• Bret Rumbeck

The 49ers, Quarterback Play and Fan Expectations vs. Reality

Image Credit: Andrew Giesemann


We are stardust

Billion-year-old carbon

We are golden

Caught in the devil's bargain

And we've got to get ourselves

Back to the garden

- Joni Mitchell

Professional football fans are not zealots for offensive line play. It’s rare to find an absolute football junkie who can list the starting left guard for a franchise for the upcoming season, let alone over the last twenty years.

When it comes to quarterback, the average fan mutates into an extremist. There are no criticisms that are off-limits and no false narrative he won’t repeat to convince himself that this year’s quarterback is not the path to a silver trophy.

San Francisco 49er fans are a spoiled group. Even if someone didn’t grow up watching Joe Montana and Steve Young terrorize the NFL, a young fan knows of these fabled legends. Teams are lucky to find a champion quarterback. It’s uncommon for a team to find a quarterback who wins four titles with the same team over a decade and extraordinary to replace a champion with another legend.

The 49ers find themselves on the quarterback carousel again, spinning in circles trying to find the right player to fit seamlessly in head coach Kyle Shanahan’s offense. Experts and fans have not rested with serving Twitter with a steady diet of possible quarterback options for the 49ers.

Depending on how the wind is shifting on any particular day, no matter who Shanahan and general manager John Lynch take with the third overall choice in the 2021 draft, it will not be enough for some.

Often, it’s as if fans are trying to make up for the 2005 draft, where the 49ers took Alex Smith and then watched Aaron Rodgers earn three first-team All-Pro honors, a Super Bowl ring, and run an NFL offense as slick as lithium grease.

I suppose we’re all begging the 49ers to make up for this grievous sin as if Rodgers’ career would have had the same trajectory and results with the 49ers as he has with Green Bay.

Before the scarlet fingers get ready to launch a missive on Twitter at the above comment, the 49ers were a tangled mess of dysfunction and absolute ineptitude for Smith’s first six seasons in the Bay. Assuming Rodgers would have thrived in the same environment replaces reality with a comic book-like fantasy.

So, every few seasons, after the 49ers have not won a Super Bowl, there’s chatter about a new quarterback and someone to finally fill Montana’s dusty Mizunos and Young’s mud-covered jersey. Many of us drank the Trent Dilfer-poured Kool-Aid that Colin Kaepernick needed to be a pocket passer yet couldn’t read a defense. A sparse few thought Blaine Gabbert would somehow turn his entire career around and make the 49ers a contender.

Brian Hoyer had no business ever donning 49er gold, despite efforts from 49er brass and coaches trying to dupe the fans into thinking he’d make the team competitive.

Veteran quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo felt like the right move when the team traded for him during the 2017 season. But a torn ACL and a rough 2020 season have revealed more flaws than talent. Garoppolo went all of 2020 without attempting or completing a pass in the middle of the field that traveled more than 20 yards. He has series of deficiencies in seeing middle linebackers drop into the hook-to-curl zone, and his feet are often stuck in the turf.

I’ve watched, re-watched, diagramed, and noted the bulk of Shanahan’s offense during his tenure as head coach of the 49ers. In 2020, it felt like he could not execute most of his playbook due to an overall inability from Garoppolo, Nick Mullens, and C.J. Beathard.

Oddly, games are not solely on the shoulders of a quarterback, which is a chief reason why “quarterback wins” is a useless statistic. It takes a solid offensive line, a stout, aggressive defense, and opportunistic special teams play to win championships.

Rather than mope about Shanahan’ missing on Patrick Mahomes, we should hope that Shanahan can find a quarterback who can finally take command of the playbook and the offense for an entire season.

There’s a lot in the football world I don’t know, and one of those things is how the 49ers will handle the quarterback situation for the 2021 season. I know that whoever Shanahan and Lynch choose, a vocal faction of fans and so-called “beat” writers who will despise the selection for months to come.

Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields feels like the right fit for this new football era and is the offensive piece Shanahan’s system has been missing. But if it’s not, I’ll give the man a chance and provide a fair review of his game film this fall.


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