Photo by Peter Aiken/Getty Images
Well, that solves that. For most of the offseason, 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan has played somewhat coy about whether the 49ers would keep two or three quarterbacks on the roster.
After Saturday’s 27-17 win over the Kansas City Chiefs in which both Jimmy Garoppolo (14-for-20, 188 yards, 1 TD) and Nick Mullens (8-for-11, 84 yards) played well in (essentially) full halves of action and C.J. Beathard did not play at all (the 49ers’ final possession came with roughly two minutes to go, and rather than risk putting Beathard on the field, the team put in Wilton Speight), Shanahan said the team would keep all three quarterbacks. It was an explicit, first-time commitment to a decision which will send aftershocks throughout the rest of the 53-man roster.
The thinking behind both options is that taking two quarterbacks opens up another roster spot, and if you have to go to your backup quarterback because of a serious injury to your starter, the season is effectively lost anyway. Conversely, while taking three quarterbacks loses you that roster spot, it both provides protection in case of injuries to the other quarterbacks (especially if they’re dealing with minor injuries and the season is still alive) and keeps the potential open for a trade if/when another team loses a quarterback to injury.
That last part is certainly in Shanahan’s mind, especially after Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck announced today that he’d be retiring from the NFL.
“We have three very good quarterbacks,” Shanahan said. “We plan on having three this year. But just like every other person on our roster, if someone thinks there’s a way to upgrade our team, we’ll always listen… We’re not going to ever just get rid of NFL players and I know that we have three NFL quarterbacks who can help us.”
Shanahan said the decision will make filling out the rest of the roster much more difficult.
“It’s very rough,” Shanahan said. “That’s why this is a tough decision, but it’s something that you have three NFL quarterbacks, they’re not easy to come by, regardless of where you draft them or anything. So when you have that, you don’t just give that away. Sometimes it takes years to find.”
Video: As part of his response to Andrew Luck’s retirement, coach Kyle Shanahan says the 49ers will keep 3 QBs on their 53-man roster pic.twitter.com/oeFHbRH0JV
— David Lombardi (@LombardiHimself) August 25, 2019
Agree, disagree, that roster spot is, barring an injury or trade, cemented. It means a cut will come from elsewhere. Also needing to be factored in are a few things: the potential IR-return designation for Jerick McKinnon (he has to first be put on the 53-man roster, meaning someone has to get cut and a full day has to pass before the 49ers can put him on IR and potentially sneak someone back onto the roster from the practice squad), the 49ers’ massively increased use of nickel packages (two linebackers) and the health of the following players: center Weston Richburg (who is on PUP, but will almost certainly be activated this week), nickel corner K’Waun Williams, cornerback Jason Verrett and defensive end Nick Bosa.
Here is a look at what those factors and the three-QB situation might mean in where roster cuts come from:
Offensive line: There are a couple options in play here, with eight or nine offensive linemen making the team in play. Most likely, it will be Ben Garland (center), Najee Toran (swing guard) and Justin Skule (swing tackle) making the team as backups, but if Richburg can’t go for Week 1 or Mike Person picks up another knock (or the 49ers feel the need for extra insurance there), it could quickly move that number to nine.
Defensive line: The 49ers can’t really afford to take less than nine defensive linemen, and really they should be taking (and will want to take 10). Aside from Bosa, Dee Ford (who won’t play in preseason but will be back in practice next week, making him likely for Week 1), DeForest Buckner, Arik Armstead, Solomon Thomas, D.J. Jones and Sheldon Day and probably Ronald Blair III (who should make the roster, but has a nagging groin issue that’s a real problem at this point), you’ve got one or two roster spots left.
Kentavius Street seems pretty likely to take the so-called ninth spot on the team, and it’s up to the 49ers to decide whether they want to risk losing all three of Damontre Moore, Kevin Givens and Jullian Taylor. More than likely, especially considering the injuries they’re still dealing with, the 49ers go 10 here, and try and sneak at least one or two of those three onto their practice squad.
Linebackers: This, along with the offensive line, is probably the most at-risk position group. With how well Kwon Alexander played and the frequency of the team’s nickel package (two linebackers as opposed to three), the cut might go from six to five linebackers, with Dre Greenlaw the only other lock. David Mayo seems highly likely to make the team as well, as did Elijah Lee before his thumb surgery (now, not so much). You’ve also got Mark Nzeocha, LaRoy Reynolds and Azeez Al-Shaair in the mix (with Al-Shaair looking the most deserving, with his rookie status also a bonus, though Reynolds has been fantastic). The question is, do the 49ers need more than five linebackers for special teams? They might prefer to, but keeping Beathard could reveal that preference as just that – a preference – rather than a necessity.
Cornerbacks: The injuries to Williams and Verrett make it seem unlikely the 49ers would go with five, rather than six cornerbacks, but there was a new wrinkle thrown in on Saturday: Jimmie Ward. Ward filled in tremendously at nickel corner on Saturday, where D.J. Reed Jr. has been operating as the backup. Reed or Emmanuel Moseley could find themselves on the chopping block if the 49ers decide to use Ward as the backup nickel corner (and possible Week 1 starter), although that decision would also affect the team’s projected four-man depth at safety; a group which has been notoriously injury prone.
Here’s how the numbers probably break down with all that in consideration:
RB: 5 (including Kyle Juszczyk)
Note: A full 53-man roster projection will come on Sunday, but this is intended to serve as an overview for the most vulnerable positions as a result of keeping three quarterbacks.