The day before the 49ers would select the organization’s franchise quarterback of the future, Nick Mullens delivered what appeared to be a sincere goodbye.
“The Bay Area will always have a special place in my heart,” he wrote on Instagram. “Thank you @49ers.”
Mullens, a free agent, currently is rehabbing his right elbow from surgery after a Week 14 injury late in the 49ers’ loss to the Dallas Cowboys.
"I'm a free agent, so just a post wrapping up things in S.F.," Mullens later told NBC Sports Bay Area.
The selection of Trey Lance with the No. 3 overall pick on Thursday night adds a fifth quarterback to the team’s 90-man offseason roster, joining Jimmy Garoppolo, Nate Sudfeld, Josh Rosen and Josh Johnson.
On Friday night, coach Kyle Shanahan and general manager John Lynch expressed admiration for Mullens, who arrived in the spring of 2017 as an undrafted rookie from Southern Mississippi.
“One of our favorite players,” Lynch said. “I’ll never forget him, coming in here in his suit as a free agent for his top-30 visit. And then turning into that player. I really admire that kid. He gets the most out of his ability and we wish him well, whether it’s here or elsewhere.”
Mullens was scheduled for restricted free agency this spring. The 49ers did not present him with a qualifying offer. As he makes good progress in his rehab, Mullens is an unrestricted free agent, free to sign with any team at any time.
Mullens started 16 games with the 49ers -- eight apiece in 2018 and 2020 -- after starter Jimmy Garoppolo sustained knee and ankle injuries during those seasons.
In his starts with the 49ers, Mullens threw for 4,405 yards, averaging 275.3 yards passing per game. He produced the second-most passing yards in NFL history through 16 starts, bested by only Patrick Mahomes, who threw for 5,100 yards.
Mullens spent his first season with the 49ers on the practice squad before getting the call to the active roster for Week 4 of the 2018 season when Garoppolo’s season ended with a torn ACL.
“Nick’s a stud. I love Nick,” Shanahan said. “He helped us out a ton here. Nick had a real tough injury that he’s working through to come back from. I think he’ll be healed up around camp. That’s why he’s out there as a free agent, and we’ll see what happens to him.
“But I know Nick was thrown into a tough situation for us last year. He didn’t play his best, but we didn’t help around him, either. Kind of like a lot of our team last year. But I have the utmost respect for Nick, and once he gets healthy, I believe he’ll get a shot somewhere.”
Mullens, 26, completed 64.5 percent of his passes for 4,714 yards in 19 games in his first three NFL seasons. He threw 25 touchdown passes and 22 interceptions. His career passer rating is 87.2.