Ever since the San Francisco 49ers “solved” their head-coaching and front office problems by hiring Kyle Shanahan and John Lynch, respectively, the entire Niner Nation has been focused like a laser on how to solve the “Quarterback Problem.”
But let’s face it, folks, we don’t have a quarterback “problem”, we have a quarterback vacuum.
As of this moment, the team has exactly zero quarterbacks on the likely roster of players to start the 2017 season. And that may be just as well. The only legitimate QB on the roster is Colin Kaepernick, who is widely believed to be looking to cut loose from the team before the season begins.
So how should the team go about filling this vacuum?
There are only three ways to get a quarterback in the National Football League. You can trade with another team, pick up a free agent, or select a college graduate in the annual draft. (The other way, of course, is to keep one you already have, but that seems a little unrealistic at the moment; but don’t close that door just yet.)
As you can imagine, the Niners, who hold a number two pick in the first round and have a significant amount of room under the salary cap, are seen as a team with many options for filling this vacuum. Unfortunately, the stars are aligned against them in all three of those places where they might find a franchise signal-caller.
Let’s start with trade and/or free agency.
The Niners have been frequently linked with the fortunes of New England Patriots’ backup quarterback Jimmy Garapollo. The third-year man out of Eastern Illinois was a late second-round pick by the Patriots in 2014. Since then, he has appeared in very few games and has run up a quarterback rating of 106.3, which is nothing to brag about. On top of that, there is an old adage in the NFL: the best way to come out ahead in a deal with Patriots’ head coach Bill Bellichick is never to do a deal with Bill Bellichick. Word on the street is that the Pats want a first-round pick for the guy. If the Pats are ready to release him as a backup to an aging (but apparently ageless) Tom Brady, there may be something more to him than meets the eye. The last thing the Niners need now is a quarterback project.
The other possibly tempting trade bait out there is the Washington Redskins’ Kirk Cousins. The team may have put the kibosh on that deal today when they slapped cousins Cousins with the dreaded “franchise” tag for the second year in a row. That makes it more expensive than need be for a team to pick him up, and for a guy with a career passer rating of 93.6, that would be too high a price.
There are two other possible NFL quarterbacks the Niners could be interested in for the short term: Matt Schaub of the Atlanta Falcons, and Jay Cutler of the Bears. The problem with Schaub is his age (35) and in the recent fall off in his productivity caused by making appearances in very few games. Cutler is at the end of his career as well, playing this year at the age of 33, and is clearly not worth any high draft picks or other good talent, of which the Niners have almost none anyway.
What about the college draft?
So if the current crop of available NFL quarterbacks is that sparse, the Niners need to look to the draft as a possible source. Unfortunately, this is one of the worst years for quarterbacks in the college draft that I can recall seeing. Probably the top-ranked college quarterback is Mitch Trubinsky out of Clemson. His stats look really good, but he’s only played one full season as a starter and that came in a spread offense where he always took snaps from the shotgun. That will give any quarterback great accuracy statistics. Not one single NFL scout that I’m aware of has him as a top 10 prospect, and for the Niners to waste their their number 2 pick would be a bad financial decision. Particularly with some really special defensive talent up for grabs at a time when the Niners need help there as well.
So, what to do?
Still, the Niners do need a quarterback. With the slim pickings in both trade bait and free agency, and a poor field of draft choices, I think the Niners only have one choice. They must find a way to convince Kaepernick to stay with the team, even if it’s on some sweetheart deal that only gives them one or two years with the club and sets him up for life. I know that’s not a popular idea. I know that Colin has already indicated strongly that he’s not interested in staying, but I also know his value on the open market is pretty low, not only because of the drop-off in his performance but also because of his unpopular political views. He could destabilize a locker room pretty fast.
Then I think the Niners should look to using their second round pick for a long-term backup solution by finding someone who has the potential to be a top-flight NFL quarterback with some work. The two guys who seem most likely in that capacity are Patrick Mahomes of Texas Tech and Reuben Foster of Alabama.
As of this evening, there are rumors that the Niners could go with Foster as their first-round pick, but I think that would be ill-advised unless they know they’ve got Kaepernick locked in as the kid’s mentor.
So there you have my current thinking on the question. The vacuum must be filled, obviously. If Colin is a non-starter, the Niners are pretty well screwed in 2017 because they won’t have a quarterback on whom they can build a long-term franchise, let alone one ready to step in and win this year. That’s probably okay, because none of the fans expect the team to be a winner again for 2 to 4 years.
Can you say “long rebuild”, boys and girls?