New offseason, previous query: What’s going to 49ers do at quarterback? – San Francisco 49ers Weblog
Nick WagonerESPN AuthorFebruary 14, 20236 minutes read
Why George Kittle craves QB stability at the 49ers
George Kittle reflects on the “frustrating” quarterback turnover with the 49ers in recent years and explains his desire for stability in the position going forward.
SANTA CLARA, Calif. — As per tradition, San Francisco 49ers tight end George Kittle stood in front of quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo’s locker as he answered questions from reporters on locker cleaning day following the 49ers’ loss in the NFC Championship game.
Kittle had just covered everything from the pain of losing to the Philadelphia Eagles to the amount of microphones a reporter was holding when the subject, which he had been unable to avoid in his six years in the league, was brought up. When Kittle heard the word “quarterback,” he stopped the question in its tracks, noting that he’s no stranger to questions about the game’s most important position.
“I had a six-year career and a year with a quarterback,” Kittle said. “Besides that, I’ve had two or more. Four out of six (years) I’ve had three or more… I just love having an abundance of quarterbacks to choose from.”
The sarcasm in Kittle’s voice served as a cover for the apparent frustration he and the 49ers have had since coach Kyle Shanahan’s arrival as quarterback in 2017. While the Niners have had a lot of success — they’ve gone to the NFC Championship Game in three of the last four years — there’s an unmistakable sense that if they only had a quarterback that could do it, they would have at least one Super Bowl title is to stay fit and healthy.
Instead, San Francisco has gone through six quarterbacks – Garoppolo, Nick Mullens, CJ Beathard, Brian Hoyer, Brock Purdy and Trey Lance – who have started at least four games since 2017. Injuries have played the biggest role in musical play quarterbacks and, after the Niners ended the loss to the Eagles with zero-signal callers who could throw the ball, are once again driving the Niners’ biggest offseason storyline: Who Will Be in 2023 be their starter?
If you’d asked that question in September, the answer would likely have been Lance, who the Niners drafted No. 3 overall in 2021 after trading two first-rounders for promotion. If you had asked in October or November, Garoppolo would have been a legitimate possibility. If you had asked in December or most of January, all signs would have pointed to Purdy, the final choice of the 2022 draft.
Here in February, the Niners don’t necessarily have an answer, at least not one set in stone, aside from the near-certainty that Garoppolo won’t return after becoming a free agent in March. Early indications are that it will ultimately come down to either Purdy or Lance, with Purdy being the favorite if he is healthy. It’s the only logical way to look at it since they’re also the only two quarterbacks signed for next year and beyond.
“I know we have two starters on our team right now that I think we can win with,” said coach Kyle Shanahan. “When you have that situation, you’re not so eager to look around.”
Based on his game in 2022, Purdy should be seen as a leader to start next season, but whether that comes to fruition will depend largely on how he recovers from a torn ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow.
Purdy is due to have surgery on that right elbow on February 22, with hopes that he can be fully released in about six months, which would eventually see him back in training camp. When Purdy and Shanahan had their exit meeting, the topic of next year’s launch didn’t even come up.
“In terms of who’s going to be the starter and who we’re bringing in or any moves or anything, we haven’t covered any of that,” Purdy said. “To be honest, I didn’t want to hear anything. I just wanted to focus on my recovery now and what I’m doing with my arm moving forward.”
Assuming Purdy can recover in time, it’s hard to imagine anyone ushering him in as a starter considering how he’s performing in eight starts. He was a revelation when healthy, finishing with a 70.3 QBR (third-best in the NFL) after stepping in for Garoppolo in Week 13. The Niners went 8-1 in games where Purdy grabbed the most snaps, with the only loss coming to the Eagles in a game where Purdy only caught six snaps before suffering the elbow injury after being hit by Haason Reddick had been beaten on a stripsack. Purdy reentered when backup Josh Johnson suffered a concussion and ended the game, but was limited to just two short pass attempts and 13 handoffs.
“I don’t see why you can’t trust Brock Purdy after putting it all together,” Kittle said.
As Shanahan is quick to point out, Purdy’s recovery means the Niners won’t have to make a decision anytime soon, which opens the door for Lance to reassert himself. Lance suffered a fractured right ankle that required two surgeries to repair in a Week 2 win against the Seattle Seahawks. But Lance is expected to be released in three to four weeks and said he should be back at 100% in time for organized team activities in May.
The Niners need to add at least one more quarterback to get through the offseason program, but Lance shouldn’t have a shortage of opportunities.
“I’m looking forward to going out and showing what I can do,” Lance said. “The same situation it’s been for me for the last two years and really my whole life.”
For their part, the 49ers recognize that the constant quarterback injuries made it difficult for them to win the sixth Lombardi Trophy, but they also know that Purdy and Lance are their best options right now. While acknowledging that somehow they need to add another quarterback or two, Shanahan said he wants “the best thing that’s available that fits into our team’s structure and the salary cap and all of that.”
Suffice it to say the 49ers aren’t teeming with cap space and don’t seem ready to go big game hunting. At least not now. This is especially true given that Tom Brady has already announced his retirement and the many complications that would come with chasing Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers, who is unlikely to be treated in the NFC, has far too large a contract for the Niners to have accepting him, and almost certainly will require compensation beyond what the Niners could offer.
All of this leads to the natural conclusion that San Francisco will most likely lean on Purdy and Lance with the possibility of signing a mid-level veteran like Andy Dalton, Jacoby Brissett or Teddy Bridgewater for insurance. Matt Ryan could also be an intriguing name if it becomes available and the price is right. That’s a task made easier by the fact that Lance and Purdy — along with a $10.19 million salary cap in 2023 — are on their rookie deals.
“Bottom line, it’s better to have a quarterback that you really believe in because it’s such an important position,” said general manager John Lynch. “Coincidentally there are two young people that we really like, so I think that more than anything would bring us to it. … I think it’s something we can exploit if we choose to go in that direction.”
One way or another, the Niners are hoping they can finally find some quarterback stability and play a full season with the same starter for the first time since Garoppolo led the 49ers to Super Bowl LIV in 2019.
“It’s just the situation we’re in,” Kittle said. “For whatever reason, sometimes our quarterback position gets hurt and it’s unfortunate … And we’ve been dealing with that for a while, so hopefully we can fix that mistake and just play quarterback.”