Throughout the 1980s and into the early '90s the 49ers had a dominating dynasty. They were able to win five Super Bowls during the era. That era was known as the Glory Days. Since Bill Walsh retired from coaching the team, they have been in a downward spiral. This offseason, the 49ers were able to sign one of the best available coaches, Jim Harbaugh, from Stanford. With the coaching staff in place, what offseason moves could put the Niners in a position to compete for an NFC West title and even a Super Bowl.
Back in the Glory Days the Niners were led by two Hall of Fame quarterbacks, Joe Montana and Steve Young. Since then they have cycled through mediocre quarterback after mediocre quarterback. Alex Smith was not the answer. Their remaining quarterbacks are Troy Smith, David Carr and Nate Davis. Again none of them are the answer. It is time to start over from scratch. There are a myriad of possible scenarios that could get the team headed in the right direction.
The first and most appealing option would be to sign Michael Vick. He will be a free agent at the end of the season and though it is not likely that the Eagles will allow him to go, it would be the quickest fix. Now there is another Eagles quarterback that would be tempting. For a second-round pick they should be able to acquire Kevin Kolb. Now, he may not be Joe Montana, but he has proved himself to be a reliable quarterback in Andy Reid’s pass-happy offense. With the solid running game that San Francisco should have next year, he could really thrive. He is a young enough option that he would have time to thrive for years.
The draft is the most likely place that Harbaugh will turn to for his future quarterback. There are two attractive options in the middle of the first round: Ryan Mallett and Jake Locker. Ryan Mallett is simply a huge quarterback at 6’7”. He has proven that he is capable of making any throw with his rocket arm. His two biggest problems are that he is not mobile at all and he struggles at times with his accuracy. Taking Mallett with the seventh pick would be a huge stretch.
Jake Locker is another first-round caliber quarterback. He is an exceptional athlete that can move outside of the pocket and make plays with his arm or legs. He played in a pro-style offense throughout his career at Washington, so the transition to the League should go smoothly. The biggest knocks on Locker are that he misses quite a few throws, tends to disappear in big games and had an absolutely dismal record at Washington.
Just like Mallett he is not top 10 material. However, there is a possibility that they could trade back into the middle of the first round and take either Mallett or Locker.
If San Francisco is looking to draft a quarterback with the seventh pick, there are only two viable options: Blaine Gabbert and Cameron Newton. Despite being the top quarterback in the draft, Gabbert is not very well known. A lot of that is because he played his college football at Missouri.
He is built a lot like Ben Roethlisberger, the Super Bowl-winning quarterback for the Steelers. At 6’6” with decent mobility and deceptive speed, Gabbert can make plays in the pocket to elude pressure. He has a great arm and displayed elite accuracy while running the spread attack in college. He is not quite NFL ready yet, but seldom is a rookie quarterback ever prepared.
Gabbert’s biggest competition for the top quarterback ranking is Cameron Newton. The former Auburn quarterback is simply a beast. He is also 6’6” and 250 pounds. Despite his massive frame, Newton is a spectacular open-field runner. He has the ability to carry a team with his running ability as well as his arm.
Along with all the measurables, Newton has all the intangibles. He seems to be able to sense pressure while he is in the pocket. More importantly he is simply a winner. As a starter in college he led his teams to two national championships.
Despite all his great attributes, he has two major flaws. First of all, he is extremely raw as a passer. In the BCS National Championship Game he showed that he has below-average accuracy. Secondly, he has never run a pro-style offense. Throughout history, spread quarterbacks have disappointed in the pros; just look at Alex Smith. Despite this I think that Newton would be a valuable pick with the seventh selection but Gabbert would be a better pick if he is still available.
Even if Harbaugh selects a quarterback in the first round, there is a zero percent chance that any rookie quarterback would start for them. So assuming they turn to the draft for a quarterback, here are some quarterbacks that could serve as the signal-caller for a year or two while the draftee has a chance to mature: Donovan McNabb, Matt Hasselbeck, Matt Moore, Mark Bulger, Chad Pennington or Vince Young. All those guys have starting experience and would be a solid No. 1 option for a year. McNabb and Hasselbeck are both former Pro Bowl quarterbacks that could serve as valuable mentors to whomever they draft.
Regardless of which route the 49ers elect to take to solve the quarterback, one thing is for sure—neither Alex Smith nor Troy Smith are the answer to the offense in the future.