The 49ers face a number of crucial decisions this offseason, with starting quarterback being chief among them.
Last offseason, the 49ers passed on Tom Brady. He went on to win a Super Bowl during his first season with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. They missed out on Matthew Stafford, who was traded to the Los Angeles Rams for three draft picks and Jared Goff.
It's almost a certainty that Jimmy Garoppolo will return as the 49ers' starting quarterback next season, but franchise icon Steve Young is interested by the idea of the 49ers potentially replacing Garoppolo with a rookie in order to help keep the rest of the roster intact.
"I think the Matthew Stafford trade raised some alarms," Young told KNBR's "Tolbert, Krueger and Brooks." "Do you trust and do you want that relationship with Jimmy to continue or do you want to find that maybe younger, less expensive to open up that Super Bowl window? It feels like they got beat to the punch on the Matthew Stafford thing. I think the Rams just beat them. The Rams were amazing at getting that thing done. But I don't think the 49ers are going to miss anyone else.
"But they have to maintain that relationship with Jimmy because it might be that's what they want to do, and they don't want to feel like it's, 'Oh well, we ended up with Jimmy.' That's the wrong way to think about it. And it [helps] Jimmy to lean into his relationship with Kyle to show him that he can be trusted, and can be that guy that Kyle's seeking. And I don't know if there's a lot of ways to prove that other than on the field. But certainly, I wouldn't let any chance of conversation that I can have with Kyle, to go to his house and hang out with him I'd live at his house if I had to, to try to make sure was up to speed and develop that relationship.
"It is intriguing to try to open up the Super Bowl window, to hold onto everybody if you thought you had a quarterback that Kyle could trust more."
The 49ers own the No. 12 pick in the 2021 NFL Draft. The consensus opinion among draft analysts is that there will be five quarterbacks who go in the first round.
There's no sense in talking about Trevor Lawrence, he's already picking out a house in Jacksonville. Zach Wilson and Justin Fields are seen as the likely next two quarterbacks to go off the board. There is sure to be a lot of moving and shaking after the Jaguars select Lawrence at No. 1. What the New York Jets do with Sam Darnold and the No. 2 pick will determine the trajectory of the first round. I would expect both Wilson and Fields to be gone by the eighth pick, and likely sooner.
That leaves North Dakota State's Trey Lance and Alabama's Mac Jones as the two likeliest rookies for the 49ers to select if they want to go that route. Lance has a smooth throwing motion and a cannon for an arm with the athleticism to be a threat in the running game as well. He'll likely need to sit for a season before he's NFL ready, but the success of Josh Allen and Justin Herbert should give teams confidence that Lance will become the next "toolsy" quarterback prospect to thrive.
As for Jones, he just wrapped up the best season by a Power Five quarterback in Pro Football Focus history, topping the mark set by Joe Burrow last season. Jones is an efficient thrower to all three levels of the field, has great accuracy in short and intermediate passes and throws perhaps the best deep ball in the class. He doesn't have a rocket for an arm but is smart in his decision making and moves through his reads quickly. Jones doesn't have the athleticism of Lance but he is able to make subtle movements in the pocket to extend plays.
Along with answering their quarterback question, the 49ers also need to rebuild their secondary, as safety Jimmie Ward is the only starter under contract for next season. They also need to bolster their offensive line and find a reliable edge rusher partner to put opposite Nick Bosa.
The best formula for winning in the NFL is to have a talented quarterback on a rookie contract that allows you to fill out the roster around him with talented, veteran pieces who will command significant money.
The 49ers could try to trade up in the draft if coach Kyle Shanahan felt that Wilson or Fields was the guy he wants to run his offense, but that would cost significant draft capital. It's likely that the 49ers will stay at No. 12, or perhaps move down a bit while recouping more assets, and take the best available player out of the CB/EDGE/OL group while giving Garoppolo one more healthy season to prove he's the right guy to lead them to a Super Bowl.
But if Lance and Jones are available at No. 12, Shanahan and general manager John Lynch will have to think long and hard about the best way to navigate the 49ers back to the Super Bowl.