SF 49ers injury news: Nick Mullens won’t see another snap in 2020

Quarterback Nick Mullens #4 of the San Francisco 49ers (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)
Quarterback Nick Mullens #4 of the San Francisco 49ers (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images) /

The SF 49ers’ loss to the Cowboys revealed an injured Nick Mullens won’t see another snap for the rest of the season.

It’s not a hot-take reaction. SF 49ers quarterback Nick Mullens won’t see another snap for the rest of the 2020 season.

Instead, those duties are likely reserved for the No. 3 quarterback on the Niners’ roster, C.J. Beathard.

Why? Late in the game, Mullens suffered what appeared to be an elbow injury on an awkward throw where his arm hit a Dallas Cowboys defender. Mullens didn’t come out for the next drive, giving way to Beathard, who closed out the Week 15 loss.

On Tuesday, head coach Kyle Shanahan revealed Mullens suffered an elbow injury that could likely require Tommy John surgery, made notable from the number of baseball players who undergo the procedure:

And the surgery typically carries a year’s recovery time for baseball players, although we won’t speculate NFL players’ recovery timetables for this kind of injury and subsequent surgery recovery.

Still, that could potentially mean Mullens misses more than just the last two games of 2020, though.

Beathard isn’t going to do much more for Shanahan than Mullens would. But after San Francisco lost ugly in Week 15 to the Cowboys, falling 41-33 in a game where the SF 49ers coughed up four turnovers, going to Beathard might have been the only logical move anyway despite the injury to shake things up enough and generate some much-needed stats for some of the team’s skill players looking to close in on individual and team accolades.

Mullens was directly responsible for three of those four turnovers, which ultimately resulted in 24 Dallas points. And turning the ball over was one of the backup quarterback’s biggest issues this season anyway. His 3.4 interception percentage entering Week 15 ranked second worst among all qualifying quarterbacks, and the ranking didn’t look much better when the weekend’s slate of games finally finished up and Mullens’ number climbed to 3.7 — tied for worst.

“Nick, first and foremost, if he wants to stay out there, he’s got to stop turning the ball over,” Shanahan told reporters leading up to Week 15.

With two interceptions and a strip-sack fumble, Mullens didn’t exactly allow Shanahan to back up his statements. The head coach only replaced Mullens with Beathard after the former’s injury.

Now, that change is permanent for the rest of 2020.

Why it didn’t make sense for SF 49ers to start Nick Mullens anymore anyway

With the starter, Jimmy Garoppolo, likely sidelined for the rest of the year with an ankle injury, the debate was going to be limited to both Mullens and Beathard.

Neither was a clear upgrade over the other, so let’s get that straight. Beathard’s 1-9 record as a starter and career-3.0 interception percentage suggests he’ll have just as much issue as Mullens hitting his targets.

On the other hand, though, Beathard does have a considerably stronger arm than Mullens, giving Shanahan a chance to at least open up more throws down the field where Mullens’ lack of arm strength is readily apparent.

If both quarterbacks are roughly equaled in terms of no pocket awareness, a lack of accuracy and turnover tendencies, Shanahan can at least benefit from a more powerful arm to help his offense move even just a bit more.

Plus, with rumors about San Francisco’s pass-catchers being frustrated with Mullens as of late, a move to Beathard would at least quiet those concerns to a point. At least it would show Shanahan is shaking things up as much as he possibly can.

There are long-term implications, too. Those are important.

Let’s assume the SF 49ers are going to lose their next two games against the Arizona Cardinals and Seattle Seahawks, respectively, finishing 5-11 in the process. Neither Beathard nor Mullens would have been viewed as upgrades, and the “team tank” crowd would be happy enough to see the Niners improve NFL Draft positioning.

Should a higher pick result in San Francisco grabbing a franchise-type quarterback early to replace Garoppolo, which is surely a high possibility, Shanahan could be faced with a choice on rounding out his quarterback room.

Would he possibly keep Mullens or Beathard, both free agents in 2021, to educate a rookie on the nuances of Shanahan’s offense?

Mullens has shown what he can do, rather can’t do. Plus, with the real possibility he misses out all of 2021, Beathard at least gets his shot to prove some sort of value to San Francisco, even if it’s minimal next season.

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Now, the last two games provide Beathard with his last, best shot to show why the SF 49ers could keep him around to at least mentor a young signal-caller.