Why SF 49ers keep C.J. Beathard on 53-man roster in 2020

C.J. Beathard #3 of the San Francisco 49ers (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
C.J. Beathard #3 of the San Francisco 49ers (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images) /

It might seem weird for the SF 49ers to keep three quarterbacks on their 53-man roster. But the context of 2020 mandates C.J. Beathard sticks around.

Last year, SF 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan made something of a shocking move by keeping quarterback C.J. Beathard on the team’s 53-man roster despite him losing the primary backup job to fellow quarterback Nick Mullens in training camp and the preseason.

Perhaps that move was Shanahan’s still-unwavering support of Beathard, the first signal-caller he was directly responsible for drafting since taking over the head coaching spot in 2017.

Nevertheless, Beathard remained inactive for all 16 regular-season games and San Francisco’s three postseason bouts, raising concerns whether or not the quarterback’s placement there was ever worthwhile in the first place.

Enter 2020, and all signs point to Beathard being named the No. 3 quarterback again behind Mullens and the starter, Jimmy Garoppolo.

But the context is noticeably different.

For those wondering whether or not Shanahan would change his mind this season, parting ways with Beathard in favor of just two quarterbacks on the roster, he won’t. Again, just like 2019, Beathard will be there on the roster even if it means he’s inactive on a weekly basis and the SF 49ers have to spend a precious roster spot on a quarterback who, ideally, will never don a uniform in a meaningful situation.

The reason? COVID-19.

Linebacker Fred Warner‘s recent placement on the reserve/COVID-19 list sheds light on just how quick an impact player can be lost to the minimum two-week absence period. Thankfully, the Niners have more than adequate depth at linebacker. As far as quarterback, losing either one of the two likely quarterbacks to be active on game day, Garoppolo or Mullens, to the reserve/COVID-19 list would spell potential disaster if further injuries at the position begin to pile up.

While Beathard might not be the ideal quarterback to helm a Super Bowl-caliber offense, he at least knows the system and has Shanahan’s trust.

“Both of those guys have done good,” Shanahan told reporters of Beathard and Mullens last week. “We feel very fortunate with both of our quarterbacks behind Jimmy. Nick and C.J., the live bullets that they’ve been under, they’ve been thrown in as two of tough situations that I’ve really had for any quarterback that I’ve ever coached; some of the situations that we put them in their first two years.”

If injuries were the lone factor, it would be one thing for San Francisco to consider just two QBs on its 53-man roster. But the pandemic adds the extra wrinkle.

SF 49ers won’t have option of putting C.J. Beathard on practice squad

Altered rules for this season’s practice squad open up the possibility Beathard could be waived from his current contract and potentially placed on the practice squad. Under different circumstances, his three accrued years of service at the pro level would have meant the practice squad wouldn’t be an option.

Now, however, squads being increased from 12 to 16 players, with as many as six not having to fall under previous rules for eligibility, mean veteran players can end up going to the practice squad if they fail to make the 53-man roster.

The problem, though, is those players still are subject to other teams’ waiver claims. Beathard, considering his 1-9 record as a starter, has virtually zero value on the trade market.

But as a waiver claim, that’s a different story as Niner Noise’s Robert Morrison pointed out in his pre-Week 1 53-man roster prediction for San Francisco.

Teams could pass on Beathard, yes. Yet that’s not a risk or chance Shanahan would be willing to take. Not when his team already has aspirations for a Super Bowl, and certainly not in the context of a virus potentially striking down anyone on the roster for a multi-week period at any time.

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Instead, Shanahan and the 49ers will realize keeping Beathard around, even as a third-string reserve, is a must to ensure the best possible continuity at the position.

Even if some feel that roster spot is better utilized elsewhere.