SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- If you want to copy the blueprint of most successful NFL franchises, it starts with football's version of a holy trinity: a head coach, a general manager and a quarterback.
After hiring Kyle Shanahan as coach and John Lynch as general manager, the San Francisco 49ers hope they have found their solution for the first two. Now, their attention turns to finding the third and perhaps most important piece, the quarterback.
About a month from now, Colin Kaepernick, the only quarterback the team currently has under contract for 2017, probably will cease to have that designation when he's expected to opt out of his deal. When he does, he'll join Blaine Gabbert, Thad Lewis and Christian Ponder as free agents. With Shanahan and Lynch taking over, there's no guarantee that any of them will be back, though it also can't be ruled out.
Which means there's likely a full-blown makeover coming to the Niners' quarterbacks room. As you'd expect, even before Shanahan officially signed on for the job, there were plenty of rumors and reports connecting the 49ers to various quarterbacks around the league. That speculation is only expected to heat up in the days, weeks and months to come.
It's too early to pinpoint which direction Shanahan wants to go, especially since he hasn't even had time to evaluate the various college prospects yet. But, yes, there will be options on the trade and free-agent market that could make sense as short and long-term options of Shanahan's Niners. There will be no shortage of competition, though as teams like the Cleveland Browns, Chicago Bears, New York Jets, Houston Texans, Buffalo Bills and Denver Broncos could be in the market for immediate starters, with others like the San Diego Chargers and Arizona Cardinals possibly looking for future solutions.
Keeping in mind there's a very real chance the Niners will (and have to) bring in more than one quarterback, here's a look at some of the options they'll have to consider over the next few months:
Kirk Cousins: This is one that probably won't vanish anytime soon, because Shanahan was in place and a fan of Cousins when he was Washington's offensive coordinator. It's also probably the most difficult and expensive move to make. Cousins played on the franchise tag a year ago and the Redskins are likely to use it again to prevent him from leaving without compensation. That doesn't mean the Niners couldn't facilitate a deal with Washington, but it would cost a lot of draft capital and even more on a long-term contract. And remember, Cousins had his two best seasons (2015 and 2016) after Shanahan departed for Atlanta.
Matt Schaub: Like Cousins, Shanahan and Schaub have a history, having worked together in Houston and Atlanta. ESPN's Adam Schefter reported last weekend that Shanahan would like to bring Schaub with him to San Francisco, presumably as a steady hand to help guide young quarterbacks in understanding Shanahan's scheme. Schaub is a free agent and wouldn't cost a lot to bring on board.
Jimmy Garoppolo: Garoppolo is under contract for one more year with the Patriots, meaning it would take a trade to acquire him. It's been reported that the Patriots will seek a first-round pick for him, though perhaps something could be worked out if that price isn't met. Either way, Garoppolo won't come cheap and would also come with a fairly large price tag for a contract extension. Garoppolo has only started two games and though he played well, giving up valuable draft picks and a lucrative contract would come with more inherent risk than other alternatives.
Jay Cutler: Cutler played for Shanahan's father Mike in Denver after the Broncos selected him in the first round of the 2006 NFL draft, and Lynch has spoken highly of Cutler's arm talent in the past. At 33, Cutler is what he is at this point but would offer more upside as a bridge quarterback to the next starter than someone like Schaub. He also might not cost as much to obtain if the Bears cut him loose, a move that would save Chicago $13 million worth of cap space. The Bears also need help at quarterback, though, so they might not be inclined to let him go without at least getting something in return.
Brian Hoyer: Hoyer would make sense in a role similar to the one described for Schaub above. It wouldn't make much sense to bring in both but like Schaub, Hoyer has experience playing for Shanahan and the duo even had some success together in Cleveland. He'd also make a good mentor for a younger quarterback or two and could even be a bridge starter if need be.
Mike Glennon: Glennon is an intriguing case because he's actually started 18 games in his career and thrown for 30 touchdowns against 15 interceptions. At 6-foot-6, Glennon is the type of pure pocket passer Shanahan supposedly covets, though he's only completed 59.4 percent of his career passes. Glennon isn't likely a franchise solution, but he profiles as the type Shanahan might be able to elevate to solid starter status.
A drafted rookie: Again, Shanahan hasn't even had a chance to evaluate this year's draft class and until he does, he won't be able to determine the direction he wants to go at the position for the long-term. The Niners own the No. 2 overall pick, which means they should have their pick of quarterbacks if there's one they really like. The early read on this draft class is that there won't be a signal-caller worth taking that high, though North Carolina's Mitch Trubisky, Clemson's Deshaun Watson and Notre Dame's DeShone Kizer have been mentioned as possibilities in media circles. The Niners could also wait until the middle rounds to find someone Shanahan believes he could develop while using their top pick to get the best player available. Either way, it's a safe bet the Niners will spend a pick on a quarterback at some point.