What’s better than having a solid quarterback? Having two.
That’s the situation the 49ers have found themselves in after Nick Mullens has impressed in six starts since he took over starting QB job on Nov. 1.
Mullens has thrown 10 touchdowns and six interceptions while leading the 49ers to a respectable 3-3 record, including two consecutive wins. He’s amassed 1,754 passing yards, an average of 8.6 yards per pass attempt, and has a robust QB rating of 96.0.
But with Jimmy Garoppolo expected to make a full recovery from his torn ACL in time to start the 2019 season as QB1, the question about Mullens’ future with the team has already come up.
Could the 49ers trade Mullens for draft picks this offseason, given Jimmy G is entrenched as the starter?
"I mean, you're open to anything possible that improves your team," head coach Kyle Shanahan told reporters on Monday. "That's not just backups. You have an obligation to do whatever you think is right to give your organization the best chance to win.
Mullens himself isn’t worried about any of this speculation, and is just focused on finishing the season strong.
"I love the 49ers,” Mullens told reporters on Wednesday. “I'd be here as long as I could. But that stuff does not matter. I'm just really trying to focus on this game this week, and just really control the things you can control. That's what Coach Shanahan preaches all the time. We walk in the door, we see it all the time. Control what you can control, and let everything take care of itself. So that's how I handle myself."
Although the prospect of getting a decent return in a trade for a backup QB is enticing, 49ers fans should pump the breaks.
Mullens is under contract in 2019 for only $570,000, which is pennies for a quarterback who has proven he can win games at this level.
After 2019, the undrafted QB is an exclusive rights free agent, meaning that San Francisco controls his rights for cheap through the 2021 season.
While some view three cost-controlled years of a solid QB as a valuable trade chip, coach Shanahan implied that the 49ers would be silly to give up this type of asset, given the importance of steady backups.
"I think backups are extremely valuable, not just at the quarterback position, but everywhere,” Shanahan said Monday. “Usually, you have to win with backups, and you hope to stay healthy all of the time, but very rarely does that happen. Backups can be the difference in a season."
Backups have indeed been critical to the 49ers this season, with Mullens, along with running back Matt Breida (replacing the injured Jerrick McKinnon), providing two of the biggest bright spots so far in the 4-10 season.
So you can never say never, but it appears likely the 49ers will play it safe and hold on to their diamond-in-the-rough QB.