49ers free agency preview: Will team go QB shopping?

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How would you like to be John Lynch?

There he was watching the Super Bowl in a luxury suite, thinking the 49ers would win. He felt good. Must have assumed his job this offseason as 49ers general manager would be to keep the team together for a chance to repeat as Super Bowl champions. Easy.

Then the fourth quarter happened. Jimmy Garoppolo, the $137.5 million franchise quarterback, who had played so well most of the season, completed just three of 11 passes with an interception and the 49ers lost 31-20. Just when he needed to play like his mentor, Tom Brady, he couldn’t.

Now Lynch needs to change his entire approach to the offseason. He can’t stand pat. He needs to reload and improve the roster.

Not easy.

The 49ers currently have just $13 million in cap space, and soon must give contract extensions to George Kittle and DeForest Buckner, the two best players on the team. Meaning the 49ers may not be able to afford to re-sign some of their own free agents, such as Emmanuel Sanders, Jimmie Ward and Arik Armstead. The 49ers will have to get creative with their money.

Lynch could try to give Garoppolo a better supporting cast than the one he had in 2019. But the 49ers had an elite defense, an elite rushing attack, the best tight end in the league (Kittle), the best fullback in the league (Kyle Juszczyk) and a talented, ascending young wide receiver (Deebo Samuel). Hard to improve that group.

Lynch can hope Garoppolo will make big strides and play better in the fourth quarter of a Super Bowl next time he makes it back to the Super Bowl, if he ever makes it back. That’s a reasonable expectation. Garoppolo is 28 — not young — but last year was his first full season as a starting quarterback and he was coming off a torn ACL. He certainly might improve. Also, he might not.

Lynch doesn’t have to wait around and find out. He simply can trade Garoppolo back to the Patriots and sign Brady. Lynch must at least consider this move.

Brady is a free agent. He seems to want to leave the Patriots. They lost in the divisional round of the playoffs this year because Brady’s supporting cast on offense was no good. Rob Gronkowski retired, the run game struggled and the only legitimate weapon was Julian Edelman, who will turn 34 in May.

If Brady wants to win another Super Bowl, he needs to leave New England. And what team can offer Brady a better chance to win a Super Bowl than the 49ers? No team. Plus, he’s from San Mateo and his parents still live in the Bay Area. There’s a real chance he’ll want to come to the 49ers.

Is there a real chance the 49ers would want Brady?

He’s 42 and probably has only two seasons left in his career. If he joins the 49ers and fails to win a Super Bowl, the 49ers would regret trading Garoppolo. High stakes.

But if the 49ers had Brady instead of Garoppolo in 2019, they probably would have won the Super Bowl. Brady most likely would have played better in the fourth quarter against the Chiefs and led the game-winning drive. That’s what Brady does. He’s the greatest quarterback of his era. He has six Super Bowl rings. He doesn’t crumble during crunch time. He can show Kyle Shanahan how to manage the clock and close out victories — Shanahan’s biggest weaknesses. Brady fills in all the 49ers’ blanks.

If the 49ers trade Garoppolo, they will create $22.4 million in cap space and probably acquire a first- or second-round draft pick. The 49ers currently don’t have a second- or third-round pick for 2020. Trading Garoppolo would help the 49ers reload the rest of the roster.

But if they trade him, he could have a long, special career somewhere else, long after Brady has retired.

Tough decision.

The 49ers were in a similar position eight years ago. They lost a heart-breaking NFC championship game to the Giants when return specialist Kyle Williams fumbled twice. The 49ers felt they had the best team in the NFL and would win the Super Bowl the following season. So when they had the opportunity to sign Peyton Manning that offseason, they considered making the move but didn’t follow through. They stuck with Alex Smith and Colin Kaepernick. And they never won a Super Bowl, although they came close.

Broncos general manager John Elway signed Manning instead, and Denver won the Super Bowl in 2016. This was by far the best move of Elway’s career as an executive.

Elway mentored Lynch. Allowed Lynch to sit next to him during the 2013 draft. They’re close friends. Lynch probably will ask Elway for advice about Brady.

What do you think Elway would say?

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