Let’s assume that Garoppolo returns. Lynch made it more than clear that, at the very least, San Francisco will look for a veteran backup option. The team could also attempt to find training camp competition for Garoppolo.
“When he’s healthy,” Lynch said of Garoppolo, “he’s played at a high level. But we probably have to add someone. We probably need to improve ourselves, so if he’s not there we’re all right. We can win games.”
The 49ers did re-sign former Arizona Cardinals top-10 pick Josh Rosen earlier in the offseason after picking him up off the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ practice squad. Entering his fourth NFL season, Rosen is seen as a major project. He’s not yet earned the right to be considered a top-end backup in the league.
It also stands to reason that the 49ers are going to move off both Beathard and Mullens. Even if they add a quarterback at some point in the 2021 NFL Draft, this area becomes a need once NFL free agency opens next month.
At issue here is a lack of cap room and the Garoppolo contract. He’s set to count $26.41 million against the cap in 2021. Meanwhile, the 49ers are currently an estimated $14.26 million under the projected 2021 NFL salary cap.
They also have key free agents in Pro Bowlers Trent Williams, Kyle Juszczyk and Jason Verrett to re-sign. Those three are included in the more than 40 in-house players set to hit free agency next month.
San Francisco would be handcuffed big time if Garoppolo were to return at his current cap figure for 2021. However, it also makes little sense for the 49ers to work out a contract restructure or extension.
Despite leading the 49ers to the Super Bowl in February 2020, Garoppolo has not proved himself worthy of a longer-term commitment beyond next season. San Francisco’s interest in other quarterbacks adds another layer to this.
What does this mean? San Francisco is in a less-than-stellar position in that it must weigh the salary cap with finding a qualified veteran backup behind Garoppolo should the team retain its current starter. Ryan Fitzpatrick, Andy Dalton, Jameis Winston and Mitchell Trubisky could all be cost-effective options.
On the trade market, New York Jets quarterback Sam Darnold could be an option. 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan loved him coming out of USC back in 2018. That has not died down in the few years since. Darnold would also come relatively cheap this season with a projected $5 million cap hit should New York opt to trade him.
As for Lynch’s comments, they could also be seen as him playing the PR game. It makes no sense for a general manager to publicly indicate his team is looking for an upgrade at quarterback when the current starter is under contract. It also wouldn’t do much in terms of trade talks with other teams about upgrading at this position.