While there is no indication the 49ers are actively looking for a new starting quarterback, the club will almost certainly shake up its backup situation for the 2021 season.
The New York Jets are expected to make Sam Darnold available for the best offer.
That would appear to make sense for the 49ers — at least, until considering all of the ramifications.
C.J. Beathard is scheduled for unrestricted free agency. Nick Mullens is scheduled to be a restricted free agent. The 49ers could bring back one of those players to compete for the backup job.
Currently, the 49ers have three quarterbacks under contract for next season. But is their backup already on the roster? It seems doubtful.
Jimmy Garoppolo, as of now, is the 49ers’ clear No. 1 option. Veterans Josh Rosen and Josh Johnson round out the up-to-date depth chart.
Rosen was the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ No. 4 quarterback last season before the 49ers signed him off the practice squad of the eventual Super Bowl champions.
Johnson, who turns 35 in May, has not attempted a pass in an NFL game since 2018.
Darnold, the No. 3 overall pick of the 2018 draft, lacked production during his three seasons. Robert Saleh’s Jets have the No. 2 overall pick, and BYU quarterback Zach Wilson appears to be a strong option to lead Mike LaFleur’s offense.
Darnold lacked support during his three seasons with the Jets. He had a 59.8 completion percentage, with 45 touchdowns and 39 interceptions. His passer rating was a lowly 78.6.
Multiple NFL sources project Darnold’s trade value to be a second-round draft pick and, possibly, a mid-to-late-round selection, reports Ralph Vacchiano of SNY.
That price seems especially high for the 49ers, who are up against the salary cap and need a good number of their draft picks — and their controlled costs — to make the team and fill contributing roles.
The 49ers own 10 draft picks but just two (Nos. 12 and 43) within the top 100. The second-round pick gives the 49ers the option of trading back to acquire more selections.
The 49ers could find a better use for a second-round draft pick than on a backup quarterback who might never step on the field.
Darnold would also cost $4.77 million on the salary cap of his new team in 2021, if he is traded.
That may not sound like too much, but the salary cap is expected to drop from $198.2 million per team to as little as $180 million.
Garoppolo is already on the books to earn $25.5 million in salary and bonuses — a number the 49ers can greatly reduce when they fully determine he will be back as the starter.
If the 49ers held onto their second-round pick, that player would be expected to be an immediate starter. He would also cost $3.5 million less on the cap than Darnold.
Plus, a draft pick would be under a very manageable contract through the 2024 season.
Darnold is entering the final year of his contract. So the 49ers — or any team that makes that trade — might give up a second-round pick to have Darnold for just one season.
If the 49ers are going to have patience with Garoppolo and give him another season, it would make sense to have patience with Darnold, too.
After all, if they are intrigued with Darnold as a possible fit in Kyle Shanahan’s system, it would be best to hold off a year, keep their second-round pick and look into acquiring him as a free agent in 2022.