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Shanahan describes best way for backup QBs to have long careers

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Nick Mullens

Coach Kyle Shanahan did not mean any disrespect.

He was just speaking from a position of honesty about one of the most difficult positions in sports.

Jimmy Garoppolo is the 49ers’ starting quarterback.

Nick Mullens and C.J. Beathard are not.

As Shanahan pointed out this week, the best way for a backup quarterback to enjoy a long NFL career is to be on a team with a capable, durable starting quarterback.

“Some backup quarterbacks don't get in for 10 years or they just get a couple of quarters over 10 years and that's why they have a 10-year career,” Shanahan said. “And then some guys get in a ton and they only have a three-year career.

“Usually backup quarterbacks, when they get in a lot, they don't last that long because of how hard it is to play for even starting quarterbacks. Nick and C.J. both have been in some really tough positions for backup quarterbacks."

Mullens will remain as the 49ers’ starter on Sunday against the Dallas Cowboys, Shanahan announced on Wednesday.

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Although Garoppolo might return to some limited work next week as he continues to rehabilitate from a severe high-ankle sprain, it appears likely the 49ers will finish this season with a backup quarterback on the field.

Beathard was called upon to play just six games into his rookie season when then-quarterback Bryan Hoyer struggled and was benched. He started five games in 2017 before Garoppolo unseated him as the starter.


Beathard started five more games in 2018 after Garoppolo sustained a season-ending knee injury.

Mullens took over as the starter midway through that season. Since the middle of the 2018 season, Mullens has started 15 games, while Garoppolo has started 25 times, including three postseason starts.

“I think when backup quarterbacks tend to play the majority of the year, they usually struggle," Shanahan said. "That's why, when you have a backup quarterback, you're always hoping the guy's capable of being a true starter.”

Mullens is one of 33 quarterbacks in the NFL to attempt 200 or more passes this season. He ranks 22nd with 2,218 yards passing. Mullens is 25th with a passer rating of 85.7, placing him ahead of Andy Dalton, Nick Foles, Alex Smith, Cam Newton, Daniel Jones, Drew Lock, Carson Wentz and Sam Darnold.

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Beathard is scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season, while Mullens is set to be a restricted free agent.

Mullens appears to be the most likely to remain on the roster in a backup role. But Shanahan said the organization will always look to strengthen its depth chart.

“I think we do have two guys who have the capability for different reasons, but they haven't been playing like that and I don't think we've been playing like that around them,” Shanahan said. “So I still do feel they have that ability and that's why I'm always confident to have them on our team, but you're always looking to upgrade in every situation."