49ers should keep only 2 quarterbacks on 2021 53-man roster

San Francisco 49ers quarterback Trey Lance (5) and quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo (10) Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports
San Francisco 49ers quarterback Trey Lance (5) and quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo (10) Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports /

The 49ers now have three quarterbacks on their preseason roster after waiving Josh Rosen, but there’s only a need to keep two into the regular season.

After Jimmy Garoppolo suffered a torn ACL early in 2018, San Francisco 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan has effectively kept three quarterbacks on the 53-man roster.

This was the case in 2019, when Garoppolo returned from his injury but had his two backups, Nick Mullens and C.J. Beathard, underneath him. And then again in 2020, ultimately adding Josh Rosen late in the year following a season-ending injury to Mullens and in tandem with Garoppolo missing time because of ankle injuries.

In two of the last three years, Shanahan has needed three quarterbacks. This, thanks to Garoppolo’s less-than-fortunate injury reputation.

And there’s a good chance Shanahan will want to keep three quarterbacks again in 2021.

With Rosen now waived and out of the picture, San Francisco’s quarterbacking depth chart leading up to Week 1 includes Garoppolo, rookie Trey Lance and the offseason free-agent pickup, Nate Sudfeld, who effectively beat Rosen for the No. 3 spot without even having to toss a preseason pass.

Sudfeld, with $252,000 in guaranteed money on his one-year deal, appears to be a favorite to make the 53-man roster this season even if he’s a weekly inactive to back up both Garoppolo and Lance.

Yet the situation has changed, and keeping three quarterbacks on the regular-season roster is something Shanahan and the 49ers should no longer consider doing.

49ers no longer need to keep 3 QBs on regular-season roster

Niner Noise’s Robert Morrison predicted the Niners would only roster two quarterbacks on the 53-man bunch this season, ultimately relegating Sudfeld to the practice squad even though that would mean eating his guaranteed money.

While absorbing that dead money stings a bit, there’s some solid merit to the argument.

Most teams around the league no longer keep three quarterbacks on an active roster during the regular season. While the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic shook things up in this department quite a bit, one should expect things to revert back to normal somewhat in 2021, at least from a roster perspective.

Although last year’s short-term injured-reserve rules and 16-man practice squad designations, with up to six players who previously wouldn’t have been eligible, have carried over into this season.

Either way, the argument actually centers on Lance.

If at any point San Francisco is forced to turn to Sudfeld this season for any length of substantial time, its 2021 campaign is already in serious jeopardy. That rule should effectively apply to all 32 teams anyway, having to turn to a third-string quarterback. The 49ers found that out the hard way, both in 2018 and in 2020 with Garoppolo’s injuries.

Garoppolo’s injury history is the proverbial “elephant in the room,” the prime reason why the Niners acted so aggressively in their trade-up to No. 3 overall in this year’s NFL Draft to grab Lance.

While Lance might not quite be ready to start, it’s safe to say he’s close enough. Should Garoppolo suffer yet another lengthy injury, it’ll ultimately be Lance’s turn.

And by some godforsaken reason, Lance gets hurt, too, a third-string Sudfeld isn’t going to miraculously save San Francisco’s 2021 campaign from being a washout. That’s just not how it works.

Sudfeld might end up being the perfect practice squad quarterback even if it costs the 49ers $252,000 in dead money. What’s more valuable to Shanahan and Co. is that extra roster spot, which could easily be used to bolster the depth at other positions of need such as cornerback, linebacker or the offensive line where the quality of reserves remains questionable.

Once pre-Week 1 NFL roster cuts are made, the Niners should be expected to peruse the free-agent list and waiver wire to see if a reinforcement of any kind can be obtained.

A better option than keeping Sudfeld as a weekly inactive QB3.

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