First off, let me be clear that I am amongst those who advocate handing the starting job to Shaun Hill to begin the 2009 regular season. However, it is not yet clear whether or not Hill has the capability of a Joe Montana or Steve Young, who always came through in the clutch.
As solid as Hill's statistics have been during his tenure with the 49ers, his ability to lead a team for a full season and into the playoffs is still in question. Nonetheless, San Francisco has no options at quarterback that are proven winners other than Hill.
From 1979-2002, the 49ers were blessed with phenomenal play at quarterback, but since then they have failed to continue their traditional dominance at the position.
Montana, Young, and Jeff Garcia were all named to multiple Pro Bowls and the 49ers won five Super Bowls during that era. Garcia's final year for the 49ers did come in 2003, but the former 49er had a down year that led to his release.
Unfortunately, the 49ers organization didn't feel as if they needed to find someone to replace Garcia. Instead they let backup Tim Rattay take over. However, after a 2-14 season in 2004, the 49ers fired their coach and drafted Alex Smith with the No. 1 overall pick in 2005.
Obviously Alex Smith hasn't panned out. Smith has missed all but three games the past two seasons and has only just recently restructured his contract in order to remain with San Francisco.
Since Garcia's departure, the 49ers have experimented with multiple starting quarterbacks including former offensive coordinator Mike Martz' project J.T. O'Sullivan. Naturally that failed due to the fact the 49ers did not have the personnel to run a pass exuberant offense and O'Sullivan wasn't the next Kurt Warner.
The question to ask is how to recreate the string of quality quarterbacking in San Francisco. Well, in order to keep pressure on the team's starting quarterback, the team needs a quality backup.
When Montana was quarterbacking San Francisco, the 49ers had Steve Young backing him up. When Young was quarterbacking, they had Ty Detmer and Jeff Garcia backing him up. And even when Garcia was starting, the 49ers had Rattay.
Although I include Rattay in the group of disappointing 49er quarterbacks, he did put up quality numbers while Garcia was out with injury. One particular game comes to mind on Monday Night Football against the Steelers back in 2003 when Rattay and Terrell Owens connected multiple times in a 30-14 victory.
Clearly, having a quality backup is beneficial to any position in any sport. It is only a natural instinct to perform better when you could lose your job to the next guy behind you at any time.
That being the case, the 49ers need to upgrade their quarterback position. O'Sullivan signed with another team, leaving Hill and Smith as the only remaining options at quarterback.
Even though Smith remains with the 49ers, he does not pose a threat to Shaun Hill's starting job. I don't believe head coach Mike Singletary for a second when he says there is going to be an open competition between Hill and Smith for the job. Singletary only says that publicly in order to please the front office, which still holds out hope that Alex Smith isn't a bust.
With a new offensive coordinator for the fifth time in his five seasons with the 49ers, Smith will have to learn a whole new system and get used to playing with a much different cast of offensive players since he last played in 2007. Why is there any reason to believe that Smith will be any better than his rookie year?
Granted in his second season, Smith's numbers improved dramatically under Norv Turner, but Turner is gone now. Turner is arguably the best offensive mind in the league, and Smith still only put up 1-to-1 touchdown to interception ratio and his team finished 7-9.
He has seen limited action in the past two seasons and nobody knows whether he has fixed his fumbling problems and his inability to feel blind-side pressure.
The question I ask is this: With the core of the 49ers team ready to make a playoff run, why haven't the 49ers upgraded their team with a playoff-caliber quarterback?
Jeff Garcia is still a free agent. He has been out there for awhile as NFL free agency began on the 27th of February. Obviously nobody is jumping out with extravagant offers and Garcia may now have to settle for a backup role. If that is the case, the 49ers would be insane not to bring him back to San Francisco.
This year's offense is going to be centered around the running game in a style that Garcia can fit in perfectly with the ability to run the ball himself and make short accurate throws.
And yes, it is possible that Shaun Hill can lead this team to the playoffs in a running-style offense. But sooner or later a game is going to come down to a big throw by the quarterback, and as big of a fan of Hill as I am, I do not have the greatest confidence in Hill being able to make that throw.
So why not bring back Garcia? It is essentially a win-win scenario. If Hill leads the 49ers to the playoffs then great, the 49ers had a successful season. However, if Hill starts to play poorly, the 49ers' season won't go to waste as they will have a proven playoff caliber quarterback to come in and revive the offense.
The quarterback position absolutely needs an upgrade. And free agency is the only route to go for this season.
Drafting Matthew Stafford or another quarterback in the first round would only create more clutter at the quarterback position. What would that mean? Alex Smith would then be a $4 million third-string quarterback. The 49ers wouldn't dare play Stafford as a rookie after what happened to Smith in his rookie campaign.
Now, since I preferred the 49ers to cut Alex Smith, I vouched for drafting a quarterback in the later rounds and letting him develop. However, in doing so, whoever they draft wouldn't be able to start until a few years down the line.
At this point, signing Garcia and drafting a quarterback would give the 49ers four quarterbacks on their roster, which probably isn't going to happen, but San Francisco can hold off on drafting a quarterback if they sign Garcia.
Bringing their former starter back to the team as a backup would instantly bring back credibility to the organization and would guarantee quality play from the quarterback position.