SANTA CLARA, Calif. — The San Francisco 49ers will add a quarterback to their roster this offseason. In fact, odds are that they’ll bring in more than one new quarterback in what could be a complete makeover at the position.
But just because the Niners will be adding a quarterback or three in the weeks to come doesn’t necessarily mean they will be adding the quarterback they seek to lead the franchise for the next decade or so.
After hiring coach Kyle Shanahan and general manager John Lynch, one of the 49ers’ top priorities has been how they will go about finding a solution for the long term at the game’s most important position. With Colin Kaepernick likely to opt out of his contract in early March and the three other quarterbacks on the roster set to become free agents, there will be changes, that much is certain.
What isn’t certain is where Shanahan and Lynch will be able to find their man. As is always the case, franchise quarterbacks don’t grow on trees and teams aren’t in a hurry to let the ones that are qualified walk away. In fact, Shanahan has said he believes there’s only about seven surefire answers in the world.
“You’re always looking for one of those seven throwers on the planet, whatever that number is,” Shanahan said. “But I’m guessing there’s only around seven, so you’d better not be set on that and say, ‘Hey, I need one of those seven guys.’ I hope we get one of those guys, but if you don’t, you’ve got to find other ways to win.”
That’s something Shanahan knows plenty about. His resume is filled with quarterbacks of all different playing styles — Robert Griffin III, Brian Hoyer, Matt Ryan, Matt Schaub, to name a few — who have enjoyed some of their greatest NFL success under his guidance. From that group, only Ryan would presumably qualify for Shanahan’s version of the magnificent seven.
As Shanahan, Lynch and the rest of the football operation scour the pro and college ranks for their guy, they’re being realistic about the landscape. Yes, names such as Washington’s Kirk Cousins and New England’s Jimmy Garoppolo will be discussed internally, though there’s no guarantee either would be available regardless of the means of acquisition. And neither is exactly a sure thing, even if the Niners could bring one on board. Per usual, the free-agent market isn’t going to be flush with options, either, though someone like Schaub makes sense as a bridge to the future.
The early read on this year’s NFL draft also doesn’t seem to offer any of those top-line prospects like an Andrew Luck, making the upside of top prospects such as North Carolina’s Mitch Trubisky, Clemson’s Deshaun Watson and Notre Dame’s DeShone Kizer a major projection at best.
Which is why Shanahan told KNBR radio late last week that the Niners aren’t going to rush into a long-term relationship with any quarterback without being certain they have the right guy.
“It’s too important of a position to make an impulsive move,” Shanahan told the radio station. “When you make a decision on a quarterback, you don’t want that to be just a short-term fix. You want to make a commitment to somebody. And in order to do that, you better make sure you’re on the same page with everyone else, you’ve put the time in, you’ve talked to people who have been with these guys. There’s a lot that goes into it.”
With all that does go into it, Shanahan & Co. are in the process of trying to play catch-up. While Shanahan was running Atlanta’s offense in the Super Bowl, he was missing valuable time that would be otherwise spent watching tape of potential free agents, trade targets and draft possibilities. Since Shanahan was officially hired on Feb. 9, he and the Niners have been bunkered down in an effort to get up to speed.
Lynch and the personnel department have been cycling through every position for the draft. Shanahan said he has started his work by focusing on the current Niners roster as well as players already in the league. Shanahan has also been finalizing his coaching staff and working to teach his scheme to the coaches and scouts.
If, at the end of their evaluations, the Niners don’t see a quarterback worth a high draft pick, major free-agent dollars and/or a boatload of trade capital in this offseason cycle, perhaps they’ll wait until 2018 to make their bold splash.
Because Shanahan and Lynch got matching six-year deals, they know they will be given the time to put things together in their vision and making the mistake of blowing a pick as valuable as No. 2 overall on a quarterback simply because of need is the easiest way to make an already tough rebuild even more difficult.
“Everybody wishes and hopes you can take that quarterback who is going to be there and be that franchise guy for the next 15 years,” Shanahan said. “But that’s just what you hope for. You don’t draft people based off of what you hope. You’ve got to draft people based on what you truly believe is the right answer. Knowing no one has all the right answers, there’s nothing that’s going to guarantee you’re going to be right.
“You’ve got to think very clearly. What I mean by that is you can’t just hope for stuff and wish things to happen. You’ve got to look at each situation differently. You’ve got to see what’s available. If there is a quarterback there that we believe can match that criteria and we believe he can be a franchise quarterback for us, then, of course, you don’t hesitate on that. But if you don’t see that and there’s other good players — if there’s a pass-rusher, if there’s a linebacker, if there’s an O-lineman — whatever it is, you need to get the best player possible who you think will help your team the next 10 years.”