When the 49ers signed quarterback Brian Hoyer early in free agency this year many assuming that Kyle Shanahan was bringing the veteran in to be a placeholder until he could sign Kirk Cousins in 2018. But it turns out that Hoyer may be keeping the seat warm for a different quarterback.
For a team that supposedly has its quarterback plan set, the 49ers sure have been doing a lot of quarterback shopping. They had a private workout with Cal QB Davis Webb on Tuesday. Webb is just one in a long line of quarterbacks on whom the 49ers have done research lately.
They have had private workouts or visits with Mitchell Trubisky of North Carolina, Clemson’s Deshaun Watson, Texas Tech product Patrick Mahomes, and DeShone Kizer of Notre Dame.
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Those five quarterbacks are generally considered to be at the top of the class, the QBs who will go in the first or second round. The 49ers have the second pick each of the first two rounds. If the Browns take Texas A&M defensive end Myles Garrett with the top pick as expected, Shanahan and GM John Lynch would have their choice of any quarterback on the board. Even if they bypass a quarterback at No. 2 they could well have Webb and/or Kinzer still on the board early in the second round.
Certainly, the 49ers could just be doing some due diligence here. But the reason you conduct due diligence is that you never know what you might find. What if Shanahan decides that one of those quarterbacks could be as good as Kirk Cousins in a couple of years, or at least close enough to make going with that QB in the draft worth the $15-$23 million per year in cap space they would save by going with the draft pick instead of bringing Cousins in at around $25 million per year.
If that happens, where would that leave Cousins in 2018? His first choice of a destination would be gone. If Jared Goff of Sean McVay’s Rams shows any signs of promise the Rams will be reluctant to move on from the first overall draft pick after just two seasons and Los Angeles would be out of the Cousins sweepstakes.
That might leave Washington as Cousins’ top option. Jay Gruden’s offense is perfectly suited to what Cousins does well and the organization has a history of keeping the team stocked with offensive weapons.
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And regardless of who the 49ers draft or how Goff performs, how much will Cousins be worth next year on the open market, without the artificial value of the franchise tag? A transition tag by the Redskins would carry a value of $28 million but while that’s relevant right now in figuring out what’s a fair contract for Cousins it won’t mean anything if he starts shopping for an offer sheet. Teams will bid for his services starting from zero, not from a tag number.
So maybe the Redskins are playing this right. Maybe the bidding for Cousins won’t go sky high, especially if the Rams and 49ers are not in the mix. Maybe his true market value will prove to be closer to $20 million per year than $25 million per.
Of course, all it takes is one team to throw in a huge offer that the Redskins won’t want to match and then they face losing Cousins without compensation. It’s certainly possible that the Redskins will end up being big losers in all of this. But it’s also possible that playing this out until the last possible moment in March of 2018 could just work out for the Redskins.
For the first hint as to how it might play out, let’s see what the 49ers draft strategy is and take it from there.