49ers keeping 4 quarterbacks would be a tremendous waste

San Francisco 49ers Training Camp
San Francisco 49ers Training Camp / Thearon W. Henderson/GettyImages

At the outset of training camp, 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan was asked about the team's current situation at quarterback and whether he thought it made sense for the Niners to keep four quarterbacks on their roster. Shanahan's response was an interesting one.

Michael Silver of the San Francisco Chronicle asked the initial question, to which Shanahan said, “If you have three quarterbacks good enough to make teams in the NFL, you always keep them,” Shanahan said. “And then that’s what I’m happy about, [because]. You don’t see many people keep four, but it’s been done before.”

On the surface, this response is pretty par for the course for Shanahan. He and general manager John Lynch have both repeatedly talked about keeping good football players and not letting them go for nothing. This was the refrain of the Jimmy Garoppolo saga from last offseason before the team ultimately decided to keep the quarterback in the building.

This proved to be useful, of course, as Trey Lance went down with a season-ending injury in the Week 2 against the Seahawks, forcing Garoppolo into action. He remained the starter until he suffered his own injury in Week 13 against the Miami Dolphins, thrusting rookie Brock Purdy into the starting role.

Of course, the 49ers, already winners of four straight with Garoppolo at the helm, wouldn't lose again until the NFC Championship Game in Philadelphia. This 12-game winning streak ending was mainly deterred by Purdy getting injured early in the contest, which saw journeyman Josh Johnson take over for a quarter and a half before he, too, was ruled out due to a concussion.

Given all that loss at the game's most important position, it seems natural that Shanahan would not slam the door on the possibility of keeping four quarterbacks on the 49ers' 53-man roster that is set before their Week 1 trip to Pittsburgh.

After all, all four of the signal-callers have starting experience, from the fairly well-seasoned (Sam Darnold with 55 career starts) to those that still could use some time to marinate (Lance with four, Purdy with five, and Brandon Allen with nine), it is difficult to argue that each of the quarterbacks offers the ability to keep the 49ers' offense afloat for a period of time.

But let's be honest: if the 49ers are down to their fourth quarterback again, the likelihood of their getting any further in the playoffs than they did in 2022 is basically nonexistent. Instead, they could use the fourth quarterback spot to provide greater depth along the defensive line, among the pass catchers, or in the secondary.

Reasonably, Brandon Allen is a better option than Josh Johnson was or than Jacob Eason, the quarterback that finished last season on the practice squad, would have been had he been active for the NFC Championship Game.

That doesn't mean the lesson learned from the 2022 season should be to keep four quarterbacks in a league where keeping three on a roster is sometimes outside of the norm. Injuries are part of the game, but it feels like the likelihood of that happening again to the 49ers is pretty slim.

So no matter what Kyle Shanahan says now, there's no way the 49ers should keep four quarterbacks on their 2023 roster.