As the 49ers prepare to address their need in the 2014 offseason, one glaring question mark is who will be the backup quarterback behind Colin Kaepernick. The team went (seemingly begrudgingly) with Colt McCoy in 2013 but he was not needed in any scenario other than mop up duty. McCoy is about to be a free agent and may not be in San Francisco’s plans. The good news for the 49ers is that there are a number of options that will be on them market. The question is, do any of them fit.
McCown, who is 34 years old, came out of nowhere in 2013 to put up big numbers with the Chicago Bears. He completed 66.5 percent of passes and threw 13 touchdown passes to only one interception while filling in for the the injured Jay Cutler. His performance could have very well been an aberration, however, as McCown had never come close to that kind of production in any of his other ten NFL seasons. His previous best came in 2004 when he threw 11 touchdown passes over with 13 starts with the Arizona Cardinals. Keep in mind the 49ers actually had McCown on their roster from August 17th through September 3rd of 2011 before releasing him.
Flynn, who is a classic case of being a product of a system, seems to only be able to perform well in a Green Bay Packers’ uniform. Flynn is a respectable 3-3 in 6 starts for the Packers and has thrown 16 touchdown passes in his Green Bay career. He has not been able to duplicate that success elsewhere though, as failed stops in Seattle, Oakland and Buffalo seem to have proven.
Once upon a time, Freeman looked like one of the bright quarterback prospects in the NFL. In 2010, he led the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to a 10-6 record while throwing 25 touchdowns to only six interceptions. Despite the strong season, the bottom would soon fall out for Freeman as he would go on to throw 39 interceptions in 2011-12 and lose 24 of his next 35 starts. He was ultimately cut by Tampa Bay and was picked up by the Minnesota Vikings where he played terribly in the only game he appeared in.
Henne played well at times for the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2013, but seems to be nothing more than a capable backup or place holder for a young quarterback. In 50 career starts with the Jaguars and Miami Dolphins, he has a record of 18-32 and has thrown more interceptions (62) than touchdowns (55).
With the right pieces around him, Cassel has proven he can be a serviceable quarterback. He posted a record of 10-5 in 2008 with the New England Patriots and again in 2010 with the Kansas City Chiefs. In those two seasons, he combined to throw 48 touchdown passes and only had 18 interceptions. The issue is Cassel hasn’t been able to maintain that level of play consistently and is 12-26 in his other 38 career starts.
Vick is always an intriguing possibility because of his athleticism and tendency to flash an ability to make big plays. Unfortunately, Vick has been hampered by poor decisions throughout his playing career that have led to a slew of turnovers. He also is unable to stay healthy. At 33, his best days are behind him but he may still be able to compete for a starting role, especially on a team that may need a temporary solution while they develop a rookie quarterback.
McCoy did not inspire much confidence during the 2013 preseason as he struggled during his appearances. The 49ers tried to push him via competition, but in the end he was still the most proven option to backup Kaepernick. In hindsight, all the worry about McCoy may have been irrelevant since Kaepernick was healthy for all of the 2013 season. In the NFL, there are no guarantees on continued good health moving forward so the 49ers may feel better going in another direction.
The 49ers are fortunate to have a head coach in Jim Harbaugh who is proven at developing quarterbacks which gives them the option to go the draft route. San Francisco did have two rookies (Kaepernick and Scott Tolzien) backing up Alex Smith in 2011 so the concept would not be foreign to them. They could also see what they have in Bethel-Thompson, who is said to be a late bloomer who has ability the 49ers like. He has spent time in the arena league in addition to bouncing around NFL rosters.
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