The 49ers have made it clear Jimmy Garoppolo is their starting quarterback, but the position could nonetheless have some new faces in 2021.
General manager John Lynch said last month that San Francisco is seeking to upgrade behind Garoppolo on the depth chart, and NBC Sports' Peter King believes the 49ers can do just that with a trade ahead of next month's draft. The 49ers are King's "personal favorite" to land New York Jets QB Sam Darnold, and he believes the Niners have the draft capital to pull off a deal.
"He’s worth, at least, a high second-round pick in this draft -- 39th overall to Carolina, maybe, or 40th to Denver, or 43rd to San Francisco," King wrote of Darnold in his "Football Morning in America" column this week.
The Jets, now coached by former 49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh, have made it clear they're taking calls on Darnold. A second-round pick would be a high price to pay for a backup QB, and could lead to some awkwardness down the line. Just ask the Philadelphia Eagles, who traded Carson Wentz less than a year after drafting Jalen Hurts in the second round. The Eagles said all the right things at the time, but the situation became very untenable very quickly.
Darnold is six years younger than Garoppolo and much cheaper this season, even when you consider the fact that the No. 3 pick in the 2018 draft could be owed a fairly expensive fifth-year option in 2022. Albert Breer, writing for the MMQB on Monday, wondered if the 49ers view Darnold as a successor to Garoppolo rather than competition.
"Darnold’s a strong fit for Kyle Shanahan’s offense, and trading for him would make the Niners six years younger, and $20 million cheaper at the position in 2020," Breer wrote. "The Niners like Jimmy Garoppolo, as we’ve said here, and won’t move off him without a clear upgrade. Could Darnold be that?"
Garoppolo has played just 25 games since Darnold entered the league in 2018, whereas the USC product has played 38. Still, Garoppolo has been the better QB when healthy during that time, completing a higher percentage of passes (67.5 percent vs. 59.8 percent), averaging more yards per attempt (8.22 vs. 6.6) and having a lower percentage of his passes intercepted (3.2 percent vs. 3.0 percent).
Perhaps the 49ers think Darnold, who was arguably the most-hyped QB ahead of the loaded 2018 draft, can produce similar results to Garoppolo if called upon in 2021. If that's the case, the No. 43 selection might be a price San Francisco is willing to pay.
But given the 49ers' clear needs elsewhere on the roster, trading a second-round pick would indicate they don't just view Darnold as a promising backup.