The 49ers may not make any change at quarterback. At least, not with their starter. All signs after Week 17 point to Garoppolo starting under center to begin next season. Even if that winds up being the case, San Francisco still needs to address the elephant in their quarterback room.
With Garoppolo’s injury history – he’s missed 25 out of a potential 57 starts since his first starting opportunity for the Patriots in 2016 – the 49ers have to figure out a better contingency plan in the event he gets hurt.
Teams generally don’t plan on their starting quarterback going down, but San Francisco has too good a roster to let an injury to a quarterback that’s already missed so much time derail their season. Nick Mullens is not capable of keeping the team afloat for more than one or two games. The same could be said for CJ Beathard.
All three players arrived in Santa Clara in 2017, and they’ve been the trio of quarterbacks on the roster since 2018. There has been no serious competition for any of them either.
Head coach Kyle Shanahan on Monday told reporters in a video conference that this offseason would be different from the quarterback evaluation perspective.
“Yeah, we’ll look into it harder this year, but not for anything to make a big statement about or to tweet about,” Shanahan said. “Last year I was very happy with our starting quarterback. I was very happy and content with our second string. I was very happy and content with our third string. They were all under contract. We were good to go.”
Then Shanahan offered an insight into the club’s strategy in the 2020 draft. Their cupboard of picks was relatively bare, and they needed to make a couple of trades to eventually walk away with five selections. It sounds like in a more normal year where they entered the draft with seven or more picks, San Francisco might’ve drafted a quarterback for the second time in Shanahan’s tenure.
“Going into the offseason, it had seemed like we had about three draft picks,” Shanahan said of the 2020 draft process. “I think we had one in the first and then we didn’t have another one until like the fourth. So, it’s, ‘All right. We’re not even touching quarterbacks. We’re good with all three of ours. We don’t need to look much into that.’”
They wound up with two wide receivers, a tight end, and a lineman on each side of the ball.
There was a brief moment in the offseason where rumors swirled about free agent quarterback and Bay Area native Tom Brady wanting to play for his hometown club. After internal discussions, Shanahan and general manager John Lynch opted to stick with Garoppolo.
“Of course, when someone like the greatest player to ever play football is out there, you definitely look into that regardless,” Shanahan said of Brady’s free agency. “Besides that, we weren’t because of our situation.”
Then Shanahan discussed this offseason and the 49ers’ looming backup quarterback quandary. Last year it wasn’t as much of a concern because Garoppolo was coming off a 16-game season, Nick Mullens looked like a capable No. 2 quarterback and Beathard was a good third option.
Now the two reserves are set to hit free agency, forcing the 49ers to address the quarterback depth chart. Shanahan explained that while he was happy with Mullens and Beathard, the club will look harder at other options than they have in year’s past.
“This year, our backup and our third right now, one’s restricted and one’s unrestricted. So, you have to look into everything when you’re trying to fill out a quarterback roster,” Shanahan said. “We have a starting quarterback, but in order to know where these guys are going to be, we’ve got to get either re-sign the guys we’ve got or see if we can upgrade them through the draft or free agency. In order to do that, you have to evaluate everything, so you know how to stack them and stuff. So, definitely will be looking at a lot more of that stuff this year than we did last year.”
It’s hard to envision after the club’s struggles this year with backup quarterbacks starting in Garoppolo’s stead that the 49ers would opt for the same group. In fact, they may wind up searching for a substantial upgrade who may eventually unseat Garoppolo who’s contract runs out after the 2022 season.
The wheels are turning in San Francisco’s quarterback room for the first time in three years, and how they navigate those waters could have a ripple effect that defines the club’s long-term future under center.