the 49ers regarding the quarterback situation heading into next season, that’s an advantageous position. After all, many teams around the league would be comforted to have a quarterback who put up a passer rating of 102 when last healthy. However, there are very critical limitations to what Garoppolo can do as a passer. It’s worth asking what another passer could do with not only Kyle Shanahan’s scheme but all these offensive weapons around them.
Garroppolo Solid, but Flawed
The record with and without Garoppolo these last few years is encouraging for his ability to lead a successful team. However, it isn’t all that positive of a revelation within the context of this situation. It says nothing about whether the team could be better if they were to acquire another quarterback or if this offense underachieves with Garoppolo under center. It only shows that the team is better when Garoppolo starts compared to Nick Mullens or C.J. Beathard. If that’s the bar that makes Garoppolo indispensable to this team, then that’s the sign of an overly conservative front office.
Garoppolo threw a combined 27 passes in the two playoff games leading up to the Super Bowl back in 2019, including eight in the NFC Championship Game. Any argument that defends Garoppolo that primarily states “but he got them to the Super Bowl” discounts that piece of valuable context. Garoppolo is an above-average quarterback. However, the defense and running game were the primary factors that got the 49ers to the Super Bowl last year.
In the fourth quarter of that Super Bowl, Garoppolo had to make big throws to seal the deal and get the 49ers a championship. He could not do it. Yes, Shanahan did not manage the clock well and called some questionable plays. When viewing the tape, though, there were multiple times that quarter where Garoppolo either did not see open receivers that would have secured first downs to keep the clock moving or just missed on the throws he did attempt. It was essentially the first time that playoff run where Garoppolo needed to make plays with the outcome of the game in the balance. He could not do it.
For a guy eating up the amount of payroll he is currently absorbing, it becomes more and more indefensible to have someone at that cap figure who cannot put the team on their back in big playoff moments like that. It is not a question of if Garoppolo is a good quarterback relative to other starters around the league. He’s an above-average option. However, given the amount of money he makes and how he has shown his relative importance to the team’s success, it’s certainly worth exploring other options to make the team better.
What the Stafford Trade Means for the 49ers
The 49ers were reportedly in the mix to acquire Stafford from the Detroit Lions. The Lions ultimately sent him to the Rams for two first-round picks, a third-round pick, and Jared Goff. Stafford is a better quarterback in a vacuum than Garoppolo. However, it’s a fair assessment to conclude that Stafford wasn’t worth the draft pick haul he’d take for the acquisition. This trade is a bit skewed with the inclusion of Goff as well. The Rams likely had to throw in that extra first-rounder for the Lions to take on that gigantic Goff contract. Keeping in mind the Goff variable, another team around the league probably would have needed to give up a first and third-round pick to acquire Stafford.
The 49ers have the 12th overall pick in this year’s draft. They assessed that Garoppolo plus those draft picks could provide more value to the roster next year than Stafford. That presumes that Garoppolo will stay healthy next year. That might be dubious based on the amount of time he has missed these last few years. Not acquiring Stafford based on what it would cost is defensible, though. It opens up other alternatives for the 49ers to continue exploring.
Watson Remains an Option
The most appealing possibility is trading for Deshaun Watson. However, there’s already speculation that a Watson deal would include three or four first-rounders and possibly an already established 49ers star. Just because the team concluded that Stafford wasn’t worth the trade haul the market demanded doesn’t necessarily mean they’d treat a Watson trade the same way, though.
Watson is a generational quarterback. Finding the elusive franchise signal-caller in this league is worth nearly any trade package. A 33-year-old Stafford might not be worth mortgaging too much draft capital for, but a 25-year-old Watson certainly is. The 49ers are not only helped by having an already talented roster that Watson can join, but that they’re in the NFC. This past season showed that most of the formidable teams in this league look like they’re in the AFC. The NFC is relatively wide open.
The Houston Texans are undoubtedly considering the ramifications of trading Watson within the AFC. The NFC West is far away from the concerns of the AFC South. Perhaps the Texans want to send Watson to a division as irrelevant to them as possible. Watson also has a no-trade clause he can wield. He’s going to have an impact on dictating where he ultimately gets sent. The playoff picture of the NFC looks far less intimidating right now than the AFC. The 49ers have a roster that he’d be able to compete for championships with.
Possibility To Draft New 49ers Quarterback in First Round
Another enticing option for the 49ers would be to take a quarterback with that number 12 overall pick in this upcoming draft.
Goff going to the Lions makes it that much less likely that the Lions will use their number seven overall pick on a quarterback. That’s one less team that 49ers have to worry about poaching a quarterback before them.
Someone like Trey Lance from North Dakota State could be available at 12. The Jacksonville Jaguars, New York Jets, Atlanta Falcons, Carolina Panthers, and Denver Broncos all possibly need a quarterback and draft ahead of the 49ers, though. Given all that, it becomes less likely that someone like Lance would be available at 12. If Trevor Lawrence, Justin Fields, Zach Wilson, and Lance are off the board before 12, which seems entirely possible, the 49ers could look at someone like Mac Jones from Alabama.
Draft Could Lead To Veteran Quarterbacks Being on the Move
It’s still early to speculate on the draft too heavily. However, it’s worth considering that someone like Matt Ryan could be available via trade if the Falcons take a quarterback at number four in the draft. Ryan is 35 years old and would probably take less to acquire than Stafford, even when considering that extra first-rounder was on account of taking on the Goff contract.
Shanahan went to a Super Bowl with Ryan when he was Offensive Coordinator of the Falcons. Ryan won a league MVP Award under the guidance of Shanahan. It’s impossible to conclude that Shanahan wouldn’t at least consider if Ryan could be plugged into this lineup for a few seasons and make a run at a championship. It’s a situation worth monitoring if the Falcons pick a quarterback at number four.
How Releasing Garoppolo Could Impact Cap Room
Given the low dead cap money Garoppolo represents for next season, the team could release him and free up a lot of space to possibly re-sign key free agents like Trent Williams and Kyle Juszczyk. Without taking on the salary of a veteran quarterback acquired via trade, a rookie quarterback deal would make it tremendously easier to retain key free agents.
Having a quarterback on a rookie contract is a great way to free up money to spend elsewhere on the roster. The caveat with this is that it has to be for a rookie quarterback a team believes is their quarterback of the future. That’s a loaded decision to make. The 49ers would have to hope someone they can envision leading their franchise is available at number 12 in the draft. They could try to trade up in the draft, but that is a whole other discussion to analyze.
49ers Quarterback Situation Still in Relatively Good Shape
There are many directions the 49ers could go with their quarterback situation right now. If Garoppolo is considered the fallback option, though, they’re in good shape. The team has proven that they can compete for a championship at full health. There’s a lot of teams around the league wishing that they had that type of confidence in their current roster.
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