Quarterback Matt Schaub had the best season of his 13-year career when Kyle Shanahan ran the offense in Houston.
So did former Washington quarterback Robert Griffin III and current Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan. Quarterback Brian Hoyer got the Browns off to a 7-4 start – and sole possession of first place in their division – when Shanahan was Cleveland’s offensive coordinator in 2014.
All of which points to what the 49ers find most attractive about hiring Shanahan as their next head coach: He has worked with an array of quarterbacks over the past decade and squeezed production out of most of them.
A synopsis of Shanahan’s QB résumé:
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▪ Houston offensive coordinator, 2008-09: Shanahan became the youngest coordinator in the league at age 28 in 2008. The following year, Schaub finished with career highs in passing yards (4,770), touchdowns (29) and passer rating (98.6) and was voted to the Pro Bowl for the first time.
▪ Washington offensive coordinator, 2010-13: Working under his head-coach father, Mike, Shanahan had little success with Donovan McNabb and Rex Grossman, then went to the playoffs with rookie Griffin in 2012. Griffin accounted for 27 touchdowns (running and passing combined) and finished with a 102.4 passer rating, by far the highest of his career. Of course, he also was exposed to a lot of big hits on quarterback runs, was injured and, as with the Shanahans, his career in Washington ended poorly. Kyle Shanahan also helped draft Kirk Cousins in the fourth round the same year Griffin was taken in the first.
▪ Cleveland offensive coordinator, 2014. Shanahan got good production out of Hoyer early in the season. But, perhaps at the direction of the Browns’ front office, Cleveland started rookie Johnny Manziel late in the season. Shanahan left after just year with Browns reportedly because of disagreements over Manziel.
▪ Atlanta offensive coordinator, 2015-present: Ryan was a very good quarterback and the Falcons were a quality team before Shanahan arrived. Since? The quarterback had his best year in 2016 and the Falcons are favored to represent the NFC in the upcoming Super Bowl.
The 49ers, meanwhile, are starting from scratch at head coach, general manager and possibly quarterback.
They have just one quarterback, Colin Kaepernick, signed for the upcoming season, but he’s due to earn $15 million and could be released because of that. Alternatively, Kaepernick can opt out of his deal and test free agency in March.
San Francisco easily could re-sign any combination of Blaine Gabbert, Thaddeus Lewis and Christian Ponder – each is scheduled for free agency – but none is considered the long-term starter.
It’s notable that some of the passers cited above will be free agents in March. That includes Schaub, 35, who is one of Shanahan’s backup quarterbacks in Atlanta, and Hoyer, 31, who was the Bears’ backup quarterback this past season. He started five games and had a 98.0 passer rating before his season ended because of a broken left arm.
The most prominent soon-to-be free-agent is Cousins, who finished third in the NFL this season – between Ryan and Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers – with 4,917 passing yards. Washington and Cousins could not work out a long-term deal a year ago, and the team retained him via the franchise tag. The scenario could be in play this year.
If so, the 49ers would have to part with two first-round picks to pry Cousins loose. With glaring needs at wide receiver, inside linebacker, pass rusher and backup running back in addition to quarterback, the 49ers presumably would be loath to part with those picks.
But if Cousins somehow makes it to the free-agent market without the franchise tag? There would be a lot of interest from teams that a) need a quarterback and b) have scads of salary cap space.
The 49ers have both, and it seems likely that they’ll also have c) an offensive-minded head coach who was in the draft room when Cousins was selected.