Even after an underwhelming postseason run - and a missed throw that potentially cost them a Super Bowl title - the San Francisco 49ers moved forward with Jimmy Garoppolo as their starting quarterback for the 2020 season.
It's beginning to feel as though they may not follow the same playbook this upcoming offseason.
A year after winning the NFC title, the 49ers are off to an underwhelming 2-3 start. In an effort to "protect Jimmy," Kyle Shanahan benched the 28-year-old at halftime of Sunday's blowout loss to the Miami Dolphins, with the insinuation that the high-ankle sprain he was returning from contributed to the two first-half picks that he tossed.
If healthy, Garoppolo is probably still the 49ers' best option at quarterback for the remainder of the 2020 season. But there's only so much even an offensive genius like Shanahan can do with Garoppolo, Nick Mullens and C.J. Beathard at quarterback.
It would be relatively easy for the 49ers to move off of Garoppolo this offseason. If the 49ers traded or released Garoppolo before June 1 of 2021, they would take on just $2.8 million in dead cap money.
An offseason after acknowledging that they internally weighed a pursuit of Tom Brady, the 49ers appear likely to search for a new starting quarterback after the 2020 season.
Though they're unlikely to be in position to draft Trevor Lawrence or Justin Fields, here are five options that the 49ers could realistically pursue this offseason:
This almost makes too much sense. Ryan won the NFL MVP in 2016, throwing for a career-high 4,944 yards and 38 touchdown passes with Shanahan as his offensive coordinator. Ryan can still play at a high level, but his time in Atlanta seems to have run its course, with the Falcons currently sitting at 0-5 and having terminated head coach Dan Quinn and general manager Thomas Dimitroff after Sunday's loss.
The only problem with the idea of the Falcons moving Ryan after the 2020 season is that they would have to take on over $40 million in dead cap money if they moved him before June 1. If the Falcons traded Ryan after June 1, Over The Cap estimates that they would have to take on $17.9 million in dead cap space, a doable amount.
It's unclear if the 49ers would want to wait until after the NFL Draft to have their quarterback in place for 2021. But if the Falcons are in position to draft Lawrence or Fields, it's possible they could verbally agree to a deal to trade Ryan to the 49ers, and just not process it until after June 1.
This past Friday, we took a deep dive on Stafford's future with the Lions, with the suggestion that if there is a new coaching staff in Detroit in 2021, it may be best for all parties involved to move Stafford.
It is entirely possible that Stafford remains with the Lions for the 2021 season, especially if they aren't bad enough to secure one of the top two picks in next year's NFL Draft. But the Lions could trade Stafford before the NFL Draft and would have to take on $19 million in dead cap money for the 2021 season, a large but perhaps manageable amount for a team that may be rebuilding.
There's been a feeling from many NFL observers that Stafford is a Hall of Fame caliber talent that's been held back by an organization whose deep-rooted issues predate his arrival. If he was paired with Shanahan, it's not hard to imagine Stafford hoisting a Lombardi Trophy.
The Jets are 0-5, with a league-worst -86 point differential. Will they manage to win a game or two in 2020? Probably, but there's a very real chance that they'll have one of the top two picks in the 2021 NFL Draft.
Anyone that secures the top pick in next year's draft will certainly take Lawrence, who is viewed as one of the top five quarterback prospects in the last 25 years. Things could get a little more interesting if the Jets end up with the No. 2 pick, and are faced with the choice of drafting Fields or trading back and moving forward with Darnold.
If the Jets choose to go in another direction at quarterback, Darnold, the No. 3 pick in the 2018 NFL Draft, could be an interesting trade candidate for the 49ers. He seemingly hasn't gotten a fair shake because of the instability and incompetence of the Jets organization. It would be interesting to see if Shanahan and a more stable organization could allow Darnold to reach his ceiling.
The only issue with the idea of trading for Darnold is that if acquired, the 49ers would have to make a decision on his fifth-year option before he ever played a game with the team. If they picked it up, they'd be on the hook for paying a hefty salary in 2022, even if things don't work out as anticipated in 2021. If not, the 49ers would either have to place the franchise tag on Darnold or let him test free agency after just one season with the team.
The Giants are 0-5, and there's a very real chance that general manager Dave Gettleman - who shockingly drafted Jones with the No. 6 pick in the 2019 NFL Draft - will be fired at some point.
Frankly, if this season continues down the path it is going, we don't know that Joe Judge will be back for a second season as Giants' head coach.
The gist is that at the end of 2020, Jones' first two seasons will have to stand on their own, because there may not be anyone left in the organization that feels a deep-rooted sense of loyalty to him.
As stated above, any team that secures the No. 1 pick is going to take Lawrence. If that's the Giants, Jones would become a trade candidate. The same may be true if the Giants land the No. 2 pick and a new regime is smitten with Fields.
Jones is off to a pretty brutal start in 2021, having thrown for just two touchdowns and five interceptions through five games. Much was made of Jones leading the NFL with 18 fumbles in his rookie season, and he has fumbled four times so far in 2020. It's possible that even if the Giants are interested in moving Jones, the market isn't especially robust for the 23-year-old.
That said, Jones did toss 24 touchdowns in his rookie season, and will still have two guaranteed years left on his rookie contract after 2020. Could Shanahan and Lynch talk themselves into Jones being a fit in San Francisco? Maybe.
It's all-but impossible that the 49ers will find themselves in position to have a chance to select Lawrence or Fields, but it's not impossible they could have a pick that's high enough to select Lance - or trade up a few picks and select Lance - in the 2021 NFL Draft.
While it's probably unlikely that the Eagles would seriously consider moving Carson Wentz this upcoming offseason, Lance, another North Dakota State product, could be of interest to the 49ers.
In 2019, Lance led the FCS powerhouse to a National Championship, tossing 28 touchdowns and zero interceptions. What's more, he ran for 1,100 yards in his first season as the program's starting quarterback. Regardless of what level it came at, that's incredible production.
Because of COVID-19, Lance only got the chance to play one showcase game in 2020, but he was pretty damn impressive in it. While he did throw the first interception of his collegiate career in a 39-28 win over Central Arkansas, he also tossed two touchdown passes and ran for 143 yards.
As the predraft hype builds up, Lance could push his way into being a top-five pick in the 2021 NFL Draft. But if he's picked in the bottom half of the top-10, it's possible that the 49ers are able to make a play for a quarterback that NFL Network's Daniel Jeremiah has compared to Andrew Luck.