The question as to who will be the 49ers' starting quarterback next season won't be answered for several months, and that subject is bound to dominate the discussion surrounding San Francisco until it is. There already are numerous avenues the 49ers could go down to address the position, and some more could emerge as other teams decide their respective paths forward.
There remains a relatively strong chance that Jimmy Garoppolo returns as the starter next season, though that wouldn't necessarily rule out the addition of another QB. But if the 49ers opt to move on from Jimmy G, it seems quite likely that they'd replace him with one of two options: Either a high draft pick, or an established veteran.
There wouldn't be much point in the 49ers making a lateral move, so if they go the veteran route, we can assume it would be someone who Kyle Shanahan, John Lynch and Co. view as giving the team a better chance to win a Super Bowl. Those options are few and far between, but NFL Media's David Carr believes Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford qualifies and is the obvious choice for San Francisco.
And from the sound of it, Pro Football Hall of Fame and former 49ers quarterback Steve Young would agree. When asked about quarterbacks who would have had great careers if they had been in better situations, Young unprompted mentioned Stafford (h/t 49ers Web Zone).
"I'm telling you, Matthew Stafford is a tremendous football player," Young said Thursday on KNBR's "Tolbert, Krueger & Brooks" show. "Matthew Stafford, with some help, is one of the greats of this generation. He really is. He's done miracles, in my mind. Miracles. And that's the thing. If you can say, 'Who's the most valuable player? The guy who's dragging around the most, and getting the most out of it?' I might say, Matthew Stafford.
"... When you think about Matthew Stafford, you think he's pretty good, right? I can't imagine how good he'd really be if he had some help."
Among active players, Stafford's 44,303 career passing yards and 277 passing touchdowns rank seventh-most in the NFL, and all six players above him entered the league before he did. Despite his individual production, though, Stafford has a career regular-season record of 74-86-1 and playoff record of 0-3, as he has been stuck on consistently below-average Lions teams ever since they drafted him first overall in 2009.
The 49ers and Lions might currently have identical 5-7 records this season, but in terms of which team has a stronger roster -- at full strength -- there's no discussion. It's San Francisco in a landslide, and given Detroit's current leadership vacuum, there's no reason to expect that to change any time soon. The 49ers have better weapons on both sides of the ball, and it begs the question as to what Stafford could do if he was surrounded by that superior supporting cast.
Perhaps we'll get to find out next season.