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Grant Cohn: 49ers will need a QB in 2017 — here’s what they need to do

Yesterday, I gave you Part 1 of my four-part series on rebuilding the 49ers from the perspective of Eliot Wolf, the leading GM candidate. This is Part 2.

CHOOSING THE RIGHT QUARTERBACK

After Wolf hires his head coach, those two will decide who should be their starting quarterback in 2017? Should they draft a starting quarterback, keep Colin Kaepernick as their starter or cut him and sign someone else?

The most attractive option is the first one — drafting a starting quarterback. The Niners own the No. 2 pick this year, and most experts predict the No. 1 pick will be a defensive end — Myles Garrett. Meaning the Niners could pick whichever quarterback they want.

Wouldn't it be nice to pick a player like Andrew Luck, Jameis Winston, Peyton Manning, Troy Aikman or John Elway and not worry about the position for 15 years?

Unfortunately, in this year's draft there is no Luck or Elway. No obvious future franchise quarterback. Just a bunch of projects and a couple guys who may be solid starters — Mitch Trubisky from North Carolina and Deshaun Watson from Clemson. Should the 49ers take a chance on one of them with the No. 2 pick?

Here's something to consider: Quarterbacks who were taken after the No. 1 pick but still were the top quarterback selected in that particular draft have had very little success in the NFL. Quarterbacks such as Blake Bortles, E.J. Manuel, Chad Pennington, Tony Banks and Dan McGwire.

In each case, teams drafted those guys higher than their talent merited simply because those teams needed quarterbacks. They reached. And in each case, those teams fired their head coaches no more than three seasons later.

Reaching and missing for a quarterback in the first round is how you set back a franchise for years. Wolf is too smart to make that mistake.

I doubt Wolf would take a quarterback before Round 4 this year. I think he will wait a year or two before he tries to draft his franchise quarterback.

That's what his former colleagues did. I'm talking Raiders GM Reggie McKenzie and Seahawks GM John Schneider. Those two worked with Wolf in Green Bay. They share the same philosophy.

McKenzie waited until his third season in Oakland to draft Derek Carr. And Schneider waited until his third season in Seattle to draft Russell Wilson. Both GMs spent two years building up their rosters so the quarterbacks they eventually drafted would join talented teams and have greater odds of success. I think that's the approach Wolf will take. The patient approach.

But that doesn't answer my original question — who should be the 49ers' starting quarterback in 2017?

Let's look at Wolf's colleagues for clues.

When McKenzie took over the Raiders, he kept the starting quarterback from the previous regime — Carson Palmer. Kept him one more season. And when Schneider took over the Seahawks, he also kept the starting quarterback from the previous regime — Matt Hasselbeck. Kept him one more season.

That means Wolf would keep Kaepernick, right?

I doubt it. And here's why. Kaepernick is different than those quarterbacks. The difference is his attitude. It's bad and it's infectious and it doesn't help his team win.

Jed York says he wants to change the 49ers' culture. Well, the culture can't change as long as Kaepernick is on the team. He's one of the players who created the culture that accepts losing. One of the players who laughs in the locker room after humiliating defeats. One of the players who acts as if football is trivial in the grand scheme of things. He's the 49ers' problem.

Kaepernick probably would be the first player Wolf would cut.

So, the starting quarterback in 2017 probably would be someone Wolf will sign. But, whom would he sign? Who's available?

Before I give you a name, I'll give you some hints.

The quarterback Wolf probably would sign is 33 years old, and has played for two teams. He has a cannon for an arm and a quick release and great footwork, he has thrown 208 touchdown passes and 146 interceptions in his career, he's a former first-round pick, he missed most of the 2016 season due to an injury and he's not yet a free agent but most likely will get released during the next two months.

Figure it out yet?

The answer is Jay Cutler. Wolf knows him well. Worked in the same division as him. Saw him play the Packers 13 times the past eight seasons. Understands his strengths and weaknesses.

Cutler has the physical skills to be as good as he wants. But, he needs to improve his decision making. His choice processes. And an offensive coach like Sean McVay could help Cutler in this area. That's what McVay does. That's his specialty.

Cutler could be the Niners' starting quarterback for a season or two until Wolf eventually drafts his replacement. Cutler would be the bridge. He'd be perfect in that role.

Stay tuned for Part 3 where I examine Wolf's strategy in free agency.

Grant Cohn writes sports columns and the 'Inside the 49ers' blog for The Press Democrat's website. You can reach him at grantcohn@gmail.com.

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