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NFL Draft

49ers May Only Have 1 Clear QB Upgrade Option

  • The Draft Network
  • February 3, 2021
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The San Francisco 49ers nearly had their quarterback. They reportedly made an attempt to trade for veteran passer Matthew Stafford, who is now with the Los Angeles Rams, after he and the Detroit Lions agreed to mutually part ways. Now, the 49ers must continue their search if they plan on truly moving on from Jimmy Garoppolo.

San Francisco made it clear, with its efforts trying to acquire Stafford, that it’s keeping its options wide open. Head coach Kyle Shanahan sort of, kind of committed to Garoppolo, but Shanahan left a lot of room for interpretation when discussing the team’s future at the position; this coupled with the 49ers’ recent hand in the quarterback market could result in a new face under center come 2021.

Who, among the remaining available talent, would be a true upgrade to Garoppolo? Shanahan was adamant any potential replacement had to be a clear upgrade.

“You look into every avenue and you see if there's something out there that can get you a ton better,” Shanahan said in December, via ESPN. “That's the same answer for every position, but look at Jimmy, look what he's done, look where he's at financially. We better have a very good answer if you're gonna find something better than that because Jimmy has shown in one year that he's the guy who can take us to the Super Bowl, and I also think that Jimmy is going to get a lot better the more he plays.”

Garoppolo would leave San Francisco with a 22-8 regular-season record and a 2-1 playoff record with the one loss coming to Kansas City in Super Bowl 54. On paper, Garoppolo has been very successful, but watching Garoppolo offers a different perspective. He has issues staying healthy and has buckled in tense moments, more notably in that Super Bowl appearance and most notably in that fourth quarter; Garoppolo’s statistics from that finishing quarter were awful. He was 3-of-11 passing for 36 yards and an interception. While Garoppolo hasn’t been bad under pressure as a whole, that performance highlighted his inconsistency and his inability to make things work when everything else isn’t in his favor. Garoppolo is a system quarterback, which leads us back to the question of who, in San Francisco’s system, can take this team back to championship heights?

The 49ers considered a similar upgrade last season when Tom Brady was on the market. General manager John Lynch said there was some internal discussion, but ultimately Lynch and Shanahan came to a conclusion they liked what they saw in Garoppolo. In hindsight—with San Francisco finishing 6-10, back at the bottom of the NFC West, and a missed playoff appearance following their Super Bowl run; and Brady leading the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to their first NFC Championship in nearly two decades—they should have gone with the upgrade.

Now, the quarterback market consists of Dak Prescott, Jacoby Brissett, Mitchell Trubisky, Ryan Fitzpatrick, and Cam Newton among many, many others. Prescott should remain in Dallas, either by way of an extension or another franchise tag, and while Newton would be fun to watch in the 49ers’ system, he’s just not the quarterback he once was with the Carolina Panthers. The rest of the available passers don’t do a convincing job making a case that they’re a better option than Garoppolo. But there is one quarterback who has expressed a desire to play elsewhere in 2021 and would be a clear improvement: Deshaun Watson.

The 49ers should seriously consider, if they haven’t already, doing what they can to land Watson, even if it would mean trading franchise cornerstones like defensive end Nick Bosa or even linebacker Fred Warner. It’s a steep price, but for this upgrade, it’s well worth it.

The Draft Network mapped out San Francisco as a potential landing spot for Watson, saying

“Watson is an infinitely better quarterback than Garoppolo, and I can only imagine the type of production and success he and an offensive guru like Shanahan would have together. The 49ers, when healthy, have an outstanding defense and an exciting group of playmakers in tight end George Kittle and receivers Brandon Ayuik and Deebo Samuel. Adding Watson to this team would just be unfair.” 

It’s nearly terrifying thinking about Watson in San Francisco’s offense. There is no quarterback on the market that would give the 49ers a better chance at success than Watson; unfortunately for the 49ers, that’s also the case for all of the other teams pursuing him. San Francisco can bolster its depth via the 2021 NFL Draft, but it won’t find an immediate replacement at quarterback there and any other passer available with NFL experience would just be a shuffling of the deck. Going all-in for Watson would be more than worth the gamble if the 49ers want to return as contenders in a tough division and even tougher conference.

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