After suffering their worst loss since 2018 – a 43-17 defeat at the hands of the Miami Dolphins – the San Francisco 49ers were left with a ton of questions. The most glaring one swirls around starting quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, who was benched in favor of backup C.J. Beathard after tossing two interceptions and completing just seven of 17 pass attempts.
Garoppolo is the first quarterback since Colin Kaepernick to lead the 49ers to a winning record and a Super Bowl appearance. But since the second half of the Super Bowl, Garoppolo has regressed mightily. That regression continued in Week 5 and ultimately landed Garoppolo on the sideline.
Garoppolo has been dealing with an ankle sprain that caused him to miss the prior two games, though the Niners have been decimated by injuries on both sides of the ball. But despite the ailment, there have been whispers about who the starting quarterback should be dating back some months. In 2018 when Garoppolo tore his ACL, Nick Mullens started two games before being benched for Beathard and was demoted to 3rd string. In total, Mullens went 3-5 after replacing Bethard later that year. Beathard started in 2017 and 2018, but went just 1-10 while throwing 12 touchdowns and 13 interceptions. While there are some fans who would like to see a possible QB change in-season, the honest truth is that Garoppolo is still the best option out of the three.
However, Garoppolo’s contract is set up so there is no guaranteed money on the cap after the 2020 season, meaning the 49ers could cut their starting quarterback and not feel any cap hit. What could the 49ers do to replace Garoppolo after 2020?
Trade for Matt Ryan
The Atlanta Falcons are in freefall, recently firing their head coach and general manager. The Falcons know it might be time for a full-scale rebuild and this might mean letting go of their all-time passing leader, Matt Ryan.
While Ryan is 35 and showing some signs of decline, he did have an MVP season in 2016 when current 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan was his offensive coordinator. Although getting Ryan is possible, he currently has three years and $74.75 million on his contract. The Falcons would have to be willing to absorb the money and cut him or the 49ers would have to be willing to take on a majority of that salary in a trade. Ryan is a viable option, but one that is expensive and the Niners do not have a ton of cap space to work with for 2021.
Make a play for Dak Prescott
The Dallas Cowboys quarterback will be a free agent after the 2020 season. He has the most potential out of any quarterbacks who aren’t in the draft, but signing Prescott will be easier said than done. The Cowboys are likely to franchise tag him again, meaning any team who wants to sign Prescott will have to negotiate with the Cowboys to get his rights, and then they need to give the fifth-year vet his money. While Prescott was on the verge of having a career year, he suffered a horrendous ankle injury that will take a long time to heal. Prescott is the most talented quarterback to potentially go on the market, but his injury and contract value will make any team evaluate the risk.
Draft Jimmy G’s replacement
The consensus number one pick is Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence. Some scouts have called Lawrence a real franchise-changing quarterback. Yet if the season were to end today, the 49ers would pick at 13, meaning they would have to trade a king’s ransom to move up to the top in order to get Lawrence. While there are still other talented QBs in the 2021 draft (Justin Fields, Trey Lance, Kyle Trask), the 49ers’ roster is set up to “win now” and having a rookie quarterback is usually a long process where winning does not happen right away.
Jimmy Garoppolo led the Niners to their best record since 2011 and while he is not the best quarterback, he is the best one currently on the roster. It is important for the Niners to not make the final decision about Garoppolo based on this season. Even if the Niners want to draft a new quarterback, having Garoppolo mentor the young signal-caller will do wonders for that rookie’s career early on. Garoppolo’s contract is team-friendly, and even if the Niners can’t win with him, keeping him on the roster beyond 2020 in a mentoring role could be in the team’s best interest. Yet the longer the Niners keep losing, the more his job status will be in question.
Born in Piedmont California, Russell is a Gonzaga alum and likes all Bay Area sports teams. Follow him @JangRussell on Twitter for more content.