Now that the San Francisco 49ers have landed their "white whale" (Moby Dick reference) with the signing of Jim Harbaugh as their 18th head coach in franchise history, the 49ers now turn their focus over to the next biggest hurdle, finding a quarterback.
The last time the 49ers had a legitimate starting quarterback, you have to go back to when Steve Mariucci was head coach and an undrafted quarterback by the name of Jeff Garcia was setting franchise records that still stand eight years later.
The 49ers can go a number of routes, and it seems that their former No. 1 pick, Alex Smith, is no longer an option after six up-and-down seasons. Troy Smith is a free agent after signing a one-year deal back in September, leaving the former 2002 No. 1 overall pick David Carr and former fifth round pick Nate Davis as the only active quarterbacks on the 49ers roster.
The 49ers' options at quarterback for the 2011 season include:
1. Drafting a QB and Handing Him the Keys
The 49ers can draft a high profile quarterback and start him from Day 1, the way the Atlanta Falcons did with Matt Ryan. In three full seasons as the starting quarterback, Ryan has won 33 games, tied for most ever by a starting quarterback in his first three seasons.
This year's NFL Draft QB class includes the likes of Missouri's Blaine Gabbert, Washington's Jake Locker, Arkansas' QB Ryan Mallett and even Auburn Super QB Cam Newton.
Gabbert is widely considered to be the second-best rated QB of the 2011 class.
One year ago, Jake Locker was regarded as the top QB prospect in the 2010 NFL Draft, but Locker decided to stay for his senior season at Washington. Following a subpar season along with a nagging rib injury, Locker's stock has fallen considerably.
Mallett declared for the 2011 draft only hours after the consensus No. 1 pick, Andrew Luck, decided to stay for his junior season. Mallett is a pure pocket passer, and if history tells us anything, it's that pocket passers and the West Coast offense don't mesh well.
Newton is an intriguing pick because for all the promise that he shows as a quarterback, the question of accuracy and adjusting to the NFL level of play will always put a damper on his draft stock.
2. Sign a Veteran Free Agent
It seems that the Donovan McNabb era ended in Washington before it even began, and seeing how the 49ers were really a solid quarterback away from making the playoffs, McNabb could be the short-term answer in San Francisco, the way Kurt Warner was in Arizona.
3. Trade for a QB
Which is the best quarterback option for the 49ers?
Two words: Kevin Kolb.
Earlier this season, rumors began circulating that the Eagles were receiving phone calls regarding the availability of Kevin Kolb after his demotion to backup QB, and with Michael Vick having an MVP-type season, Kolb's tenure in Philadelphia could be coming to end. At only 26 years old, Kolb has little wear on the tires, and the 49ers could be a prime team to pull a trade for Kolb.
Kolb would give the 49ers the West Coast type of quarterback that Jim Harbaugh has recently said he would reinstall with the 49ers this coming season. Kolb has the mobility, arm strength and maybe more importantly, a chance to be a starting quarterback with the 49ers.
In the end, the 49ers have plenty of options at quarterback, from the NFL Draft, to trading for one, to signing a free agent QB, the options are many. The real question is whether the 49ers find a quarterback that will help reinstall the much loved, but forgotten, West Coast Offense that they almost single-handedly invented.