49ers Analyst Casts Light on Sam Darnold’s Future

Sam Darnold

Getty Sam Darnold may go elsewhere in 2024.

San Francisco 49ers quarterback Sam Darnold made his case for the 2024 season in Week 18, but his results might not reap what he wanted to sow.

Darnold threw for 189 yards and a touchdown on 16-26 passing in a 21-20 loss to the Los Angeles Rams on Sunday. While he will serve as the backup to Brock Purdy in the postseason, Darnold can become a free agent in March or re-sign with the 49ers.

“Had he played exceptionally well, he could have earned a starting job elsewhere next season, but he didn’t do that,” Sports Illustrated All 49ers writer Grant Cohn wrote. “Instead, he posted a passer rating of 96.5, which is solid, but he also fumbled with the game on the line and lost to Carson Wentz. If anyone earned a starting job for next season in that game, it was Wentz, not Darnold.”

“But Darnold still could return to the 49ers as Brock Purdy’s backup,” Cohn continued. “This season, he was a relatively expensive backup, earning $4.5 million. Did he live up to his paycheck? Not really.”

San Francisco paid fellow backup Brandon Allen $1.23 million this season, and he could move up to the primary backup role next season. The 49ers would need to re-sign him, too, but for much less money.

Allen has experience with 15 career games played, and he has 1,611 yards for 10 touchdowns versus six interceptions in that span. Before San Francisco, he spent three years behind Joe Burrow with the Cincinnati Bengals.

Darnold has played a mostly disappointing NFL career as a former No. 3 overall draft pick. He has a 21-35 career record as a starter amid 12,064 yards for 63 touchdowns versus 56 interceptions.

49ers Could Draft a QB Instead

San Francisco signed Darnold last year for quarterback depth, which the team sorely needed after three major injuries in the 2022 season. Cohn believes the draft will better serve the 49ers at quarterback this time around.

“Instead of trying to breathe life in Darnold’s career, which hasn’t worked so far, the 49ers simply should draft another quarterback, someone who’s far younger and cheaper than Darnold without all of his baggage,” Cohn wrote. “Because he always will be the indecisive pocket passer who’s afraid to make mistakes but makes them anyway.”

“That’s who he is,” Cohn added.

This year’s draft has a dearth of quarterback talent, and the 49ers could use a pick in the mid-to-late rounds. If the 49ers go mid round, options will likely include Alabama’s Jalen Milroe, Florida State’s Jordan Travis, and Tennessee’s Joe Milton III. A few quality late-round options exist in Notre Dame’s Sam Hartman, Washington State’s Cameron Ward, and Kentucky’s Devin Leary.

Kyle Shanahan: ‘I Was Happy With Sam’

Darnold arguably pleased one of the most important figures with the 49ers in head coach Kyle Shanahan on Sunday.

“He made a number of plays out there. He did a great job of scrambling, he was awesome on his sneaks, the quarterback draw,” Shanahan told the media on Sunday. “I think he moved the chains one other time with his legs, made some big throws. I know that last play was unfortunate, just stepping up in the pocket there and those guys coming from behind him with the fumble, but I was happy with Sam today.”

Whether or not it leads to a new contract for Darnold remains to be seen.

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