SF 49ers: Why acquiring Jets QB Sam Darnold makes sense

New York Jets quarterback Sam Darnold (14) Mandatory Credit: Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports
New York Jets quarterback Sam Darnold (14) Mandatory Credit: Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports /

Should the SF 49ers move on from Jimmy Garoppolo this offseason, the NY Jets’ Sam Darnold could be a plausible target. Here’s why.

There’s no shortage of speculation the SF 49ers could be thinking about life after their quarterback, Jimmy Garoppolo, who is now surrounded by rumors and ideas head coach Kyle Shanahan will want to move on once 2020 comes to a close.

Many of those reports and suggestions center around Garoppolo having hit his proverbial ceiling, which isn’t close to what Shanahan would like to entertain. There’s also the financial aspect of it, too, as cutting Jimmy G this offseason would free up $24.1 million for a team already pressed up against the 2021 salary cap.

Of course, there are plenty of reasons why Garoppolo stays next season and beyond. And one of the big questions would obviously be: Who would the Niners bring in to replace him?

One of the names floated out there is NY Jets quarterback Sam Darnold.

FS1’s Colin Cowherd suggested this as a possibility, too, noting the Jets might be willing to send Darnold off to San Francisco in exchange for a first- or second-round NFL Draft pick.

Well, let’s hold up on that for a second.

While the compensation might be a bit ridiculous — and we’ll talk about that here shortly — the idea of the Niners trading for Darnold isn’t as outlandish as it seems. Sure, Darnold’s 65.9 passer rating is the worst out of all qualifying signal-callers over the first nine weeks of 2020. His 58.6 completion percentage is right towards the bottom of that same group, too.

So, why on earth would the SF 49ers want to use draft capital on a player of Darnold’s ilk?

For starters, it’s a safe assumption Jets head coach Adam Gase has all but ruined Darnold’s development. Darnold has seemingly regressed each year since being the No. 3 overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft.

It’s highly likely New York winds up with the No. 1 overall pick in the 2021 draft, meaning Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence winds up being the go-to selection. Should that be the case, Darnold winds up being in a lame-duck situation with the Jets until his contract expires in 2021.

As far as San Francisco is concerned…

Why Sam Darnold makes some sense for SF 49ers

The Niners won’t make a move for Darnold in exchange for a first- or second-round pick, as Cowherd suggested. A fourth- or fifth-round pick, well, that seems much more logical.

Remember, the Arizona Cardinals traded their former 2018 first-round pick, quarterback Josh Rosen, to the Miami Dolphins for a second-round pick after just one season after grabbing quarterback Kyler Murray first overall the following year.

Darnold’s forgettable two-plus years with the Jets has demolished his trade value beyond what Rosen had in 2019.

A day-three pick might easily be worth the chance at a reclamation project for the SF 49ers, a much safer move than parting ways with a prized selection in Rounds 1 or 2. Then there’s the financial aspect. Darnold is scheduled to make just over $9.79 million in 2021, and his fifth-year option hasn’t been picked up yet. That would afford the Niners some longer flexibility in the matter at a portion of the cost Garoppolo is scheduled to make.

And it wouldn’t necessarily deter the 49ers from using a top pick on a quarterback in next year’s draft either, potentially using Darnold as a mere bridge to a future signal-caller, should that be Shanahan’s choice.

Without getting too deep into the scheme fits and his fit within the system, Darnold is still young enough to resurrect his career within an offensive system tailored to his skill set. Plus, backup quarterbacks C.J. Beathard and Nick Mullens are poised to be free agents in 2021, too, meaning the Niners are going to have plenty of quarterbacking needs this offseason anyway.

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Whether or not Darnold would be good in San Francisco, if traded, is up for plenty of debate. But there’s some sense to the argument the SF 49ers should at least be intrigued if he’s made available.

And it’s likely he would be, provided Lawrence winds up being the Jets’ pick.