The 49ers, under general manager John Lynch and coach Kyle Shanahan, are attempting to build for the future.
Rather than aggressively pursue a veteran quarterback via trade, the organization opted this offseason to keep their coveted draft picks and build out as much of the roster as possible.
It made no sense for the 49ers to be willing to pay the steep price that would only begin the conversations with the teams – Washington and New England – who had intriguing quarterbacks set to become unrestricted free agents a year from now.
The 49ers are in no position to compete for the playoffs this season. So the 49ers could afford to take it slow at the quarterback position while trying to add as many accessory pieces as possible.
Why not wait to get the quarterback of the future until the price is right and the quarterback has a better chance to succeed with better players around him – on both sides of the ball?
The team added their man target, Brian Hoyer, at the opening of free agency. Once Matt Schaub opted to remain in Atlanta, the 49ers secured Matt Barkley as the backup.
Lynch took a very public approach to his evaluations of the top quarterbacks available in the draft. He gushed over Mitchell Trubisky, Deshaun Watson, Deshone Kizer and others. Of course, he never mentioned C.J. Beathard, whom the 49ers traded up to select in the back end of the third round.
The 49ers carried out the strategy in the first round of the draft by, in essence, turning their picks in the first and second rounds into defensive lineman Solomon Thomas, linebacker Reuben Foster and a third-round pick next year. Along the way, the 49ers also picked up an additional second-round pick for next year.
The 49ers already have a long-term plan in the place. It would be inconceivable that the organization did not look three years in advance when charting the plan for this offseason. But, as always, that plan remains flexible.
A lot can happen in a year, but there are moving parts the organization will monitor before the plan is enacted.
HOYER AND THE IN-HOUSE CANDIDATES
Hoyer enters training camp as the starting quarterback. His performance this season will not be open to any kind of interpretation and projection. He gets the first chance to prove he should be the long-term starter.
Hoyer signed a two-year, $12 million contract with the 49ers. The onus is on him to take the starting job and hold onto it – give the organization no reason to look to upgrade.
Hoyer, who turns 32 in October, has shown to be a solid quarterback. But he also has not proven to be a dependable presence. After all, he has started 10 games or more only once in his career.
It is difficult to envision the 49ers would come out of this season convinced either Barkley or Beathard is the quarterback of the future. So short of a Pro Bowl-type season from Hoyer, the 49ers would likely be determined to add a long-term answer during the 2018 offseason.
COUSINS AND THE VETERAN MARKET
Of course, this is the Topic du jour because of Washington’s failure to reach a multi-year extension on Monday with quarterback Kirk Cousins.
It is simple to connect the dots. Cousins broke into the NFL in 2012 under Kyle Shanahan, who was the offensive coordinator under his father, Mike Shanahan. Cousins is the kind of quarterback who fits what Shanahan wants.
Only Tom Brady has posted a better passer rating in both seasons since Cousins took over as the full-time starter. Shanahan likely believes Cousins could be even more productive in his system with his play-calling.
Cousins turns 29 in August, but that still leaves him at least a six-season window – if healthy – that he can remain in his prime.
Washington could place the franchise tag on Cousins again, of course. But Washington was unwilling to pay Cousins an average of the $23.94 million he is set to receive on this year’s franchise tag, Tom Pelissero of the NFL Network reported.
Next year, the one-year franchise tag would jump to $34.47 million. The 49ers currently have $66.8 million in cap room and will carry over all unused space this year into 2018. The 49ers can essentially go as high as they feel is necessary to get the quarterback they target.
Cousins is not the only veteran option for next year. Shanahan said he had a high draft grade on Jimmy Garoppolo in 2014. He enters the final year of his contract with New England. The Patriots will have a difficult decision next offseason. Can they retain both Tom Brady and Garoppolo?
Of course, Garoppolo remains mostly an unknown. He performed well in two starts last season during Brady’s suspension before sustaining a shoulder injury. Garoppolo turns 26 in November, and should have a lot of football ahead of him.
THE 2018 DRAFT CLASS
This is the last option -- coming nearly two months after the open of free agency. It is also the one option that is always the biggest unknown. After all, a year ago at this time Mitchell Trubisky was not even considered a draftable player – let alone the No. 2 overall pick.
Sam Darnold (USC), Josh Allen (Wyoming) and Josh Rosen (UCLA) project as three of the top quarterbacks in next year’s draft. But whom will Shanahan envision as the best fit for his scheme?
Then, will the 49ers be in a position to draft the quarterback Shanahan might target? Unless the 49ers lose every game this season, they may not be able to fully control which player to choose in the draft.