I have to admit that I was rather surprised this morning when I woke up, turned on ESPN News, and saw that my beloved San Francisco 49ers had signed David Carr.
On the surface, I guess it really is not that surprising. Team officials simply saw a healthy, available QB who could at worst put some pressure on Alex Smith for the starting job, and at best . . . who knows?
But, upon closer review, there are some interesting aspects of this signing that strike this Faithful Fan as a bit odd.
It is clear that only time will tell whether David Carr pans out into the QB this great franchise has been seeking basically ever since Steve Young suffered that infamous blow to the head in a week three Monday night game in 1999 against Arizona.
You remember that.
The seminal event that marked the shift of power in the NFC West from the Steve Young-led 49ers to the Kurt Warner-led, soon-to-be Super Bowl Champion St. Louis Rams? In many ways the 49ers have never really found a QB to truly replace No. 8.
Jeff Garcia played admirably in spots, that is, after he had a heart-to-heart with Bill Walsh and turned his game around prior to the Cincinnati game late in 1999. Up to that point, it was unclear who would start for the foreseeable future in San Francisco, Jeff Garcia or Steve Stenstrom. But Jeff never delivered the team past the second round of the playoffs, and that simply is not up to team standards.
Since the 49ers basically gave up on Garcia after 2003, clearing the way for his move to the Cleveland Browns, the QB position in the City by the Bay has been a painfully revolving post with few to any glimmers of long-term hope thus far. But could David Carr be the answer?
His stats as an NFL QB will offer little direction in answering this question. Carr was a highly-rated prospect coming out of a highly productive offensive system under Pat Hill at Fresno State in 2002, and his college accolades earned him the No. 1 overall pick to become the first QB in the franchise history of the expansion Houston Texans.
Unfortunately for Carr, the Texans should have invested equally in an offensive line, as he earned the not-so-envious distinction of breaking the NFL record for times sacked in a single season his rookie year, suffering 76 sacks.
Carr has never had a winning record as a starter (in five seasons with Houston and one in 2007 with Carolina, where he made four starts), and the only time he managed a QB rating in triple digits for a year was in limited mop-up duty in three games for the New York Giants two seasons ago (144.1 in 2008, though he attempted only 12 passes). Sort of reminds you of another No. 1 overall pick, right?
And the similarities to Alex Smith do not stop there.
Both he and Carr are big, agile, mobile QBs from college systems that featured offenses based around moving the QB out of the pocket. This makes Carr a curious signing for an organization headed by Mike Singletary with a Jimmy Raye-led offense that is supposed to be featured around the talents of all-pro half back Frank Gore. A spread offense does not seem to be in line with Sing’s “formula” of “going out there, and [hitting] people in the mouth.”
Still, 49er fans saw last year, after the coaching staff wisely abandoned Shaun Hill at half-time of the Texans game, that Sing and Jimmy are willing to make adjustments to their game plans to compliment the talents of the players they have. “Doing what it takes to win” was a recurrent theme of Samurai Mike press conferences for the remainder of the year. Perhaps this signing is an indication of an extension of this policy.
Whatever this signing indicates, a few things are clear. First, David Carr seems a clear step up over Shaun Hill, whether as a back-up or a starter. Carr being similar to Alex Smith, the 49ers will no longer require separate offensive schemes depending on what QB is under center (or more likely in the shotgun).
Carr is also clearly more mobile than Hill and possesses better arm strength, allowing the flexibility for throwing that popular and effective seam route that Alex developed with Pro Bowl TE and team captain Vernon Davis with great results last year.
No news yet on the size of Carr’s hands compared to Alex’s (astute fans and devotees of ESPN’s Pardon the Interruption will appreciate that one), but his career stats for fumbles—despite facing a relentless pass rush early in his professional days—seem to suggest that should not be a huge concern.
The signing also seems to suggest that Shaun Hill’s days in San Francisco are numbered. With the money invested in last year’s draft pick Nate Davis, it is doubtful Hill will find a spot on the roster. Barring injury to Alex, David, or Nate, it seems certain Shaun Hill will find himself the odd man out.
I can hear the screams and cries already. “But Shaun Hill has a winning record as a QB in the NFL.” “He just finds a way to win.” Another example of sub-standard Bay Area sports reporting over-inflating the popularity of a mediocre player.
He may have a winning record as a professional starter (how I do not know), but any reasonable fan could see that he was an absolute hindrance to the 49ers’ offensive potential last year. Alex Smith, or now Carr, may make more mistakes, but at least neither will force the team into a boring, predictable, ineffective offensive scheme. The potential is worth the risk.
Who knows whether David Carr, three full seasons removed from starting in the NFL can wrest the signal caller role away from Alex Smith in training camp, but realistically, competition never hurt anyone. If nothing else, the two should encourage each other to up their games and it should be nothing but good for the team.
The signing also seems to give the 49ers the out of having an experienced and similarly-suited replacement to step in should the starter get hurt, whoever assumes that role.
This should be fun to watch. One other thing is certain: Carr will NOT wear No. 8 in San Francisco.