One of the more interesting suggestions for the 49ers dealing with their quarterback vacuum for 2017 comes from Akash Anavarathan at NinerNoise. He suggests that the Niners pick up a veteran as a short-term placeholder, get the best available QB in the second round of the draft, and wait for next year to look for a franchise quarterback.
As a strategy, it doesn’t sound too bad. If you go into a deal with someone like, say, Brian Hoyer, Matt Schaub or Josh McCown, with both parties clear that it’s a short term deal with managed expectations, that might be a tenable solution. With all of the talent gaps the team faces in 2017, the likelihood of anything resembling a break-even season is really remote. This clearly is a longer rebuilding project.
Out of that crop of three veteran QBs, my vote goes to Schaub. Hoyer has the best stats of all three (QB rating last year of 91.4, career 84.8) and he’s the youngest, at 31, but I have a feeling he wouldn’t be interested in a deal with the Niners that didn’t give him long-term potential. McCown is just a mediocre QB with a career QB rating of just 78.2 (anything below mid-80s is pretty poor). He’s only had one good season, in 2013, and since then he’s rattled around and performed poorly.
Schaub, on the other hand, is not quite over the hill at 36 (though he’s approaching it fast), he has a decent career QB rating of 89.1 and although he’s fallen off the last season or two, he still has the tools and stamina to put together one more decent season.
So, the reasoning goes, why rush it? Why trade high draft picks this year for a replacement quarterback who is not likely to be a long-term solution?
But you can’t go into the season with one quarterback. We need at least two. Which is where the second-round draft choice option comes into play. Anavarathan suggests that in the second round, the team pickup Patrick Mahomes out of Texas Tech. That’s a bit of a risk, on at least two levels. First, there are no guarantees he’ll be around in the second round — his college stats are astounding and although he’s not in the top 10 quarterback options in the minds of most scouts, on paper at least he looks quite good, particularly in comparison with those who rank higher but seem less ready. Second, he’s difficult to forecast as an NFL quarterback because of the system he plays under at Texas Tech.
If they go with the veteran interim solution as the starter and nurture Mahomes as his backup, and assuming good coaching to support the rookie, that might get us through 2017. Frankly, I’d feel a lot better with a third quarterback but that may be a luxury the Niners can’t afford this year.
What, then, about the need for a franchise quarterback sometime in the near future? Anavarathan points out that there are a number of really sterling candidates in the class of 2018. Two of them are practicing their art right now in the state of California. Specifically, he recommends keeping a close eye on Sam Darnold, a redshirt sophomore at USC, who’s heading into his second season as the regular starter, and UCLA Quarterback Josh Rosen. Overall, the 2018 draft looks far more promising than this year’s crop of slightly above average quarterbacks.
There is one flaw in this overall strategy. For it to work, the Niners almost have to try to have a losing season so they can get a high enough first round draft pick to have a shot at one of these hot new quarterbacks in that draft. But “trying to lose” is never a good strategy and often results in clear injuries. To say nothing of how it makes the fans feel.
What none of us wants to see is for newly minted GM John Lynch and Head Coach Kyle Shanahan to blow any high draft picks on a mediocre pickup. As I’ve said many times, the Niners’ talent needs this year are so extensive that they should just be looking to pick up the best athletes they can because finding a place for them on the field won’t be difficult.
This is a real challenge for Lynch, who’s never held a front office position in his career. It will be very telling in terms of his viability as a long-term solution at the GM spot.