A year removed from a Super Bowl appearance, the San Francisco 49ers finished with a 6-10 record and fell to the cellar of the NFC West, which has turned into arguably the most competitive division in the NFL.
Last week the 49ers made some moves to try and get a leg up on their rivals the Arizona Cardinals, Los Angeles Rams, and Seattle Seahawks. The 49ers acquired the No. 3 overall pick from the Miami Dolphins in exchange for the No.12 pick, a third-round pick, and first-round picks in 2022 and 2023.
The dealmaking triggered more rumors around their quarterback situation with the team now widely expected to draft a quarterback with the high pick and leaving the long-term future of starter Jimmy Garoppolo in question.
NFL Network analyst Brian Baldinger doesn’t know who the 49ers are going to take with that No. 3 pick, but he believes “they know who they want.”
While the former offensive lineman praised Garoppolo for a solid run in San Francisco, he believes taking a chance on a rookie quarterback is what makes the most sense for the franchise moving forward.
“They made a good run with Jimmy G, but he can’t stay healthy. He played six games last year,” says Baldinger, “They like him, and for good reason, I mean he’s a good player when he’s healthy. But you have to be on the field
“It’s not going to surprise me if Mac Jones becomes the guy in San Francisco just because of the intelligence, the decision-making, the accuracy,” Baldinger says of the University of Alabama quarterback.
With the 49ers, Baldinger said, a player like Jones could fit in because of his belief in head coach Kyle Shanahan and his system.
“They’ve upgraded the offensive line, they have an elite receiving core, with two starting wide receivers and an All-Pro tight end in George Kittle,” Baldinger told Fox News on Wednesday. “You get the right quarterback in there with Nick Bosa coming back, who makes everybody better on that whole defense. I’m interested to see which quarterback they take. But I don’t believe anything for a second, that whoever they select with the third pick isn’t going to start.”
Baldinger, who blocked for several quarterbacks in the NFL during the 80s and early 90s, began his broadcasting career in 1997. In addition to his work as an analyst for NFL Network, he’s recognized for dissecting game film that he regularly posts to his social media accounts, which is famously known as “Baldy’s Breakdowns.”
“You talk to any coach who has ever been in San Francisco, it’s about winning championships. It’s not about winning the division, it’s not about beating Seattle. It’s about winning championships,” Baldinger said.
But winning titles are not as simple as just having the best players. The salary cap and injuries always factor into a team’s success.
“They are going to have to pay Nick Bosa in a few years. They have some elite players that they are going to have to pay, and it’s hard to do that if you’re paying a quarterback $25 million or more,” said Baldinger of another reason why Garoppolo’s days may be numbered.
“So, take your chance with a rookie quarterback. That’s what teams are looking at right now. It’s hard to build a team if you’re paying one guy a quarter of your salary cap.”
Baldinger also touched on the success current Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan had with Shanahan during his two-year stint as offensive coordinator in Atlanta before becoming the head coach of the 49ers in 2017. During that season, Ryan led the Falcons to an 11-5 record, while throwing for 4,944 yards and 38 touchdowns with only seven interceptions. Atlanta made a Super Bowl appearance that season but fell to Tom Brady and the New England Patriots, despite leading 28-3 at one point in the third quarter.
A similar comparison to Ryan? Perhaps it is Alabama’s Jones.
“Matt Ryan was the MVP of this league, he didn’t run anywhere. He wasn’t running any read options. Jimmy Garoppolo wasn’t running anywhere, and he took them to a division crown and a Super Bowl appearance,” Baldinger said. “I think Justin Fields makes sense, but he doesn’t need Justin Fields. He just needs a guy that is good enough to be able to run a lot of play-action-type passes, but smart enough to get you into the right play and understand where to go with the ball.”