Until the 49ers restructure Jimmy Garoppolo's contract and he runs out of the tunnel in Week 1 as San Francisco's starting quarterback, questions about whether or not general manager John Lynch and head coach Kyle Shanahan should make a change under center will persist.
Garoppolo, to this point, has survived numerous potential usurpers including Tom Brady, who the 49ers passed on last offseason, and Matthew Stafford, who the Los Angeles Rams went all-in on to maximize their title window.
All signs point to Garoppolo returning as the 49ers starting quarterback in 2021. Lynch said as much last week when he signaled the 49ers wanted to improve the depth behind Garoppolo, and that as long as Garoppolo was healthy, he has no doubt he will be the starter come Week 1.
NBC Sports analyst Chris Simms believes there now is only one quarterback on the trade market who could take Garoppolo's job from him this offseason, and it's not who you think it.
"Right now, I'm going to take Garoppolo," Simms said Monday on "Pro Football Talk" when asked if we would take Garoppolo or the field as Week 1 starter. "The only thing I look at that jumps out to me as a possibility -- because I don't think they have enough ammo to get a Deshaun Watson without kind of ruining their team to go get him -- to me, the one move I still look at to go, 'Jimmy G not the guy guaranteed yet" is the Jets and Sam Darnold. That would be the only one.
"I don't know how the 49ers really feel about him, but Sam Darnold is a guy that I still have faith in. I think he can be an NFL starting quarterback. He'd fit that Shanahan system. The Jets are in a good spot at No. 2 and these damn quarterbacks I've been evaluating, they are damn good. I could see them taking a quarterback and Sam Darnold being available. That's the last obstacle I think Jimmy G and his camp will have to overcome for him to be the starter next year."
The Jets hired 49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh as their head coach this offseason, and Saleh brought Mike LaFleur along as his offensive coordinator. Early signs pointed to Saleh and LaFleur wanting to give Darnold a full season to get a true gauge of his potential, but the Jets own the No. 2 overall pick and prospects like BYU's Zach Wilson and Ohio State's Justin Fields will be intriguing options come draft time.
The 49ers enter a critical offseason with bigger needs than addressing the quarterback position. Garoppolo needs to stay healthy, but the 49ers win when he's on the field. They could look to draft a quarterback at No. 12, like Alabama's Mac Jones, and extend their championship window by building around a quarterback on a rookie contract, although that would force them to likely punt on 2021 as far as Super Bowl aspirations are concerned. Trading up for Wilson or Fields is unlikely, and the 49ers have to make sure they get the best player available at No. 12 and don't reach to fill a need. Whiffing on what they hope will be their highest pick for the foreseeable future is a mistake that could set the franchise back a few years.
The Houston Texans haven't engaged in trade talks for Watson, and it's unlikely the 49ers would be willing to give up the necessary pieces to acquire the 25-year-old star. Nothing should be off the table if Watson is actually made available, but it's hard to visualize the 49ers parting with Nick Bosa, Fred Warner or George Kittle. Any deal for Watson likely would have to include one or two of them along with a handful of draft picks.
Barring a Darnold trade or Shanahan being enamored with a top prospect, Garoppolo, for better or worse, will be the starter in 2021. The 49ers need him to stay healthy and they need to find a capable backup who can win games should Garoppolo hit the shelf again in 2021.