With Jimmy Garoppolo’s injury history, should San Francisco bring in a veteran backup?
Going into the NFL offseason, the San Francisco 49ers have 38 players who are up for the unrestricted free agency. Two of them play the most crucial position in football.
Backup quarterbacks Nick Mullens and C.J. Beathard’s contracts have expired, putting the spotlight on if general manager John Lynch and head coach Kyle Shanahan will add a signal-caller this offseason.
We have heard rumors about the 49ers being linked to a few quarterbacks already, but Matthew Stafford is now with the Los Angeles Rams and Deshaun Watson remains with the Houston Texans. The New York Jets could also move on from 2018 No. 3 overall pick Sam Darnold.
Until we hear otherwise, Jimmy Garoppolo remains San Francisco’s starter. The Niners re-signed Josh Rosen and also have Josh Johnson under contract for next season.
Why is it important for the 49ers to look to bring in another veteran to backup Garoppolo?
For one, the 29-year-old’s durability has come into question after missing the majority of two out of the previous three seasons. Garoppolo tore his ACL in Week 3 of the 2018 season and dealt with multiple ankle injuries that forced him to miss 10 games in 2020.
Secondly, we saw the results without Jimmy G in the lineup. Mullens got a bulk of the starts with Garoppolo sidelined and finished the campaign with a 2-6 record. Mullens completed 64.7% of his passes for 2,437 yards, 12 touchdowns, and 12 interceptions. While his stats look respectable, Mullens was responsible for several back-breaking turnovers that led to San Francisco losses.
The 25-year-old had a rough three-game stretch from Weeks 13 through 15, where he had seven turnovers that resulted in 34 points for the opposition. Pro Football Focus gave Mullens a 56.9 grade on the season, ranking 38th out of 40 eligible quarterbacks. His adjusted yards per attempt was 6.6, and he finished the year with a QBR of 44.4.
Beathard started the final two contests of the regular season, helping the 49ers beat the Arizona Cardinals in Week 16 before losing the finale against the Seattle Seahawks. The 2017 third-round completed 66-of-104 passes for 787 yards, six touchdowns, and zero interceptions. Beathard’s adjusted yards per attempt came in higher than Mullens at 8.7, and he had a 53.4 QBR.
Neither quarterback did enough to show that they should definitely be brought back for the 2021 season. With Garoppolo’s injury-history and a roster that is among the best in the league when fully healthy, Shanahan and Lynch could look to bring in a veteran option as a backup.
Here is a rundown of some of the QBs who could be available on the open market:
The best QB on the market
Dak Prescott suffered a gruesome leg injury in Week 5 while playing under the franchise tag. Prescott will likely end up re-signing with the Dallas Cowboys, and unless the Niners cut Garoppolo, his contract demands are way too rich for their blood.
The dual-threat options
Mitchell Trubisky’s tumultuous time with the Chicago Bears could be coming to an end. The Bears declined to pick up the fifth-year option for the second overall pick from the 2017 NFL Draft. Trubisky was benched after Week 3 in favor of Nick Foles but got the starting job back when the veteran got hurt in Week 10. Trubisky led Chicago to a 3-1 record over the final four games and helped the franchise sneak into the playoffs.
Jacoby Brissett was Phil Rivers’ backup in Indy and could re-sign with the Colts to backup the newly acquired Carson Wentz. Brissett helped Indianapolis to a 5-2 start in 2019 but then proceeded to lose seven out of the final games,
Cam Newton looks to be one-and-done with the Patriots. Although Newton can still make plays with his feet (he ran for 592 yards and 12 touchdowns), his arm-talent isn’t close to what it used to be. The former NFL MVP wouldn’t be a great scheme-fit in Shanahan’s offense and his best days are definitely behind him.
Robert Griffin III was Lamar Jackson’s backup with the Baltimore Ravens and had a history with Shanahan. The pair spent two seasons together in Washington, where Griffin won the 2012 NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year Award.
Tyrod Taylor was projected to be the starter for the Los Angeles Chargers until a team’s trainer’s mistake resulted in the veteran losing his job to rookie standout Justin Herbert. The 32-year-old is 24-22-1 as a starter since 2011.
The veteran retreads
Ryan Fitzpatrick helped the Miami Dolphins win five out of the nine games he appeared in, but head coach Brian Flores ultimately gave the keys to 2020 first-round pick Tua Tagovailoa. The 39-year-old showed he could still play, as we saw first-hand when he lit up the Niners (and cornerback Brian Allen) for 350 yards and three touchdowns in Week 5. Fitzpatrick could be an attractive option to a team that is looking for a bridge quarterback. He was disappointed with how things ended in Miami and may have his sights set on being a starter in 2021.
Andy Dalton was thrust into action for the Cowboys once Prescott went down. The Red Rocket played in 11 games and finished with 2,169 passing yards, 14 touchdowns, and eight picks. The 33-year-old has a career record of 74-66-2.
Some of the other names that should be available in the offseason include Joe Flacco, Matt Barkley, Mike Glennon, Blake Bortles, and Blaine Gabbert.
There is an intriguing younger option as well. Brandon Allen spent the 2020 season with the Cincinnati Bengals. The 28-year-old went 1-4 after Joe Burrow went down, completing 63.4% of his passes for 925 yards, five touchdowns, and four picks.
San Francisco is well-positioned to be a contender next season with Garoppolo as the starter. The 49ers have won 72.7 percent of their games (including playoffs) that Garoppolo has started since joining the team in 2017.
But the health concerns are entirely valid given that he has missed 23 games over the past three seasons. With a roster that features high-end talents like Nick Bosa, George Kittle, Fred Warner, Deebo Samuel and potentially Trent Williams, Lynch and Shanahan would be wise to add a dependable backup.
If the Niners sign a veteran QB in free agency, which available player do you think would be the best fit?