Here's today's story about the 49ers' questionable future at quarterback. It includes commentary from two ex-49ers quarterbacks, Steve Young and Trent Dilfer. Like many of you, Young is concerned that the 49ers have become a revolving-door type franchise in which players and coaches come and go but the team never gets any better. Consider this blog an addendum to the story. The bottom line is that the 49ers have no idea who will make up their quarterback stable next year. Several factors will play into it, including: How Shaun Hill performs over the second half of the season, who the coach and offensive coordinator are next season and, yes, what their draft status is. (See: Stafford, Matthew). So, taking all that wishy washy prefacing into account, here is the best guess about which QBs will be retained.
Shaun Hill. Hill's future depends on how he plays over the last eight games, but it's hard to see him flaming out. Indeed that's why he is now the 49ers starting quarterback. Hill does not throw a pretty-looking deep ball - he threw one this week that looked like it had been winged by Dick Cheney--but he doesn't throw a lot of interceptions, either. He has a Rich Gannon-like ability to move the offense and his teammates like him. He also meshes well with the strength of team, throwing short intermediate passes to running backs, tight ends and big receivers. Perhaps more to the point, Hill is under contract for next year. Is Hill the quarterback of the future? Probably not. He's a guy who, in scout-speak, has a high floor and a low ceiling, which is another way to describe a reliable backup. Still, Hill has eight games to prove otherwise.
Chance of returning: 84 percent.
J.T. O'Sullivan. If all publicity is good publicity, consider this year a roaring success for O'Sullivan. Sure, at various times this season he led the NFL in interceptions, sacks and fumbles. But he also was an eight-game starter, which is better than most quarterbacks who appear in the NFL. He showed he has excellent command on the field, a good arm, above average accuracy and a surprising degree of escapability. Any team looking to add a quarterback, including the 49ers, will have to consider O'Sullivan a cut above the run-of-the-mill list of backups.
The problem is that O'Sullivan is inextricably tied to Mike Martz. And that's bad for two reasons. For one, many teams will assume that O'Sullivan's eye-catching statistics are due to Martz's system. (If that's true, then so are his turnovers and sacks). Second, there's a good chance Martz won't be back next season. He was Nolan's - not Scot McCloughan's - choice as offensive coordinator and there's a growing sense that his scheme peaked in December 2000 and won't work with the players McCloughan has drafted. O'Sullivan never would have been brought to San Francisco if Martz were not the offensive coordinator. If Martz leaves, it only stands to reason that JTO goes with him.
Chance of returning: 38 percent.
Alex Smith: Ah, saving dessert for last. What to do with Alex Smith? It's clear that Smith, who has had two shoulder surgeries in 11 months, will not get the $10 million he is due to make in 2009. He has not performed at that level and the surgical procedures raise questions. But whether the 49ers cut ties with him altogether is up in the air. After all, what NFL general manger has more faith in Smith than the one who drafted him No. 1 overall in 2005? McCloughan was behind Smith during the
two-way three-way quarterback competition in the offseason, but was out-voted by Mike Nolan and Martz. It's not like the market is going to be teeming with star-quality quarterbacks come March. And do the 49ers really want to take another gamble on a first-round draft pick in April?
A lot of it will have to with Smith. Young called him a late bloomer who should have been drafted as such. Which is to say, he would have been infinitely better off having been selected by a team like, say, the Packers, holding a clipboard behind Brett Favre for three seasons and then entering as the heir apparent. That's still possible. Smith is only 24. There is still time to apprentice behind someone like Donovan McNabb or Matt Hasselbeck. It depends on how eager Smith is to start and how much money he wants to make. If the answers to both are "very" and "a lot," he should look for a team with plenty of question marks at quarterback. Hey, you know who fits that description? The 49ers.
Chances of returning: 49 percent.
-- Matt Barrows