49ers

Stafford is 49ers' only clear option to upgrade from Jimmy G

49ers

Let's be clear about one thing: The calls for the 49ers to make a change at quarterback is sports version of "the grass is always greener."

That, of course, isn't true. But when the defending NFC champions get hit with a Super Bowl hangover worthy of a legendary night on Bourbon Street, changes must be made. Right? So, why not point the finger at the quarterback who played six healthy quarters in 2020?

I've been critical of Jimmy Garoppolo. At his peak, he's an above-average NFL starter with a limitations that have to be schemed around. That, however, is someone you can win a Super Bowl with if you have the requisite pieces around him.

The 49ers will look to see if they can upgrade at the quarterback position this offseason. But Kyle Shanahan expects Garoppolo back, and he should.

There's only one realistic option who would be a surefire upgrade from Garoppolo this offseason: Matthew Stafford.

Matt Ryan's name has been thrown out there, but I don't see the Atlanta Falcons' new regime agreeing to eat a massive cap hit during a pandemic when the salary cap will be lowered. Sam Darnold, Mitchell Trubisky and Dwayne Haskins could be buy-low options, but that's a gamble for a 49ers team whose Super Bowl window is open now.

The 2021 draft class has two top-tier talents in Trevor Lawrence and Justin Fields and a handful of could be good but might be bust prospects after them. The 49ers aren't in the running for Lawrence and Fields, meaning they'd either have to gamble on a guy like Zach Wilson or Trey Lance (if they fall to them) or reach for Mac Jones or Kyle Trask. Those are risks a team a year removed from a Super Bowl doesn't need to take and shouldn't.

 

For the 49ers, the choice should either be to trade for Stafford, who has a manageable cap hit if traded or to run it back with a healthy Garoppolo.

The question is: Would the Lions be willing to move on from Stafford? Does Stafford want a change of scenery?

According to ESPN's Adam Schefter, that might be the case.

"Knowing what I know, I don’t think he’s going to have the stomach to really go through another rebuilding job.” Schefter said during an appearance on ‘Schlereth and Evans’ on 104.3 The Fan. “He might want to go on to play for a team that is ready to win right now … So, I think that’s an unsettled, fluid situation.”

To be clear, Schefter isn't reporting that Stafford wants out but that it could be trending that way if the Lions, who fired coach Matt Patricia and general manager Bob Quinn, decide to undergo a full rebuild. And, with 49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh reportedly being a front-runner to take the job in Detroit, it's easy to see a world in which the Lions trade Stafford to the 49ers for a mid-round pick or two and perhaps take a flyer on Garoppolo who will be looking for a new team.

The question for the 49ers will be whether or not they believe Stafford, 32, is still a top-tier quarterback or if he's on the downside.

CBS analyst and Pro Football Hall of Famer Phil Simms believes Stafford is right up there with the NFL's best signal-callers.

“We marvel at Aaron Rodgers,” Simms told The Detroit Free Press, “and I’m not saying he’s Aaron Rodgers, but he is so close to Aaron Rodgers, it’s incredible. I mean, they’re really close in talent.”

For anyone who scoffs at Stafford because he hasn't won a lot for an inept franchise, Simms wants them to open their eyes.

"Listen, I’m just telling you he is a Super Bowl-talented quarterback, and if he’s in the right situation, he can lead them there with no question in my mind. I’m completely convinced of it," Simms said.

There's no doubt the Lions haven't exactly surrounded Stafford with elite talent over the years. From 2003-2020, the Lions' defense and special teams ranked on average 21.7 out of 32 in Expected Points Added. Only Ryan's defense and special teams ranked worse on average for quarterbacks with at least 120 starts, according to The Athletic's Mike Sando.

Stafford has thrown for an average of 3,712 yards per season in his 12-year career. He's got a cannon for an arm that has shown no signs of deteriorating as he heads toward his mid-30s. He's led 31 comebacks wins and 38 game-winning drives.

Shanahan has tailored his offense in San Francisco to fit Garoppolo's limitations. He's relied more on the running game and the offensive line than the pass-happy attack he employed in Atlanta that helped Ryan win MVP.

With Stafford onboard, Shanahan would undoubtedly be able to air it out more, taking advantage of Brandon Aiyuk, Deebo Samuel and George Kittle as deep threats and not just guys who can turn a 3-yard drag route into a 17-yard gain.

Stafford has the talent to be a Super Bowl-winning quarterback. He remains a top-11 quarterback in the NFL and would allow the 49ers to raise their offensive ceiling.

RELATED: 49ers' QB dilemma shown in opinions of Wilson, Lance

The 49ers will face a number of critical decisions this offseason. They'll have to rebuild their secondary, improve the interior of their offensive line and find an edge rusher to pair with Nick Bosa. At full health next season, they should return to the thick of the Super Bowl hunt.

 

But those windows can shut in a heartbeat.

Adding a new quarterback to that equation could be a recipe for disaster and send the 49ers in the wrong direction if they flub the choice. They know what Garoppolo brings to the table and they know they can win a lot of games with him when healthy. With a good defense, running game and Shanahan, Garoppolo can be a Super Bowl-winning quarterback.

A trade for Stafford is the only clear upgrade the 49ers will find this offseason. If it's on the table, they should pounce. If not, they should shore up the rest of their roster and run it back with Garoppolo, knowing that's good enough to get back to the big dance.

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