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Which free agent quarterbacks could make sense for 49ers



© Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Regardless of what transpires over the coming weeks and months, the 49ers will need to sign at least one more quarterback. That much is clear.

What is extremely muddy, though, is the status of Brock Purdy’s elbow.

He was supposed to go under the knife on Wednesday. As reported by Tom Pelissero on Tuesday night, that did not happen. There was lingering inflammation in the elbow and despite the halfhearted assurances from Pelissero, little is certain.

At the very least, Purdy likely won’t be available for the start of training camp. That was the initial hope, but is now doubtful even if all goes well in his recovery the rest of the way.

There is no firm date on a new surgery, just that Purdy and his surgeon, Dr. Keith Meister, will meet again in “early March.”

While there is still an excellent chance Purdy makes a full recovery at the start of the season, that is a less reliable bet now than it was a few weeks ago.

If he needs a surgery that combines the internal brace procedure with a reconstruction, he might miss the entire season. San Francisco would have to adjust accordingly and make a play for a more capable veteran.

If he’s healthy, they can go pretty cheap.

But the most worrisome thing for the 49ers is that free agency begins March 15. Pelissero’s report on Purdy’s surgery postponement does not offer a new date for surgery, just that he and Meister will “reconvene in early March.”

If he does indeed undergo surgery before March 15, then this is moot. But there is now a genuine chance Purdy’s surgery comes after the start of free agency, or at least right up against it. And while free agency officially opens on the 15th, teams can negotiate on the 13th (and there are surreptitious discussions held before then).

Granted, cheap, veteran quarterbacks don’t necessarily fly off the shelves.

But the 49ers need to know what type of backup quarterback they’re looking for. There’s a chance, if Purdy requires a brace-reconstruction combination surgery after March 15 — which would potentially end his season — that they could miss out on a borderline starter-capable target they won’t be interested in if he only needs internal brace surgery.

Effectively, there have to be two plans for signing a quarterback:

  1. Purdy undergoes the internal brace procedure, with the expectation he can be be available early in the season or even during training camp
  2. Purdy needs a combination surgery that potentially ends his season

Again, the complicating factor is that the 49ers might not know which scenario they’re facing until free agency has already begun. They have to be proactive, but it’s hard to negotiate in good faith with free agent quarterbacks when you don’t know what opportunity you’re going to be offering them.

Will it be the chance to back up Trey Lance in earnest/push him in camp, or come in as the expected third-string quarterback, but with plenty of training camp reps while Purdy recovers?

Here’s a look at options for the two scenarios.

Purdy undergoes “hybrid” procedure, potentially out for the year

Jacoby Brissett

Brissett is probably going to be out of the 49ers’ price range. That said, the price range for guys like Brissett, Dalton, Heinicke, and others in this tier, is exceedingly vague. He made $4.65 million last season for Cleveland and was their best quarterback. He got moved out of the way for he-who-shall-not-be-named in the second half of the year, but was extremely mature in a difficult situation. He’s a great option if Purdy’s likely done for the year and you can get him for sub-$10 million. Given how injured the 49ers are at quarterback all of the time, they might have to make a semi-sizable investment in this scenario.

Andy Dalton

Dalton is a guy the 49ers had rumored interest in going into this last offseason, and may have pulled the trigger on if they’d been able to deal Garoppolo early. He played extremely well last season for the New Orleans Saints and will assuredly make more than the one-year, $3 million, $5 million and $3 million deals he’s secured each of the last three years. But, he’s going to be a legitimate option in this scenario, and probably not prohibitively expensive. Without Purdy available, he’s maybe as capable as it gets here.

Taylor Heinicke

Heinicke is an interesting case, and given his athletic ability, his age (30), he might get something in the $6-12 million range on the market. He’s a little erratic, but he’s coming from a mess of an offense led by the just-fired Scott Turner. It’s not hard to see him being productive in a Kyle Shanahan offense. He’s got a somewhat similar skillset to Brock Purdy; the question is how well he can process the game. That’s for Shanahan to decide in this scenario.

Teddy Bridgewater

Good ole Teddy B. He’s a shell of what he once was, but he’s still just 31 years old. He cost $6.5 million last season and will probably cost less than that this cycle. He’s a steady pocket passer for the most part who’s been in myriad offensive systems, the most recent of which was from Kyle Shanahan’s protege in Miami, Mike McDaniel. You’d imagine the shift would not be outrageously difficult.

Cooper Rush

Who knows what goes on in Dallas? Jerry Jones has shown a clear affection for Rush, and he was solid in his five games as a starter this season, four of which he won. At 29, and coming off the best season of his career, he’s a guy who will probably cost $5-plus million to sign, but might be right in that sweet spot of affordability and fringe starter upside for a season.

Jarrett Stidham

Is Stidham the most enticing guy on this list? We all watched him gash the 49ers, showing some legitimate athletic and throwing ability. He’s as great a question mark on the free agent market as anyone on this list, but is just 27. If you want someone with athletic ability who you could mold a little bit, Stidham’s a guy you might give a longer look to. If he’s betting on himself and isn’t given the reins in Las Vegas, taking a one-and-one (one year and one-year option) deal under Shanahan might make sense.

Gardner Minshew

He had a pretty gross season with the Eagles, looking rough, and nearly costing them the No. 1 seed in his couple of starts with Jalen Hurts sidelined. But, he has shown flashes in the league and is just 27. As far as cheap options with potential upside go, well, he’s theoretically one of them.

Purdy undergoes internal brace procedure, projects back at start of season

Chad Henne

Maybe it’s disrespectful to put Henne down here, but at 38, it’s hard to consider him in that other tier. That’s all to say he’s proven himself in Kansas City every time he’s gotten a chance, and they’ll probably want to keep him around. He’s a solid option if he’s available.

Nick Mullens

Need I say more? Familiar face. Likable dude. Not that great at quarterback, but in this role, it’s not the worst idea.

Nate Sudfeld

Sudfeld might not want back after turning into the fourth-string quarterback last offseason. That’s understandable. But at one point, both he and the 49ers had mutual interest, and he’d come cheap. It’s at least a familiar name worth considering.

Blaine Gabbert

He’s baaaack. Wouldn’t it be something for Gabbert to make a return after a half-dozen years? He’s been sitting behind Tom Brady in Tampa Bay for the last three years and as such, has thrown just 35 passes in those seasons. But in the world of cheap veterans, knowledge is paramount, and it’s hard to believe Gabbert won’t have parsed anything from Brady in those years.

Easton Stick

Stick has already experienced playing with Trey Lance. The roles were just reversed, where Lance backed Stick up his freshman year at North Dakota State. He would be expected to have a good working relationship with the 23 year old. If you expect Purdy back, but want Lance to make the most of his opportunities, maybe a familiar face helps.