The conventional wisdom as to why the 49ers can’t seem to get above .500 when finishing a season is they have lacked a franchise quarterback and had an inexperienced head coach. The latter was settled, so we hope, with the hiring of Jim Harbaugh. The former is stalled with the NFL lockout. The lockout won’t be resolved by April’s draft which means the 49ers will draft with David Carr as the only signed quarterback. If you are like me the thought of selecting another quarterback in the first round and hoping he develops into a franchise QB makes me cringe. Good thing for the 49ers is they have the Panthers (#1), Bills (#3), Bengals (#4) and Cardinals (#5) all drafting before their seventh spot. All four teams are in need of a quarterback and could select one with their picks. This would be great if they did because the players drafted would most likely be Blaine Gabbert, Cam Newton, Jake Locker or even Ryan Mallett. This would make the decision of whether or not to select a quarterback easier for the 49ers because the rest of the pack are not sure fires. So why waste the seventh pick on someone you might be able to get with the same quality in the second or later rounds. Even if one of those quarterbacks are available I am for selecting either a defensive linemen or a cornerback.
So, what do the 49ers do at quarterback? A quarterback will be selected in the draft by the 49ers but that will come in the later rounds. A better choice for the 49ers is to gamble in free agency on obtaining one of the free agent quarterbacks that will be available. I would love Kevin Kolb but that would involve a trade in which the 49ers would have to give up a lot and the longer the lockout lasts, the less likely the Eagles will want to trade Kolb. The free agent quarterbacks available whenever it is the NFL lockout ends are not exactly the most exciting but in my opinion would be better than gambling on a rookie quarterback who could take years to develop and would mean holes at defensive line and in the secondary would remain unplugged. Donovan McNabb or Vince Young could have huge upside as both will have a chip on their shoulder wanting to prove to the teams that discarded them they can still play at a high level. Marc Bulger and Matt Hasselbeck are also free agents. Bulger is the biggest risk because he did not start last year with the Ravens and Hasselbeck is older and more injury prone but why not gamble on getting one of these quarterbacks as a one, two year fix?
Harbaugh has a great eye for talent which was seen in his recruiting at Stanford. I bet Harbaugh is looking at second or third round quarterbacks to draft knowing he might be able to land one of the free agent quarterbacks to start while he develops a rookie quarterback. Another possibility is trading for a current backup quarterback in the NFL. The name that stands out the most is Buccaneers quarterback Josh Johnson who Harbaugh coached at the University of San Diego. Johnson has great skills but not enough to be the 49ers starting quarterback next season. But a trade for Johnson would not cost the 49ers much in draft picks but would still mean the 49ers would have to go after one of the free agent quarterbacks. Johnson has two years of learning how to play quarterback in the NFL already under his belt and being familiar with Harbaugh could accelerate his development.
Any avenue the 49ers take is going to be gamble. I still hear Alex Smith being talked about which would be the biggest gamble and should be a last resort if the 49ers can’t land McNabb, Young, Bulger or Hasselbeck. With the NFL lockout free agency is the best way for the 49ers to get there next starting quarterback, if there is ever a free agency.