There’s no shortage of reasons why the San Francisco 49ers could keep quarterback Nick Mullens over C.J. Beathard. But another reason is the future of the starter, Jimmy Garoppolo.
The San Francisco 49ers have a quarterback controversy on their hands. On the surface, it’s who should occupy the unheralded-yet-critical No. 2 spot on the depth chart behind the starter, Jimmy Garoppolo.
This battle amid the 2019 preseason, of course, is between C.J. Beathard and Nick Mullens. Head coach Kyle Shanahan has repeatedly indicated both backups will have an equal shot to serve primary support to Garoppolo in training camp leading up to Week 1. But given San Francisco’s depth elsewhere, it’s unlikely Shanahan keeps all three on the 53-man roster when the regular season rolls around.
Mullens could wind up securing the job and roster placement by the regular season, sure. And there’s no shortage of evidence why. Niner Noise broke down some reasons here. So did KNBR 680’s Al Sacco. As far as the regular season goes, there’s no logical explanation why Mullens should lose this competition.
But there’s another reason: What if Garoppolo winds up… (gulp) not being the answer under center?
This isn’t an overreaction piece to Garoppolo’s five-interception performance during a recent training camp session. Heck, this isn’t even about Garoppolo “struggling” or anything like that. Rather, just like Fourth and Nine’s Dylan DeSimone pointed out, it’s mere admission of the possibility Garoppolo could wind up not being the guy San Francisco envisioned when they inked him to what was then a record-setting five-year, $137.5 million deal early in 2018.
Speaking of Garoppolo’s contract, the 49ers can get out from under it in 2020 relatively easily, being charged $4.2 million in dead money, but with $22.4 million generated in cap savings.
So, as much as it’s not good to think about, the Niners aren’t exactly committed to Garoppolo for the long term.
This is where Mullens comes into the fray.
San Francisco controls Mullens’ contract terms — which are exceptionally friendly, given he’s an undrafted rookie — through 2020 and easily into 2021, when he becomes a restricted free agent.
All at a low cost, too.
Let’s assume, for a moment, Garoppolo plays poorly over the entirety of 2019, convincing head coach Kyle Shanahan it’s wiser to cut losses after the season and move on. Which quarterback would he rather have the following year?
Granted, Mullens wouldn’t have to be a long-term answer. And while quarterback wins are a ludicrous means to determine a quarterback’s overall effectiveness and ability, the 49ers have at least proven they can win games with Mullens under center.
He owns a 3-5 record as a starter, compared to Beathard’s 1-9 record split between 2017 and 2018.
The gist of this entire argument is a simple one: If Garoppolo doesn’t end up being a franchise-caliber quarterback, and the 49ers elect to move on, who winds up being the better option in 2020? Beathard or Mullens?
There’s your choice. And it’s another reason why Mullens should wind up winning the No. 2 quarterbacking battle entering this season.