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How much would a change at QB change outlook for the 49ers?

And therefore, within the NFC West

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Los Angeles Rams v San Francisco 49ers Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

Update: I wrote this article on Thursday, March 25th, suggesting that the 49ers could trade up with the Dolphins to draft a QB. Today on Friday, March 26th, the 49ers have traded three first round picks and a third rounder to get Miami’s pick at three.

The LA Rams finished second in the NFC West last season, two games behind the Seattle Seahawks but four games ahead of the 6-10 San Francisco 49ers. Now over a week into 2021’s free agency, the Rams have a strong case to be cited as the best team in the division, but few are able to get past the idea that the 49ers and Arizona Cardinals are both candidates to improve next season and that all four teams will challenge for the title.

The biggest disadvantage for the Cardinals, other than their potential defensive and receiver woes, would seem to be that head coach Kliff Kingsbury is the least accomplished head coach in the NFC West. Maybe that changes next season if Kingsbury leads Arizona to 10 or more wins.

The biggest disadvantage for the 49ers however is probably that Jimmy Garoppolo is the fourth-best starting quarterback in the division now that the Rams have traded out Jared Goff for Matthew Stafford. Garoppolo doesn’t only have concerns around his skills and high interception rate, but he’s missed at least 10 starts due to injury in two of the last three seasons. San Francisco has not been heavily linked to any of the quarterbacks who have been on the market this year, including Stafford, Carson Wentz, and Deshaun Watson, but there are rumors that they’ll be interested in acquiring Gardner Minshew from Jacksonville.

That move would not change the team’s outlook for many onlookers, and I also don’t think it would be the 49ers’ final or only attempt to upgrade at quarterback. It seems to me that San Francisco is preparing to trade up in the draft for a rookie contract quarterback.

Would Justin Fields or Zach Wilson be enough for media members and fans to consider the Niners as not only division favorites again, but Super Bowl hopefuls?

San Francisco spent the most money on any free agent this year, securing left tackle Trent Williams for at least a few more years and he’ll incur a $26.2 million cap hit in 2023. Other recent contracts have also guaranteed that George Kittle, Kyle Juszczyk, and Alex Mack will be under contract that year (though Mack will be 37 by then) if the 49ers want them. The Niners have built an impressive roster around the QB position, including receivers Deebo Samuel and Brandon Aiyuk, right tackle Mike McGlinchey, and running back Raheem Mostert.

The 49ers could focus on a number of areas in the 2021 draft with the 12th overall pick — cornerback stands out as an obvious need, but given the injuries to Aiyuk, Kittle, and Samuel in 2020, San Francisco could also go back to the weapon well for Garoppolo and/or Minshew — but if they’re able to secure a quarterback who then turns out to be a good pick, then they’ll have a lot more money to retain their best pieces and to add new ones.

Releasing Garoppolo this year would save the 49ers $23.6 million in 2021 and $25.6 million in 2022.

General manager John Lynch and head coach Kyle Shanahan have been given a ton of credit for San Francisco’s talented roster, but they’ve also posted a losing record in three out of four tries. That includes going 4-12 in 2018 and 6-10 in 2020, both seasons in which you’d think the 49ers were going to improve but then injuries and inconsistencies led them to doing much worse. Can Lynch and Shanahan really feel comfortable with the idea of posting a fourth losing season in five years?

The 49ers hold picks 12, 43, and 102 on the first two days of the draft. They also have all their picks in 2022 with the exception of their sixth rounder, plus two third round compensatory picks for the hires of Robert Saleh and Martin Mayhew. It’s enough ammo to believe that Lynch, a guy who seems to play the part of GM like a fan would, will be asking the Jets (where his buddy Saleh is now the head coach) if they want to make a deal, in case New York remains sold on Sam Darnold and could use the extra capital.

It’s definitely enough to think that the Miami Dolphins would pick up the phone for extra picks, so long as the Dolphins are sold on Tua Tagovailoa.

And it could be at least enough to think that Shanahan could talk to what friends he has left in Atlanta (not many) about pick four in a year when quarterbacks could actually go 1-2-3-4 in the draft.

It certainly seems like San Francisco is setting up to do something at quarterback. If they don’t, do they have as good of a chance to get back to the Super Bowl than if they did? Even if it’s a rookie? How worried are you about the “rebound” coming from the 49ers?

Poll

Will the 49ers be LA’s biggest threat in the NFC West?

This poll is closed

  • 50%
    Yes
    (356 votes)
  • 29%
    No (Seahawks)
    (212 votes)
  • 8%
    No (Cardinals)
    (58 votes)
  • 11%
    No (no threats)
    (81 votes)
707 votes total Vote Now