Few teams are positioned to compete for a championship in 2024 the way the San Francisco 49ers are. Fresh off a gut-wrenching overtime loss to the Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl LVIII, the Niners will return the majority of their star-studded roster to try and take it one step further next year.
Brock Purdy, Christian McCaffrey, Fred Warner, Deebo Samuel, Brandon Aiyuk, and George Kittle are already under contract for 2024, which means the core that brought the Niners to within an inch of their first Super Bowl win since 1995 is already in place.
The Niners don't have much cap room to play with, so much of their free agent maneuvering will be hunting for bargains and trying to keep their own important pieces in-house. Let's look at four players that general manager John Lynch should prioritize to give his team another chance at a title.
4) 49ers should sign Sam Darnold as insurance if anything happens to Brock Purdy
Though many fans and observers are reticent to give Brock Purdy credit for the 49ers' success, there's no denying that with him at quarterback, the team has been excellent. Purdy finished fourth in the MVP voting this year, and would have likely won the award if San Francisco's Week 16 game against Lamar Jackson and the Baltimore Ravens had gone differently.
Purdy is rightly entrenched as the team's starter heading into 2024, but the NFL has shown us time and again the value of having a competent backup. The 49ers saw that firsthand last season, when Purdy tore his UCL in the NFC Championship against the Eagles. Trey Lance and Jimmy Garoppolo were already out for the season with ankle and foot injuries, respectively, and recent signee Josh Johnson barely lasted any time at all before exiting with a concussion. The Niners had no options left but to put in a clearly compromised Purdy, which gave them no chance against a very good Eagles team.
Ironically, Lance and Garoppolo's injuries are what gave Purdy the chance to seize the starting job in the first place. Purdy's terrific play made Garoppolo expendable, and the Niners allowed him to walk to the Raiders when free agency hit last year. They then brought in Sam Darnold, and Darnold played well enough in the preseason to supplant Lance as the backup, leading to the trade that sent Lance to the Cowboys.
Darnold is known for disappointing with the Jets after being selected with the third-overall pick of the 2018 draft, and he didn't fare much better in Carolina, though to be fair, neither place is exactly known as a bastion of competence that allows quarterbacks to thrive.
Darnold came to the Niners on a one-year, $4.5 million deal this past offseason, and while he hasn't played much, he's clearly a better option than what San Francisco had before. Kyle Shanahan has been effusive in his praise for Darnold, and after playing in college for USC, the former Trojan is clearly comfortable in California.
Darnold is still only 26, but it's doubtful that teams would be interested in signing him to be their starter. With the chance to step in on a loaded offense and compete for a championship if Purdy went down, why then would he leave San Francisco? From the Niners' perspective, there's nobody out there that they would trust as much to be their backup after having Darnold in the building for a year, which makes this decision simple. Sign Darnold and rest easy knowing your quarterback room is in a good place.