In case you needed one, Sunday’s 33-10 loss at the hands of the Philadelphia Eagles was yet another reminder that acquiring a franchise quarterback is priority number one for the 49ers next offseason. Rookie C.J. Beathard struggled for the second weekend in a row, missing his target on a number of throws throughout the game, two of which led to Eagles interceptions.
The most discussed scenario since the hiring of John Lynch and Kyle Shanahan this offseason has San Francisco targeting Washington quarterback Kirk Cousins for 2018, and offering him a lucrative deal that Wahington will be unwilling or unable to match. While Cousins will be out of contract, the Redskins could sign him to the franchise tag for the third consecutive year, but that would mean paying him upwards of $34 million next season.
Should the option to acquire Cousins fall through, however, the 49ers still have a few different routes they can explore. They could look to sign another veteran free agent quarterback like Buffalo’s Tyrod Taylor or, and perhaps more likely, use a top five pick on a QB in next year’s draft. Should they elect to do that, it looks like Sam Darnold of USC is the clear frontrunner, according to Bleacher Report’s NFL Draft expert Matt Miller’s most recent mock.
Throughout the season my thought on the San Francisco 49ers was that general manager John Lynch and head coach Kyle Shanahan would use the expected more than $100 million in salary cap space to buy an offense in free agency. That idea loses steam if Kirk Cousins doesn’t leave Washington after this season.
Hypothetically, what would the 49ers do if Cousins doesn’t hit the free agent-market? Would they go after a Tyrod Taylor or Teddy Bridgewater type? It’s possible, but my sources in San Francisco say the team loves Sam Darnold.
The USC redshirt sophomore has struggled at times this year with a diminished supporting cast and by putting too much pressure on himself to make plays that have led to turnovers. The talent that made him a top prospect over the summer is still there, though. Darnold’s poise, football IQ, accuracy and mobility would be a perfect match for the Shanahan offense. And while Darnold’s lack of arm strength might be a concern in Cleveland or Buffalo, the California kid would be right at home in Santa Clara.
There is no guarantee that Darnold, a sophomore, will leave USC next year, especially if he continues to have an up-and-down campaign after looking like a preseason favorite to win the Heisman Trophy. If Darnold does stay in school, the 49ers could still select from one of the five other quarterbacks Miller projects to go in the first round, including Josh Rosen (UCLA), Josh Allen (Wyoming), Mason Rudolph (Oklahoma State), Lamar Jackson (Louisville) and Baker Mayfield (Oklahoma).