San Francisco 49ers: Franchise Quarterback May Already Be on the Roster

Michael Shackelford Correspondent IMarch 2, 2009

What do Drew Brees and Kurt Warner have in common? They were both on NFL rosters when their respective teams drafted quarterbacks of the future.


Brees had floundered for three seasons on the Chargers roster, who finally had enough and acquired Phillip Rivers in a trade at the 2004 NFL draft.


In 2004 Brees had a breakout year, and the Chargers were faced with the dilemma of what quarterback to go with. Brees is now in New Orleans, and arguably the best quarterback in the NFC.


Warner signed with the Cardinals in 2005 after serving as Eli Manning's tutor in New York for one season. In 2006, the Cardinals drafted Matt Leinart, hoping that he could replicate his collegiate success in the Cardinals' new stadium.


Instead, Coach Ken Whisenhunt benched Leinart, started the two-time NFL MVP, and the Cardinals came within one defensive stand of becoming Super Bowl champions.


What does this history lesson have to do with the 49ers? Because the 49ers have not one, but three potential quarterbacks of the future already on the roster.


Alex Smith has been much maligned during his time as a 49er. Drafted with the first overall pick in 2005, Smith carried the weight of restoring the 49ers to the greatness of their past.


Unfortunately for Smith, he had to do much of the work himself. The 49ers failed to give Smith the tools needed to succeed.


From 2005 to 2007, the 49ers did not have a true starting wide receiver, merely castoffs and rejects from the rest of the league.


The offensive line was absolutely treasonous, giving Smith little to no protection in the pocket. From 2005 to 2007, Smith was sacked a total of 81 times. Remember, 2005 and 2007 were not complete seasons for Smith.


The musical chairs at the offensive coordinator position gave Smith four coordinators in as many years. After being injured in 2007, Smith publicly came out against Mike Nolan, who had hastily thrown him back into the lineup in an attempt to save his coaching job.


Before anyone criticizes Smith for this, how many of you would allow your future career to be ruined for the sake of your boss' job? Only a fool would allow that to happen.


For all of the 49er fans that want to throw Smith under the bus, please remember the 2006 season. With a competent offensive coordinator in Norv Turner, Smith showed significant improvement from his rookie season.


Partly because of the success with Smith and the 49er offense, Turner was hired by the San Diego Chargers to be their new head coach.


Now that the 49ers roster is starting to resemble that of an NFL team, it is possible that Smith could start to perform as he was expected to when he was drafted.


But for all of you that scream, “But he's never played like that in the past!,” I counter with, “Neither had Drew Brees before 2004 and Kurt Warner before 1999!”


Of the players currently on the roster, Shaun Hill appears to be the most likely to succeed at quarterback for the 49ers.


Hill played well at the end of the 2007 and in 2008 after J.T. O'Sullivan was benched by Mike Singletary in his first game as head coach.


Arguably Hill's most impressive game was week 16 against the Rams. The game had been a disaster for Hill, who threw three picks through the first three quarters of the game. On the verge of being benched, Singletary and Mike Martz relented to Hill's plea to stay in the game.


The decision to stay with Hill paid off. He rallied the 49ers from a 13-point deficit in the fourth quarter.


The first 49er touchdown came with 4:08 left in the game, a three-yard completion to Isaac Bruce. It was Bruce's 1,000 career reception, and it occurred at the home of his former team.


Hill's 48-yard pass to Josh Morgan put the 49ers ahead for good with 1:22 left on the clock. The win was huge for the 49ers, as it avoided a humiliating loss to the Rams, and gave Singletary's efforts to secure the head coaching job a huge boost.


The game demonstrated that Hill could come back from adversity, and lead his team to victory in the fourth quarter.


Shaun Hill is now 7-3 as the 49ers starter, the most successful quarterback the team has had since Pro Bowler Jeff Garcia.


The wild card on the roster is O'Sullivan. This suggestion will no doubt elicit much criticism and consternation, because of the many sacks, fumbles, and interceptions given up in his short time as starter.


Admittedly, O'Sullivan was downright dreadful at times this past season.


However, Mike Martz thought highly enough of him to bring him to San Francisco. Martz has proven himself to be a good judge of quarterbacks over the years. The 49ers should re-sign O'Sullivan if they can do it for relatively little money.


If the 49ers decide to sign Kurt Warner or draft Mark Sanchez or Matt Stafford, they will be taking an expensive gamble. The gamble might backfire, and eat-up a lot of cap money in the process.


Before they decide to gamble, the 49ers should take a hard look at their roster, because the quarterback they are looking for may already be on the roster.