Way Too Early Hot Take: QB Nick Mullens In Heated Battle For Starting Quarterback of the Niners in 2019
It is the 2019 preseason, San Francisco 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo is back on the practice field and getting back in shape for the regular season. The $137.5 million man suffered a torn ACL against the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 3 when his left knee buckled as he cut back towards the middle of the field to gain extra yards. Now is his chance to prove he is worth that gigantic contract that he got after starting his career 5-0 as the Niners' quarterback, giving hope to their future. Battling him for the spot is none other than undrafted quarterback Nick Mullens. Wait, what? Nick Mullens? Yes, you read that right, Nick Mullens is in the running for the starting quarterback spot after his stellar debut against the Oakland Raiders which carried through the rest of the season.
Alright, let us snap back to reality for a minute and review what Nick Mullens did last Thursday night against the Raiders. Mullens, an undrafted free agent out of Southern Mississippi stepped in for C.J. Beathard who was dealing with a wrist injury and had an historic night for San Francisco. The 23-year-old finished the game 16-for-22 with 262 passing yards, three touchdown passes, and no interceptions. His 151.9 passer rating was the highest by a quarterback in their debut while having at least 20 attempts since the merger in 1970. The Southern Mississippi product also became the first quarterback in the history of the 49ers franchise to throw three touchdown passes in his first game with the team. Mullens joined Fran Tarkenton and Jim Kelly as the only quarterbacks to throw for 250-plus passing yards, three-plus touchdowns, and no interceptions since 1950. The list goes on, the fact of the matter is that the man had a debut to remember on Thursday Night Football as San Francisco beat Oakland, 34-3.
As the Niners prepare to face the New York Giants on Sunday, it is expected that Mullens will make his second career start following his impressive performance. The Giants defense is likely to give Mullens more of a challenge than the Raiders who were ranked 27th overall in defense and have been downright putrid all season long on that side of the ball. New York ranks 9th against the pass this season, 21st overall on defense, and gives up an average of 25.6 points per game. But suppose the quarterback passes this next test and performs like he did last week against Oakland. The Raiders entered their game against San Francisco with just one win and so will the Giants which means they are far less formidable opponents.
If Mullens can conquer the Giants in another prime time game, this time a Monday Night Football affair, he will likely earn another start following the bye week when the Niners face the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Here is a look at the remaining opponents for San Francisco:
New York Giants
@Tampa Bay Buccaneers
@Los Angeles Rams
Should Nick Mullens earn the starting spot for an extended period of time, he would be up against some tough teams in the remaining games. Seattle is no team to scoff at defensively with the way they have played this year, Denver's defense is always stingy, Chicago boasts a top-five defense, and the Rams are an NFL superteam. It would certainly be a gauntlet for Mullens to try leading the Niners through. Now what if he were to play out as the starter for the rest of the season and have a season-ending run like Garoppolo did last year? Could Mullens challenge Jimmy G for the starting spot next preseason?
Probably not, after all San Francisco paid a large amount of money to Garoppolo for him to be their starter for the next five years. Not to mention, the contract included $71.1 million in injury guarantees over the life of the deal. But still, Mullens would be a much cheaper option considering he has a two-year deal worth just $1.05 million. Another option would be to release Garoppolo after the 2019 season in which the quarterback would have made $61.2 million of the $137.5 million he signed for last offseason. But again, the 49ers have no reason to do that to Garoppolo since he is considered to be the quarterback of the future when he gets healthy. However, that does not go without saying that Mullens could certainly earn the backup job if he performs well enough when given the opportunity to start games this season.
But for the sake of a way too early hot take, let us imagine Nick Mullens does the impossible. The quarterback starts the rest of the season and leads the Niners to five wins in their last seven games to compile a starting record of 6-2 on the season. Just like that, he moves up to the backup position on the depth chart in 2019 with the return of Garoppolo imminent. Now San Francisco has two starters out to prove themselves after having impressive first seasons as the team's quarterback at the end of back-to-back years. Of course by default Jimmy Garoppolo is expected to be the starter given the amount of money the 49ers gave him in the 2017-18 offseason, but he is unable to start the season as he is still recovering from the ACL tear. This leaves Mullens with the starter spot until Jimmy G is ready to go and prove himself as the franchise quarterback he is thought to be. Nick Mullens has other plans as he performs great in the preseason and with Garoppolo still on the mend, he is named the Week 1 starter for the Niners. Mullens picks up where he left off from last season's run with the team and leads the team to victory.
In fact, for argument's sake let us say Garoppolo misses Week 2 and yet again his backup proves himself to lead the 49ers to a 2-0 start on the season. Suddenly, San Francisco has a decision to on who to start at quarterback. Start the quarterback who has the momentum carrying over from last season or the potential future of the franchise that we gave the largest quarterback deal ever to? It is a long shot for sure, but you can never say never in a sport like the NFL. After all, we all know the Legend of Tom Brady who replaced Drew Bledsoe in Week 2 of the 2001 NFL season after Bledsoe went down with an injury. Brady went on to win the Super Bowl for the New England Patriots and begin his legacy as one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time with five championships so far in his career. Perhaps for Nick Mullens this is the start of a similar story with the San Francisco 49ers or his Thursday night performance was just a fluke, only time will tell.
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