San Francisco 49ers reportedly targeting Sam Darnold, doing ‘due diligence’ on QBs

By Matt Fitzgerald
Jan 3, 2021; Foxborough, Massachusetts, USA; New York Jets quarterback Sam Darnold (14) throws the ball against the New England Patriots during the second quarter at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brian Fluharty-USA TODAY Sports

The San Francisco 49ers aren’t exactly sold on Jimmy Garoppolo as their quarterback of the future, and with the chance to land a potential long-term upgrade this offseason, they’re leaving no stone unturned to address the position.

According to the latest rumors, New York Jets signal-caller Sam Darnold is squarely on the 49ers’ radar.

San Francisco 49ers may replace Jimmy Garoppolo with Sam Darnold in 2021

Michael Lombardi of The Athletic reported what he’s been hearing out of San Francisco regarding the team doing its “due diligence” for a QB, and how it pertains to Darnold and Garoppolo:

The 49ers are interested in adding a quarterback […] Would they have an interest in Jets quarterback Sam Darnold? Yes, for sure. Why? Because Darnold fits the profile that Shanahan loves at the position: athletic, can throw moving to his left or right, and has the arm strength to make the defense defend every blade of grass on the field.

[…] And do I believe 49ers general manager John Lynch when he claims that Garoppolo will be his starter in 2021? Of course not. They are too active, too aggressive to run it back one more year with someone they don’t have complete trust in.

Former NFL executive Michael Lombardi on San Francisco 49ers QB search

Darnold has never been given a fair shake since the Jets drafted him third overall in 2018. He’s performed far worse than classmates Baker Mayfield, Josh Allen and Lamar Jackson, who all went in the first round and have led their teams to the playoffs.

However, going from Adam Gase to Kyle Shanahan as a head coach and play-caller is about the biggest upgrade imaginable for a quarterback.

Shanahan has never had someone to work with in his career as a play-caller who has the blend of size, athleticism and arm talent that Darnold has. It’s a question of whether he’s been too scarred by his experience in the Big Apple to ever put it together in the NFL.

There’s no question Darnold runs better and throws the ball with more velocity than Garoppolo. What’s more alarming about Darnold is his lack of production to date, his penchant for turning the ball over and his overall accuracy. Injuries are Jimmy G’s biggest red flag, but when he was healthy enough to make it through the full 2019 season, he led San Francisco to a Super Bowl appearance.

Read More: Jimmy Garoppolo: 5 teams who are a perfect fit for San Francisco 49ers QB

Shouldn’t Josh Rosen push Jimmy Garoppolo, not Sam Darnold?

San Francisco 49ers: Shouldn't Josh Rosen push Jimmy Garoppolo, not Sam Darnold?
Dec 26, 2020; Glendale, Arizona, USA; San Francisco 49ers quarterback Josh Rosen (2) warms up prior to facing the Arizona Cardinals at State Farm Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

Since he’s still only turning 24 in June, there’s even more projection involved as to how Darnold would fare in San Francisco. Shanahan’s system is not easily digested, and Garoppolo has operated the offense well enough to post a 24-9 record as a starter with the 49ers, including the postseason.

Garoppolo is also a bargain among quarterbacks who aren’t on a rookie contract. While cutting or releasing him would save the 49ers $23.6 million in salary cap space, his $26.4 million cap number is relatively inexpensive. Again, it’s a matter of whether he can be available for a full season.

Darnold would benefit from San Francisco’s play-action passing game and run-first identity. His cast of skill players would be better than anything he’s ever worked with on the Jets, too. Plus, he’s still on that cheap rookie contract and is far cheaper than even Garoppolo at this point.

Read More: San Francisco 49ers draft picks: Top 2021 selections, ideal prospects to target

But there’s a third wild card at play in all this. Another 2018 first-round pick who’s gone from potential franchise savior to castoff and afterthought. He happens to be under contract with the 49ers for 2021 at a salary of $850,000.

His name is Josh Rosen. Nope, his career has not worked out to date, but the Arizona Cardinals went with Kyler Murray at No. 1 overall after their disastrous year when Rosen was a rookie, whereupon first-time NFL head coach Steve Wilks was fired just one season into the job.

Even then, Miami thought enough of Rosen to spend a second-round pick in a trade, only to draft Tua Tagovailoa in the top five.

Related: 2021 NFL mock draft – QBs dominate top-10 picks, big trades

After a brief stint on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ practice squad to learn from the GOAT himself, Tom Brady — who Garoppolo was once destined to replace in New England — Rosen wound up in the Bay Area, back in his home state of California.

Is it so ridiculous to suggest that San Francisco sees what it really has in Rosen before taking the plunge on someone like Darnold? At least in New York, Darnold has had almost three full seasons’ worth of starts, while Rosen has had exactly one (16 starts).

The situation for Darnold has been bad, but Rosen has arguably had it worse. Not just changing offenses like Darnold, Rosen has changed teams far more than expected. Bear in mind, that 2019 Dolphins team was destined to tank amid a 0-7 start, and Rosen was the man under center for Weeks 2 through 4.

Granted, if the Niners are looking around for quarterbacks as hard as the rumors suggest, perhaps they can already tell Rosen doesn’t have “it.” They already have an in-house reclamation project, though, so trading for Darnold seems redundant — and not the best strategy to ensure Garoppolo is replaced by someone better.

Read More: Jimmy Garoppolo reportedly unfazed by San Francisco 49ers exploring QB options