The minute Matthew Stafford and the Detroit Lions agreed they were going to part ways, the 49ers appeared to be one of the logical destinations for the veteran signal-caller. Stafford, according to reports, had the 49ers on his shortlist of potential trade destinations.
The 49ers reportedly had a conversation with the Lions but never got to the formal offer point, as the Los Angeles Rams overwhelmed the Lions, sending two first-round picks, a third-round pick and Jared Goff to Detroit for Stafford.
Before the 49ers could blink, their best chance at clearly upgrading at quarterback was packing his bags for Los Angeles and now will face the 49ers twice a year for the foreseeable future. The 49ers were outflanked by their rivals in the Stafford trade talks as the Rams did what the 49ers, to this point, have been unwilling to do by going all-in to maximize their title window.
The 49ers can't let that happen again, especially with Deshaun Watson holding firm in his desire to be traded this offseason. On Thursday, Go Long's Ty Dunne reported that Watson had the 49ers and Miami Dolphins atop his wishlist, and ESPN's Jeremy Fowler noted that the 49ers and Denver Broncos are among the teams that "intrigue" the star QB.
If these reports are accurate, the 49ers really can't afford to wait. As seen with the Stafford trade, once the ball gets rolling things can happen fast and the 49ers can't be caught flat-footed, especially if Watson does desire to team up with head coach Kyle Shanahan.
It's easy to see why the 49ers and Broncos would interest Watson. After spending last season throwing to Will Fuller, Brandin Cooks and Keke Coutee, Watson clearly is eyeing two teams stocked with young offensive talent.
The 49ers have George Kittle and dynamic young receivers Brandon Aiyuk and Deebo Samuel, while the Broncos have Courtland Sutton, Jerry Jeudy, K.J. Hamler and Noah Fant.
As for the Miami Dolphins, they have a young quarterback in Tua Tagovailoa, who new Texans general manager Nick Caserio reportedly was high on before the 2020 NFL Draft, and a treasure trove of picks, including two first-round selections in 2021 to offer the Texans.
The 49ers still have a talented roster that is just 12 months removed from being 10 minutes away from Super Bowl glory. Following their Super Bowl LIV loss, questions have remained about Jimmy Garoppolo's long-term viability as a Super Bowl-caliber quarterback.
Shanahan and general manager John Lynch were open about checking in on Tom Brady, but they ultimately decided to pass on the greatest of all-time, believing Garoppolo was set to take a leap during his second full season as a starter. Brady, of course, signed with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and led them to a Super Bowl title, as Tampa Bay used the 49ers' game plan to stymy Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs to take home the Lombardi Trophy.
While the 49ers' roster still is solid, they are entering a critical offseason as it pertains to their championship window. They have to address multiple spots in the secondary, as only safety Jimmie Ward remains under contract at the moment. They will have to re-sign Trent Williams and bolster the interior of their offensive line, while also finding a reliable edge rusher to put opposite Nick Bosa.
The quarterback decision, of course, looms the largest. Shanahan and Lynch have said they "expect" Garoppolo to return as their starter in 2021, and hope he can stay healthy. That, at the moment, appears to be the likeliest scenario.
Garoppolo is a known commodity. Shanahan is aware that he can win a lot of games with Garoppolo but also knows there is a ceiling on what the quarterback can produce in his system. Garoppolo has a problem staying healthy and, when he is on the field, the turnovers remain a critical issue.
If the 49ers truly believe in Garoppolo, that's fine. They should restructure his contract to give them more immediate cap room and build out the roster around him. But if they have questions about whether or not he's the type of signal-caller who can carry a team to a title if things aren't firing on all cylinders, then now is the time to make a move.
Stafford always felt like the 49ers' best option, but the Rams swooped in and made sure the Georgia product would be taking snaps in Southern California.
Watson reportedly is high on the possibility of playing in Santa Clara. If that's the case, the 49ers can't play it safe. They can offer multiple first-round picks and a top defensive talent like Bosa or Fred Warner to get the deal done.
Franchise quarterbacks, especially those with Watson's talent, don't often come around and rarely are available for trade. If he truly has the 49ers atop his list, the 49ers have to be proactive in order to not miss out on Watson the way they did with Stafford.