San Francisco 49ers: Who will win the backup quarterback job?

LOS ANGELES, CA - DECEMBER 30: San Francisco 49ers quarterback Nick Mullens #4 looks to pass during the first half of a game against the Los Angeles Rams at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on December 30, 2018 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - DECEMBER 30: San Francisco 49ers quarterback Nick Mullens #4 looks to pass during the first half of a game against the Los Angeles Rams at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on December 30, 2018 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images) /

The San Francisco 49ers will have a decision to make this summer regarding their backup quarterback position. Who will emerge as the winner of the competition?

The San Francisco 49ers are set to welcome quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo back from injury with open arms. After missing nearly all of last season with a torn ACL, the 27-year-old is ready to take the reigns and prove his worth in what will hopefully be his first year as a full-time starter.

For the sake of the 49ers, let’s hope he could stay healthy.

Following Garoppolo’s injury, the 49ers went just 3-10 behind the combination of C.J. Beathard and later Nick Mullens. And while each showed some signs of promise, it’s safe to say that San Francisco is glad to have Garoppolo back.

But as we saw last season, the backup quarterback job isn’t one to be taken lightly. If Garoppolo is forced out of action for any significant time such as last year, the 49ers season could be all but derailed once again.

However, what happens if he’s only forced to miss a few games. Or what if he just misses a few drives? It pays to have a capable backup quarterback who could come in and play in a pinch when forced into action.

Fortunately, the 49ers happen to have two such players that fit that description. But most NFL teams only carry two quarterbacks into the season. General manager John Lynch has, however, stated that he’s open to the idea of keeping all three quarterbacks on the roster.

"“I don’t think we’d ever close the door on anything but we like the three quarterbacks that we have. We’re big believers in all of them. Traditionally we’ve been of the belief you keep two because it allows you to do things with your roster, but never close the door on keeping three either. I think they’re all talented players who like I said are good people, are good leaders, and we’re big fans of all of them.”"

The 49ers will have options either way, but at this point, who seems more likely to win the backup job?

The obvious answer would be Mullens who took over the starting job in Week 9 of last season after Beathard struggled to an 0-5 start. The undrafted rookie would shock the football world and throw for 262 yards and three touchdowns in his debut as the 49ers routed their crosstown rivals, the Oakland Raiders, 34-3.

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While he would never quite live up to the initial hype again, Mullens had flashes of excitement and looked like the more promising quarterback. But going into training camp, both QB’s seem to be on an equal playing field.

The duo each split time with the backups in OTA’s and the battle between the two is far from over. Mullens showed more potential, but Beathard has more experience as a starter and was head coach Kyle Shanahan’s guy coming out of Iowa.

However, if we’re placing bets on who will emerge as the winner of the summer competition, it’s wise to put your money on Mullens. Beathard has struggled with turnovers throughout his young career throwing for seven interceptions and fumbling five times in just five starts last season.

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On top of that, he just doesn’t have as high of a ceiling as Mullens who — with proper time and development — has the skills to possibly develop into a starter down the line. With Beathard, what you see is what you get, at least barring any stark changes in his skill set.

So that’s it then — Mullens wins the job. Except it’s not that simple.

If the 49ers don’t end up keeping three quarterbacks — a very likely scenario — they will likely look to shop them on the open market and trade one away. In that case, whoever plays better should have the bigger market.

Would the 49ers trade Mullens away to a playoff contender in need of a solid backup quarterback? We saw it happen last season when the New York Jets dealt Teddy Bridgewater to the New Orleans Saints for a third-round pick.

Bridgewater didn’t end up playing for the Saints, but they wanted him as insurance and as a potential future successor to Drew Brees.

Could another team potentially look at Mullens in the same way? Likely not to the same degree, but the concept could still hold up.

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It’s unlikely that any team would give up something as high as a third-round draft pick, but if Mullens lights it up in the preseason, some team might be willing to part with a late-round pick to secure their backup position.

And as long as Beathard doesn’t look like a disaster — which he probably won’t — San Francisco might just be comfortable keeping him as the backup.

Of course, this is all speculation. The roles could very well switch and Beathard could play lights out in the preseason and ultimately win the job. But what’s important here is that the 49ers have options.

And it’s also crucial to remember that whoever “wins” the battle, might ultimately play his way out of San Francisco.

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Either way, the San Francisco 49ers are in an enviable position and it should be interesting to see how this battle shapes up come the start of training camp.