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Ex-NFL GM Weighs in on 49ers’ Sam Darnold vs. Jimmy Garoppolo Preference

Now that Sam Darnold is officially a member of the San Francisco 49ers, with the team announcing his signing on Thursday, March 16, after agreeing to a deal on March 13, according to ESPN Senior NFL Insider Adam Schefter, talent evaluators have begun to discuss how he fits in Kyle Shanahan’s offense. In the opinion of Randy Mueller, the former NFL GM-turned-Heavy contributor, Darnold’s fit is so good that Shanahan might actually prefer to have the USC product under contract than the quarterback who just left San Francisco, Jimmy Garoppolo.

“I think if you asked Kyle Shanahan, gave him a little truth serum if he would rather have Jimmy G or Sam Darnold, he would say Sam Darnold,” Mueller said. “He’s getting one for what, $5 million a year, and he’s letting one go for $25 million a year, so I think the 49ers would say they got the best in that deal. Now, time will tell, but I think it’s an interesting signing, I think it’s an excellent signing, I don’t think Sam Darnold’s time in Carolina is gonna be held against him, I think that offense was somewhat of a mess, I think his time in New York was a mess, so I still think there’s some tread on the Sam Darnold tire and going in there with Brock Purdy, going in there with Trey Lance, it’s really a strong room, in my opinion, and I wouldn’t be shocked if Darnold gets some reps next year with the 49ers.

“So I like the get. I’m surprised Sam committed this early in the process, especially on a one-year deal. I’m assuming, being a California kid, this makes it make sense for everyone, but I’m surprised he didn’t play the game of free agency a little longer and end up somewhere else, maybe for more money. But like I said, maybe there’s some intangibles here that make the deal make sense for everyone.”

With Lance currently recovering from a pair of ankle surgeries and Purdy unable to throw until June and questionable for Week 1 of the 2023 NFL season, according to Jeff Howe and Matt Barrows of The Athletic, Darnold is the only quarterback on the 49ers’ roster who is currently healthy and will likely earn plenty of looks during training camp as “Mr. Irrelevant” recovers. Factor in his self-proclaimed comparability to his new peers, and it sounds like Darnold is very happy with the intangibles of his new team.

Former #NFL GM @RandyMueller_ & @BoyGreen25 break down the biggest surprises of free agency + Aaron Rodgers negotiations between the #Packers & #Jets 👀

— Heavy Sports (@HeavyOnSports) March 16, 2023

Sam Darnold Fits in the San Francisco 49ers’ QB Room

Taking questions from the media after signing his contract with the 49ers, Darnold let it be known that he thinks he’s a very good fit in a locker room alongside Lance and Purdy due to their overlapping offensive skill sets.

“I’m very familiar with their games,” Darnold said per the team. “I feel like all three of us are pretty similar. We have the ability to get out and make plays when we need to, and we can also throw from pocket. I see a lot of similarities in all three of our games, and I’m just excited to work with them and meet them as soon as possible.”

While some fans might not think of Darnold as a mobile quarterback, he has rushed for 745 yards and 12 touchdowns during his professional career and can be effective at extending plays with his legs. If Shanahan wants to continue to run the occasional read-option and incorporate play action into his offensive play design, Darnold fits that bill much better than, say, Matt Ryan, another quarterback the Niners were linked to during the offseason.

Sam Darnold is Excited to Reunite With Christian McCaffrey

Though they spent the winter apart, Darnold and Christian McCaffrey actually shared a locker room for the better part of two years as teammates, with the duo starting alongside each other for much of the 2021 season for the Carolina Panthers. Asked about playing alongside “Run CMC” once more, Darnold was incredibly excited about the prospects of a team-up in the state where they both played college football.

“Christian is a great dude,” Darnold said. “We became good friends in Carolina, and, obviously, created a really good bond with Coach Wilks as throughout the last half of the season. I’m excited to be able to work with Christian again and, obviously with Coach Wilks. I don’t know if I can say ‘I’m excited’ enough during this press conference, but yeah, I’m excited to get to work.”

Will the 49ers find more success in 2023 than the Panthers did over Darnold and McCaffrey’s shared tenure in Carolina? Well, considering the 49ers won more games in 2022 than the Panthers did in 2021 and 2022 combined, things are certainly pointed in the right direction.

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