49ers Linked to Potential Trade for $18 Million QB, Former USC Star

San Francisco 49ers, Sam Darnold

Getty Sam Darnold with USC.

Though the San Francisco 49ers have further fortified their quarterback room following the loss of Trey Lance with practice squad addition Kurt Benkert, some feel the team could still use another arm to really embrace their current Super Bowl window.

After entering 2022 with a consensus top backup quarterback in Jimmy Garoppolo, the team now finds themselves with just Benkert and Brock Purdy, the Iowa State quarterback selected with the final pick in the 2022 NFL draft.

To some, this is a solid enough unit, as few teams roll into a season with three proven options at quarterback, but considering Benkert and Purdy have combined to play just two offensive snaps at the NFL level, the prospect of either quarterback being a snap away from having to play is a scary proposition.

When compiling Bleacher Report’s “2022 NFL Trade Block Big Board Entering Week 3,” analyst Kristopher Knox opted to remove one Niners quarterback, Garoppolo, from his list and instead list San Francisco as one of the teams most in need of a new quarterback alongside the Dallas Cowboys.

According to Knox, there are two quarterbacks who should be on the Niners’ radar, first with Pittsburgh Steelers signal-caller Mason Rudolph ranking seventh on his board. However, the highest-ranked player who makes the most sense for John Lynch, Kyle Shanahan and company is none other than Sam Darnold, the former No. 3 overall pick who grew up in Capistrano Beach, California, and played his college ball at USC.

Though he’s currently on IR, Darnold is expected to return by Week 5 and could be traded to a team willing to take on his $18.9 million guaranteed contract. Considering his West Coast pedigree and experience under center, it’s hard to imagine quarterback-needy teams won’t at least discuss Darnold as an acquirable option as Knox suggested, that is, if they can afford his cap hit.

The 49ers Would Struggle to Afford Sam Darnold

As things presently stand, only one team in the NFL can afford to trade for Darnold without giving up matching salary, according to OverTheCap.

The Cleveland Browns, not the 49ers, hold that rare honor.

No, with only $4.38 million to play with under the $208.2 million cap ceiling, the Niners would have to either free up salary space at a feverish clip with contract restructuring, which is technically possible but could potentially require multiple willing parties to pull off, or trade away the requisite amount of money to execute a legal trade.

Unfortunately – or fortunately, depending on your preference – unless Lynch is able to work some serious cap magic or can entice the Carolina Panthers to eat quite a bit of Darnold’s cap hit, this trade is very unlikely to happen.

Knox Suggested a Far More Realistic 49ers QB Trade Too

While he may not have been as high on Knox’s board, a trade for Mason Rudolph is far more realistic for the 49ers from a financial standpoint alone.

Currently slotted in as the Steelers’ third-string quarterback behind captain Mitchell Trubisky and rookie Kenny Pickett, Rudolph has appeared in 17 games in 10 starts since being drafted in the third round out of Oklahoma State in 2018. He has been inactive in each of the team’s first three games of the season, and, if things don’t change in a hurry, he is expected to test the open market in 2023 as an unrestricted free agent.

According to OverTheCap, Rudolph would only cost $3 million to acquire via trade and would thus not only be within the Niners’ price range financially but provide the experience the team could crave in a backup quarterback.

“The San Francisco 49ers would be a logical landing spot for Rudolph now that Trey Lance is out for the season,” Knox wrote for Bleacher Report. “The Niners can win with Garoppolo, but they now have limited depth behind him. Rookie Brock Purdy is the only other quarterback on the roster.”

According to Steelers Depot, Rudolph had a great camp, and with his time in Pittsburgh now extensibility about running out the clock before free agency, a trade to San Francisco might be a welcomed change of scenery for the 27-year-old quarterback looking for a clearer path to the field.

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