As the 49ers center in on a rookie quarterback at No. 3 overall in the NFL Draft, there’s still a chance they need a veteran signal-caller this offseason.
The only question is how long that clock is going to tick.
This, following the Niners’ blockbuster move last week to move up from No. 12 overall in the 2021 NFL Draft to No. 3 overall, a move that was only intended to give the franchise its choice of at least two of the top-four quarterbacks in this year’s draft class.
There’s a possibility Garoppolo embraces his role as a “lame duck,” of sorts. He’s still under contract through 2022, although the deal San Francisco engineered with him affords the team plenty of easy outs.
Yet it’s just as likely Garoppolo, fully recognizing the 49ers want to move on, wants out, too.
And as soon as possible.
There’s an argument the Niners would be wise to move Garoppolo sooner than later. And if he’s intent on such a thing happening, it might be good measure for general manager John Lynch and Co. to grant the quarterback his wish.
But that could mean San Francisco would need someone to hold the line, at least in 2021 while whichever rookie the 49ers select develops.
49ers offense might be too complex for a rookie to command right away
One of the fortunate things for whichever quarterback the Niners grab at No. 3 overall is that rookie will be joining a roster already equipped to complete for a Super Bowl. That’s certainly not the case with the two teams selecting ahead of San Francisco, the Jacksonville Jaguars and New York Jets.
However, head coach Kyle Shanahan’s offensive system is notoriously complex. It took a full year for Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan to fully develop his understanding of the scheme before Ryan’s 2016 MVP year.
And Ryan was anything but a raw rookie in 2015.
Asking a first-year quarterback to come in and start right away — be he BYU’s Zach Wilson, Ohio State’s Justin Fields or NDSU’s Trey Lance — might be a bit too premature despite the surrounding talent.
So that might prompt Shanahan to seek out a veteran quarterback to act as a mentor if Garoppolo truly wants out right now.
Currently, the only other quarterbacks on the 49ers roster are Josh Rosen and Josh Johnson, and it’s hard to envision either as a quality stopgap option. Perhaps this explains why the Niners were proverbially “kicking the tires” on now-Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Joe Flacco, who visited with San Francisco before signing his deal in Philly.
Sounds like the epitome of a bridge option.
Unfortunately, the remaining free-agent class of quarterbacks is awfully thin now, and it wasn’t overly inspiring to begin with. Perhaps the 49ers consider a reunion with former Washington Football Team quarterback Alex Smith, but that doesn’t seem likely at all. And the other names on the free-agent list don’t exactly seem too plausible.
So, perhaps, that’s why there’s still some smoke surrounding the idea of the Niners trading for Jets quarterback Sam Darnold in the wake of New York likely taking a quarterback at No. 2 overall. Darnold, a flamed-out former first-round pick, wouldn’t be a long-term answer, of course. If anything, just a placeholder until whichever rookie San Francisco selects is ready to go.
Unless Shanahan is perfectly willing to give a first-round signal-caller an immediate shot right away if Garoppolo winds up being dealt sometime between now and Week 1.