A groan is an appropriate first reaction to thinking about the 49ers signing Baker Mayfield. But what should follow is a “well, maybe…” sort of contemplation.
It’s not exactly an enticing proposition. But the trade deadline has passed, and per NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport, Baker Mayfield is set to be available when the Carolina Panthers release him on Monday.
Let’s say the 49ers are interested in Mayfield. Kyle Shanahan raved about Mayfield in 2019:
But that was 2019. Mayfield has regressed at a significant rate since then and there are very legitimate concerns, not just about his capabilities, but what type of impact he is in the locker room.
If he’s anything but a consummate professional, do you bring him into the fray? Christian McCaffrey, who played with Mayfield, will obviously provide the coaching staff some intel.
But let’s put all that aside because Mayfield will head to waivers, not free agency. The 49ers are 25th in waiver order. If they put a claim in — which, given their quarterback situation, could make sense regardless of your opinion on Mayfield — they’d be unlikely to scoop him up.
There are plenty of quarterback-needy teams ahead of the 49ers, and some competitive teams who Mayfield could be a considered as an upgrade to their backup quarterback.
The Seattle Seahawks, before sticking with Geno Smith and Drew Lock, reportedly had “high-level” interest in Mayfield. Maybe they consider him an upgrade over Lock, and at the very least, are hyper-aware of the 49ers’ current quarterback situation.
Why wouldn’t they put in a claim to at least prevent the 49ers from adding a quarterback they seemed to think fairly highly of this offseason, and upgrade their own depth?
The more likely way the Mayfield sweepstakes play out is that some team claims Mayfield and cuts their current backup quarterback.
Whoever that person is, the 49ers could scoop up (unless they, too, are subject to waivers).
One particularly interesting scenario is if, say, the Indianapolis Colts, who have shown they are entirely unpredictable, cut veteran Matt Ryan and pick up Mayfield. They’re ninth on the waiver wire and have a bye week coming up that could be a prime opportunity to get someone new up to speed.
Would Jeff Saturday, who’s trying to prove he can coach on the fly, make a move for Mayfield? It would cost north of $20 million in dead cap, but would save the Colts more than $17 million next season. It’s a bit odd, but not out of the question for an odd organization.
Even if they don’t cut Ryan, Nick Foles is their current third-string quarterback. So if the Colts scoop up Mayfield, the 49ers would have a shot at someone fairly enticing in these circumstances.
The likelier scenario, though, is that an underwhelming option becomes available and the 49ers pick up whoever it is simply to add depth.
San Francisco is reportedly signing Josh Johnson to the active roster, but will have a roster spot available when Jimmy Garoppolo is placed on injured reserve, so numbers aren’t a consideration here.