QB hunting: 49ers on lookout for FA backup?

Mike Nolan has dropped more than a few subtle hints that the 49ers would like to bring in an established veteran quarterback this year to help guide and mentor Alex Smith while also providing some insurance behind the youngster. The most likely route of finding that veteran is through free agency, and there certainly will be some candidates available that fit those requirements. Here, we go around the NFL to get analysis from beat writers covering some of the top QBs slated for free agency.

--- Detroit Lions QB Jeff Garcia is an intriguing possibility for San Francisco because of his previous connections to the 49ers. Garcia has a winning background and would be a veteran willing to sit behind Smith and help him. Garcia suffered a broken left leg in the final exhibition game in 2005, was rushed back prematurely and floundered in five starts. He won just one game, threw three touchdown passes and was intercepted six times - including the ball that was returned for a touchdown in a 19-13 overtime loss to the Bears that many consider the turning point of Detroit's disappointing season. It appears highly unlikely Garcia - approaching his 35th birthday and coming off his second consecutive disappointing season - will be back in Detroit. He's on the downside of his career, but the 49ers aren't looking for somebody to step in ahead of Smith.

--- San Diego Chargers QB Drew Brees probably will get what he has long sought: a long-term deal to keep him in San Diego. Brees didn't have as good a season as the previous year when he was selected to the Pro Bowl and was named the NFL's Comeback Player of the Year. But he was pretty solid (24 touchdown passes, 15 interceptions). Brees had a labrum tear fixed in his throwing shoulder after he dislocated the shoulder in the season finale. He is expected to be ready for training camp. A possible trade for Brees was a hot topic for the 49ers last year before they drafted Smith, but they have no need for him now - or any place for him within their roster structure.

--- Arizona Cardinals QB Kurt Warner is an unrestricted free agent and coming off a season-ending MCL injury that did not require surgery. The team appears prepared to try to sign him back, but if it does, it has to find a strong backup because of Warner's recent history of injuries. When healthy, Warner appeared to still have some good football left in him. If Warner would be willing to sit behind Smith and mentor him - he wasn't willing to do that behind Eli Manning in New York in 2004 - Warner could be a viable candidate for the 49ers if he does not re-sign with the Cardinals.

--- Cincinnati Bengals QB Jon Kitna will likely be allowed to test the unrestricted free agent market, and Nolan is known to be highly enamored with his ability and character. There's a sense that the Bengals have to sacrifice too much of their downfield passing game when Kitna is in the game, so they might not be as keen on keeping him around as they've been in the past, particularly with the way Carson Palmer has developed as the starter. Kitna might be back, but he won't get a huge raise from his $1 million base. If the 49ers are interested, they will have plenty of competition for Kitna's services.

--- Arizona Cardinals QB Josh McCown becomes an unrestricted free agent and does not appear to be in the Cardinals' plans. He may also feel that he has been jacked around by the franchise and prefer to try somewhere else. He'll be looking for an opportunity to play, however, and he isn't exactly the kind of veteran the 49ers are looking for to help Smith.

--- Pittsburgh Steelers QB Charlie Batch is expected re-sign to be the No. 2 quarterback behind Ben Roethlisberger. The Steelers will likely release quarterback Tommy Maddox, who dropped to third on the depth chart. Maddox could fill the role the 49ers are looking for, but that is subject to debate.

--- Tampa Bay Buccaneers QB Chris Simms showed tremendous promise and upside in going 5-1 in the NFC South and leading the team to a division title. Simms is a restricted free agent and the Bucs would like to sign him to a long-term deal. But injured starter Brian Griese, who went 5-1 before going down, is owed a $2.6 million roster bonus in March and his salary cap figure increases to more than $7 million. Griese still seems a bit high profile to come to San Francisco as a backup - he still appears to have some quality days as a starter left in him - but he'd provide a proven No. 2 while Smith develops.

--- Baltimore Ravens QB Anthony Wright is not expected to return as the backup. He became the starter after Kyle Boller went down with a toe injury in the season opener, but he didn't come close to matching his form in 2003 when he took the Ravens to the playoffs. The 49ers appear to be looking for a QB who has more proven seasons of performance behind him.

--- Miami Dolphins QB Sage Rosenfels received the most playing time of his five-year NFL career in 2005 with mixed results. He bombed in a November start against Cleveland but rebounded in a relief role in December by guiding Miami to victories over Buffalo and the New York Jets. Rosenfels is likely to depart via free agency, and - though he's hardly a premier talent - he could fit in well as a veteran behind Smith who could be counted upon to perform if called upon.

Niners Digest Top Stories