When a team falls short of expectations in the NFL, there always is a desire for some semblance of change. After just six healthy quarters in 2020 and a 6-10 record for the 49ers, some elected to point the finger at Jimmy Garoppolo, mainly his lack of availability during his time with the organization.
General manager John Lynch and coach Kyle Shanahan have remained steadfast in their support of Garoppolo and hopes for him to be the 49ers' starting QB in 2021, but the franchise will look for upgrades at every position after a losing season, and that certainly includes the quarterback position.
Many options have been posed as replacements for Garoppolo next season, with disgruntled Houston Texans signal-caller Deshaun Watson being the most recent obsession for 49ers fans. But if Detroit Lions QB Matthew Stafford truly "wants out" of Detroit as CBS Sports and former NFL quarterback Boomer Esiason reported Friday, could he be the 49ers' best option for an immediate upgrade?
Stafford's arm talent remains among the game's best, even as he'll be 33 years old by the start of the 2021 season. Working with minimal talent and constant change in Detroit, Stafford has averaged 3,759 passing yards a season, despite two of those campaigns being limited to single-digit games with injury.
We've seen the 49ers rely on the running game and an elite defense with Garoppolo, but Shanahan's previous stop before coming to the Bay Area was leading an Atlanta Falcons offense that made Matt Ryan an NFL MVP, a season in which Ryan threw for 4,944 yards with 38 touchdowns and just seven interceptions.
Pairing an arm like Stafford's with Brandon Aiyuk and Deebo Samuel, not to mention one of the NFL's best tight ends in George Kittle, would surround the veteran with a better compliment of skill players than he's seen in his decade-plus with the Lions.
Realistically looking at the 49ers' options for potentially upgrading from Garoppolo, Watson would cost way more than Lynch likely would be willing to give up, even for a "generational" quarterback. None of the other potential free agents this offseason would be much of an upgrade over a healthy Jimmy G, and the 49ers would need to trade up to get one of the two bona fide QB talents in this year's draft (Clemson's Trevor Lawrence and Ohio State's Justin Fields), and would need to gamble on a player like North Dakota State's Trey Lance, BYU's Zach Wilson, or Alabama QB and national champion Mac Jones.
Former NFL scout and Bay Area podcast host John Middlekauff told KNBR this past week that he would deal the No. 12 pick for Stafford, appreciating the toughness of the veteran.
"But I think it's fair to say that, at this point in time, it's just time for a change there (for the 49ers)," Middlekauff continued (h/t 49ers Web Zone). "It'd be an easy one. Getting pick 12 for Matt Stafford would be a pretty good deal, and then you could trade Jimmy and basically just transfer the money to Matt Stafford, a guy that, until the end of last season, has been very, very durable his entire career."
This 49ers team is not in rebuild mode by any means. Just a few miscues away from a Super Bowl victory back in February, injuries decimated the roster top-to-bottom and even with just about every key player being forced to miss time, Shanahan's team remained competitive in just about every game, even beating the playoff-qualifying Los Angeles Rams twice.
Top skill players on rookie contracts and defensive stars Nick Bosa and Fred Warner being on affordable contracts leaves the 49ers' championship window ajar going into 2021.
Trading for Stafford wouldn't be nearly as costly as a deal for Watson or what it would take to jump into the top-three or even top-five of the 2021 draft. At 33, Stafford doesn't want to be the guy at the helm of another rebuild in Detroit, and likely wants to finally see some team success after years of losing.
To make it clear, the 49ers have a better option at QB1 than a handful of teams around the league at least, and while his initial contract raised eyebrows, Garoppolo isn't among the top 10 quarterbacks in cap hit for next season.
But if a deal presents itself that doesn't give up too much, Stafford could provide a new element for Shanahan and give the 49ers a more dynamic passing attack. Is he a significant upgrade over Garoppolo? It's hard to completely determine given Jimmy G's sample size, but Stafford definitely has a stronger arm.
It will all depend on how much belief the 49ers' brain trust truly has in Garoppolo improving in the coming years, but Lynch and Shanahan can't afford to waste another year with this championship-caliber core in place.
Stafford could be the guy to take the 49ers over the hump, and likely would be extra motivated by finally being part of a contending team.