The 49ers now have the worst quarterback in the NFC West.
And I don’t think that’s going to change before the start of the 2021 season.
With Matthew Stafford heading to the Rams, Jimmy Garoppolo sticks out like a sore thumb in the 49ers’ division.
Stafford, Russell Wilson, the young and exceptional Kyler Murray, and Garoppolo — as they used to sing on Sesame Street: One of these things is not like the others.
Where does this put the 49ers in the overall NFC West power rankings? That’s all to be determined as the off-season continues to unfold. There are dozens of moves yet to be made with this in-flux roster.
But what is clear is that the 49ers will have to do something to upgrade the quarterback room before the start of the season. If Garoppolo is the starter — and there’s no reason to think Deshaun Watson is coming to town — then he’s going to need a much better backup than Nick Mullens or C.J. Beathard.
Here’s the most prudent and realistic path for the 49ers moving forward:
• Continue to pump up Garoppolo
» The Niners have been relentless in their public support for Garoppolo, even after they admitted to kicking the tires on signing Tom Brady last offseason. Saturday, just before the Rams and Lions trade was announced, there was a conspicuous vote of confidence in Garoppolo leaked to the media.
Kyle Shanahan and John Lynch need to keep that same energy. Garoppolo might be the fourth-best quarterback in his division now, but that doesn’t make him a scrub. No, he’s a starter-caliber quarterback. And while I don’t think he can win San Francisco a Super Bowl, that’s just one man’s opinion. I’ve been wrong on Garoppolo before (please don’t look up some of my more glowing praise of him from late in the 2019 season).
Both Shanahan and Lynch are on the record in saying that they believe Garoppolo, who is entering his age 30 season, has room to grow. If that’s the case, that potential needs to show itself in 2021, and it won’t come from negative energy.
And no, the Niners aren’t going to give up the three, maybe four first-round picks it will cost to land Deshaun Watson from the Texans. I just don’t see it.
Would it make more sense now that the division is stacked at quarterback? Of course. But for that to go down, Watson would need to declare that he wants to go to San Francisco. That’s unlikely seeing as his reported top destinations are the Jets and Dolphins. And the Niners aren’t going to win a bidding war with either of those teams, either — they don’t have the surplus draft capital. Not unless they go full Rams, that is. (L.A.’s last first-round pick was Jared Goff and they won’t have a first-round pick until 2024.) That doesn’t seem like the Niners’ style — remember, this team traded DeForest Buckner for a first-round pick last offseason.
So it’s Garoppolo. It doesn’t matter if choice or circumstance brought us to this moment, San Francisco’s brass needs to champion their quarterback — otherwise, the season really is over before it starts.
• Draft Justin Fields in the first round
» The 49ers still have the No. 12 overall pick in this spring’s NFL Draft and they should take a quarterback.
Specifically, they should take Ohio State’s Justin Fields.
If that requires a move up in the draft, so be it — so long as it doesn’t cost another first-round pick.
But Fields has fallen to No. 3 on most draft experts’ quarterback rankings, behind presumptive No. 1 pick Trevor Lawrence and BYU’s Zach Wilson. Fields’ stock seems to be dropping fast.
I get it. Fields’ college system did him no favors when it came to his NFL transition and his pocket presence and general feel for the game is oftentimes lacking. When he’s on, he’s spectacular, but scrutiny has not been kind to his prospects of a top-five section.
By the time the end of April rolls around, I wouldn’t be shocked if he was the fourth quarterback taken. And I wouldn’t be shocked if he was picked in the double-digits.
Fields would be the perfect project quarterback for Shanahan, who has only drafted one quarterback in his tenure with the Niners, Beathard.
With Fields, Shanahan can build a playbook and a player in concert and because Garoppolo is still there, there wouldn’t be any rush to get Fields on the field.
Perhaps Garoppolo thrives in 2021 and makes the lede of this article look dumb. In that case, Shanahan gets more time with Fields, or San Francisco could move either the incumbent or the young challenger.
If there’s any team that should know that you can never have too many competent quarterbacks, it should be the Niners.
• Let your ‘offensive genius’ coach go to work
» If the Niners land Fields — or any other rookie quarterback (I’m a fan of Alabama’s Mac Jones in the second round) — Shanahan needs to go all-in on that player’s development. The goal should be clear: have the rookie ready to start by mid-season or the 49ers’ bye week, whichever comes later.
Think of it like the second coming of the Miami Dolphins’ Tua Tagovailoa – Ryan Fitzpatrick situation.
Again, if Garoppolo plays well, there’d be no reason to make a change. But the goal should be to have the rookie ready to go if Garoppolo hasn’t shown the improvement necessary to make the Niners more than just a playoff team.
Contributed by local news sources