Nick Mullens’ performance Sunday night will be scrutinized like never before.
In his 10th NFL start, Mullens likely will play in front of the biggest TV audience ever to watch the 49ers’ backup quarterback.
Mullens makes the start in place of the hobbled Jimmy Garoppolo on Sunday Night Football when the 49ers face the Philadelphia Eagles at Levi’s Stadium.
And around the league, quarterback-needy teams will spend a lot of time dissecting his game. After all, Mullens might not have many more chances to get on the field before he becomes a restricted free agent in the spring.
Mullens made his first start since the end of the 2018 season in Week 3 against the New York Giants. He engineered coach Kyle Shanahan’s system with great efficiency, throwing for 343 yards in the 49ers’ 36-9 victory.
“If he keeps playing like that, he’ll make it tough on a lot of people and he’ll be coveted,” 49ers general manager John Lynch said this week on KNBR.
“I know we certainly covet him.”
But, as Lynch pointed out, the 49ers’ salary-cap situation makes it difficult for teams to keep two well-compensated quarterbacks on their roster. The 49ers already have Garoppolo signed through the 2022 season.
The 49ers must decide how to handle Mullens. The 49ers could place a first- or second-round tender on Mullens. This year, those one-year salaries were $4.64 million and $3.36 million, respectively.
Any team could sign Mullens to a multi-year offer sheet and the 49ers would have the right to match. But if they refuse, they would receive draft-pick compensation equal to the level at which he was tendered.
Mullens entered the league as an undrafted rookie from Southern Mississippi in 2017. He was cut at the openings of his first two seasons before finally getting his chance to play after a promotion from the practice squad following Garoppolo’s season-ending knee injury early in 2018.
“He’s doing a great job of really making a name for himself,” Lynch said. “Gosh, if you saw the way this kid works day in and day out, it’s really an inspiration to his teammates. That’s why there’s so much love for him.”
After the season, Mullens is likely to see that love expressed on his paychecks.
Mullens has the right temperament as a backup to remain ready on limited practice time. He said he found a weekly to-do list that works for him and sticks with it, whether he enters the game as a backup or starter.
“My routine has stayed the same really since my first couple of years in the league, as far as when I do third downs, base downs to what I study on certain nights,” he said. “My routine is pretty consistent. The time management part of it, you know about how much time you need to really get your confidence going to create that confidence in your preparation.”
Mullens has also shown an ability to carry over the work he puts in behind the scenes into the games.
“We saw it come to fruition last week,” Lynch said. “He played with great confidence. I just love, as Kyle says, getting back and not being afraid to just let it rip. Nick did that consistently, throwing on time, getting the ball downfield. He plays at a high level. His brain functions really quick. He can process information in a hurry.
“(He) doesn’t have the arm talent Jimmy does, but he has enough. And we’ve seen guys in this league, when you process quickly, that can overcome that.”
After the afternoon NFL games end Sunday, go to NBC Sports Bay Area or the MyTeams app at 4 p.m. PT for "49ers Pregame Live," as Laura Britt, Jeff Garcia, Donte Whitner, Ian Williams, Matt Maiocco, Jennifer Lee Chan and Grant Liffmann preview the "Sunday Night Football" matchup against the Eagles. Then, after the game, come back for "49ers Postgame Live," with highlights, analysis, interviews and more.