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4 bold offseason predictions from ESPN reporters involve 49ers

Feb 11, 2021 at 11:16 AM--

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ESPN's 32 NFL Nation reporters were asked to make bold offseason predictions for each of the teams that they cover. Four involved the San Francisco 49ers, and since no one really knows what will happen with the team's quarterback situation, they are each very different.

Let's start by looking at 49ers reporter Nick Wagoner's bold offseason prediction — which doesn't necessarily sound so bold. It sounds prudent and safe, actually. But considering everyone is seemingly predicting San Francisco parting ways with Jimmy Garoppolo, maybe it does qualify. Wagoner envisions general manager John Lynch and head coach Kyle Shanahan drafting a quarterback at some point in the first three rounds, providing depth behind Garoppolo.

"With the 12th pick, the easiest path would be for one of the top four signal-callers to fall to the Niners," wrote Wagoner, "but if that doesn't happen, they could be in striking distance for a trade up or they could target someone else by moving back from 12 or up from one of their other spots. Regardless, the Niners need to find someone with long-term upside who can push Garoppolo and be capable of stepping in should Garoppolo continue to struggle with injuries."

What if the 49ers opt to part ways with Garoppolo and his salary-cap limiting salary? Mike Reiss can see the New England Patriots being interested. That's his bold offseason prediction — a reunion between Garoppolo and Bill Belichick.

"This banks on the 49ers being willing to part with Garoppolo," explained Reiss, "a combination of his $25 million salary and injury history leading them to consider potential upgrades in an offseason when the QB shuffle across the NFL could be intriguing. If they do, it makes sense to think the Patriots would be at the front of the line to bring Garoppolo, who was the original succession plan to Tom Brady, back to New England."

The next two predictions are a bit bolder. The first involves a quarterback we have been hearing a lot about in recent days — Sam Darnold of the New York Jets. Over the weekend, Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports reported that Shanahan remains "very high" on Darnold. That ignited a lot of discussion surrounding a Darnold-to-49ers scenario. The real question is whether Darnold is seen as an upgrade over Garoppolo. Many would answer, "No."

Rich Cimini can envision San Francisco trading second- and third-round picks for the Jets quarterback, though, and head coach Robert Saleh even adding a 49ers quarterback not named Garoppolo.

"Looking for a veteran placeholder, the Jets will sign 49ers UFA C.J. Beathard, who played under new Jets offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur in San Francisco," wrote Cimini. "Capping the quarterback makeover, the Jets will select BYU's Zach Wilson with the second overall pick."

Last on the list is the Minnesota Vikings and Kirk Cousins, which certainly qualifies as a bold prediction because neither team nor player has indicated a desire for a divorce. And there has been no indication that San Francisco is actively looking to pursue the 32-year-old Cousins. Everything linking Cousins to the 49ers has been speculation seemingly based on Shanahan's longtime admiration of the quarterback.

"If Kyle Shanahan and the 49ers really want Kirk Cousins, now's the time for Minnesota to pull off a trade that will create freedom to reconstruct other parts of the roster," wrote Courtney Cronin. "The Vikings could get out of the financial commitment they made to Cousins when he signed a two-year extension last March that comes with a $31 million cap hit for 2021 and go a different direction at the position. If that comes in the form of Jimmy Garoppolo and a second-round pick (they currently don't have one), the Vikings should jump at the opportunity."

What do the ESPN reporters predict for the Deshaun Watson saga in Houston? Sarah Barshop's bold prediction for the Texans is that the team will not trade its star quarterback. However, David Newton predicts that the Carolina Panthers will do "whatever it takes" to find a way to acquire Watson.


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