On a day the San Francisco 49ers officially lost one quarterback to free agency in Jimmy Garoppolo to the Las Vegas Raiders, they end up filling his vacancy through a past $30 million quarterback.
Per ESPN NFL insider Adam Schefter on Monday, March 13, the Niners and Sam Darnold have reached an agreement on a one-year deal — in a move that brings the former No. 3 overall pick of the 2018 NFL Draft to the Bay Area. The move also officially gets Darnold back to California — having played his high school football at San Clemente High School in Orange County and starring in college at USC.
But as noted by Heavy NFL senior reporter Matt Lombardo, the 49ers had expressed interest in hitting the free agent avenue for a signal-caller.
“John Lynch said at the NFL Combine that the #49ers would be shopping the veteran QB market. San Francisco gets their insurance policy,” Lombardo shared.
They end up with the quarterback once on a four-year, $30.2 million entry level contract.
49ers Once Saw ‘Not Normal Stuff” Before From Darnold
For Darnold, S.F becomes his third NFL stop as he enters six seasons in the league in 2023. His career has been marred by injuries and eventually losing his starting position to others — a la the New York Jets who traded him to make room for Zach Wilson and his last employer, the Carolina Panthers, who swapped between him and Baker Mayfield (the latter won the starting reins in Week 1 after the July 2022 trade).
But from a physical standpoint, Darnold has shown flashes of potential when on the field. David Lombardi of The Athletic made note of that after the news was made about the QB heading to the Bay Area.
“Sam Darnold absolutely has physical potential. This is not normal stuff and the 49ers saw it firsthand in 2020,” Lombardi shared in his clip of a dynamic throw he delivered versus, guess who? The 49ers.
Now, the former top five pick is heading to a signal-caller room that features another another past third overall pick in Trey Lance. And it’s possible both will be backing up the last pick of the 2022 NFL Draft Brock Purdy.
A move like this additionally signals that the Panthers, under the direction of new head coach Frank Reich, are officially directing their attention to draft their QB of the future after trading up to the No. 1 spot. Names like Bryce Young of Alabama, Anthony Richardson of Florida and C.J. Stroud of Ohio State are considered trendy options for Reich and Carolina there.
49ers Insider Reveals Darnold was on S.F. Board Before
Turns out, the 49ers were interested in Darnold once before.
Via ESPN 49ers reporter Nick Wagoner, the 49ers once scrutinized the USC quarterback — before they even added Garoppolo.
“Before 49ers traded for Jimmy Garoppolo in 2017, Sam Darnold was one of the QBs they were in early stages of studying as a potential pick in ’18 draft. They traded for Garoppolo instead, won five games and were out of QB market,” Wagoner detailed. “On the day Garoppolo exits, Darnold arrives.
Quite the reversal of fortune for Darnold. Wagoner added “Darnold was a guy Kyle Shanahan liked in that class. And this is easily the best situation Darnold will have had in his career.”
Now, as Garoppolo heads to his three-year, $67.5 million deal, the 49ers lure in someone they were once interested in — making true on their idea of hitting the free agent market to find their insurance policy.