Darnold makes sense as 49ers backup until full cost considered


The 49ers seem willing to pay a price this offseason to acquire a backup quarterback.

And if the 49ers were serious about a deal to acquire Sam Darnold from the New York Jets, it would certainly come at a cost.

There are no indications the 49ers have engaged in trade talks with Jets, but it is easy to see Darnold's allure.

He was the No. 3 overall pick in the 2018 draft, and his value is low after three seasons in which he had little chance to be successful with a lack of organizational support and a dreadful cast of offensive players around him.

Moreover, Darnold is not likely to have a future with the Jets.

The Jets own the No. 2 overall pick in the draft. The logical play is for the Robert Saleh era to begin with Zach Wilson targeted as the team's franchise quarterback.

Meanwhile, the 49ers are not likely to move on from Garoppolo unless they believe they can land an immediate upgrade.

There are just too many unknowns with Darnold, who can hardly be considered more of a sure-thing than Garoppolo.

At least with Garoppolo, the only unknown is whether he can remain healthy and available year after year after year.

The one time Garoppolo made it through a full season, the 49ers advanced to the Super Bowl.

The cost of Darnold is not so much the dollars -- at least not in 2021 -- but the price it might take to acquire him.

He is not worth the No. 12 overall pick. And the 49ers’ second-round pick at No. 43 overall seems like a steep price, too.

Darnold carries an affordable price tag of $4.77 million in salary and bonuses for the 2021 season. That is more than reasonable for a backup.

But where things get tricky is beyond this season. A decision has to be made on a fifth-year option for Darnold in early May.

The fifth-year option would provide Darnold with a fully guaranteed salary of $18.858 million for the 2022 season. Based on his first three seasons, there is no way the smart play for any team is to guarantee Darnold that money.

Therefore, he is virtually assured of being a free agent in 2022.

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Garoppolo has two years remaining on his contract with salaries and bonuses totaling $25.5 million in 2021 and $25.6 million in 2022.

Again, all signs continue to point toward Garoppolo being the 49ers’ starting quarterback this year.

But it is also clear the heat is on him to stay on the field and deliver. For the 49ers, it is not so much about providing Garoppolo with competition as it is to have a backup capable of winning a lot of games if the starter is not available for a long stretch.

Is the cost of an insurance policy worth it when the 49ers would be expected to draft an immediate starter who would be under contract for four years at a controlled cost?

After all, the 49ers might have to give up a second-round pick for a player under contract for just one season and who — if things go according to plan — would never step on the field during that one year.

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