UPDATE (Sept. 24, 3:15 p.m. ET): The 49ers announced that Jimmy Garoppolo has torn his ACL and will be out for the season.
Eagles general manager Howie Roseman has invested heavily in the backup quarterback position throughout the Carson Wentz era so far, and as a result, it’s created a ripple effect throughout the NFL: Teams with playoff hopes are paying a premium for someone to be at the ready. And it paid off for Philadelphia last season—the Eagles showed the modern NFL that a brilliant scheme and just-above-replacement-level quarterback play can negate the loss of a franchise signal-caller.
On Sunday, the 49ers lost their franchise quarterback, likely for the season. Head coach Kyle Shanahan prepared the fan base for a funeral despite a confirmatory MRI still to come on Monday. He and John Lynch put their faith in a homegrown backup, C.J. Beathard, who had already started five games for the franchise as a rookie (123-of-224, 1,430 yards, four touchdowns and six interceptions). Beathard, presumably, will be better than he was a year before and may be able to adequately manage a game. Does he have the upside of a Foles-type premium backup, though?
There are Shanahan quarterbacks littered throughout the NFL in backup positions right now, some of whom could presumably be had for an attractive price. Obviously, the 49ers are not going to go after Falcons quarterback Matt Schaub, who was together with the coach in Houston back in 2008 and ’09. Donovan McNabb and Rex Grossman are out of the league. So is John Beck. Kirk Cousins isn’t available. Connor Shaw is out of the business, and Johnny Manziel cannot crack the starting lineup in Canada.
That leaves Brian Hoyer in New England and Robert Griffin III in Baltimore. Those not directly from the Shanahan tree include Josh McCown, a recently-benched Sam Bradford and a potentially soon-to-be-benched Tyrod Taylor, among others.
Griffin had a decent preseason in Baltimore and, in Shanahan’s wildest dreams, could be a quick patch-filler who also presents a far different set of weapons than the ones future opponents are currently preparing for. But it’s highly unlikely that he sees a greater advantage in visiting a turbulent past than in propping up the young quarterback he’s already poured time and effort into grooming. How much time would it take to prepare someone like Taylor or Bradford, even if the 49ers were able to pry them loose?
The team is nearing a decision point that will almost certainly dictate the remainder of their season. Sitting at 1–2 after three weeks and staring down a brutal slate of games coming up (at Chargers, vs. Cardinals, at Packers, vs. Rams), they will effectively choose whether to pinball through the rest of this season, or put themselves in a better position to weather the difficult games and possibly take advantage of a remaining divisional that is quite weak beyond Los Angeles.
For Lynch, it’s hard not to feel the squeeze between a rock and a hard place. After getting Garoppolo in place, the team rode momentum and stacked the offense with a handful of mercenaries that fit perfectly in Shanahan’s system. Maintaining status quo could signal an intention to pack it in for 2019, while holding auditions for role playing gigs in Garoppolo’s offense a year from now. Making a move could cost valuable draft capital and hamper Beathard’s development, but may also maximize the talent and propel the team into next season on a positive note.
So it goes when a franchise quarterback is lost for the year. Some teams tread water, some teams go big and some teams simply take a hard pass knowing how difficult the production is to replicate.