On Oct. 28, 2018, C.J. Beathard had the 49ers set to win at Arizona, until Cardinals rookie quarterback Josh Rosen threw a go-ahead, last-minute touchdown pass.
On Saturday, Beathard makes his first start since then, and, in an ironic twist, Rosen will be his backup, in, of all places, Arizona against the host Cardinals.
The 49ers officially signed Rosen on Wednesday, having poached him off the Tampa Bay Buccaneers practice squad a day earlier.
He signed a one-year deal, not a multi-year pact that would create more intrigue.
So it’s Beathard-Rosen left on the depth chart because the 49ers can’t go to Jimmy Garoppolo (cleared to practice but not play), Nick Mullens (elbow) and practice-squad veteran Josh Johnson (COVID-19 reserve list).
Don’t get hyped up about possibly seeing Rosen, or how he’ll have a two-week audition for a 2021 role.
Heck, Kyle Shanahan had Garoppolo sit a whole month before letting him debut in mostly freestyle fashion in December 2017.
No, this is Beathard’s time to show how he’s matured in two seasons on the bench. This is his just reward. He’s split practice reps with Mullens for years, unable to pass him on the depth chart.
Along the way, Beathard emboldened himself in teammates’ hearts, from filling in where needed on the scout team such as at safety, to courageously coping with last December’s murder of his youngest brother, Clayton.
As much as Shanahan and teammates respect Beathard, two areas of improvement must be shown as he steps back under center: Turnovers and pocket awareness.
Beathard showed too often his first two seasons he could take a hit and get back up, all while going 1-9 as a bridge starter in 2017 and ’18.
“I feel like he, in an unfair way, gets judged about what he did his first and second years in the league,” fullback Kyle Juszczyk said. “It’s been a while since he’s had a chance to be that quarterback and have time to prepare. He’s a different player now. He’s matured a ton.”
More hits are coming, from what we’ve seen from this offensive line all season. Beathard needs to quicken his internal clock and get rid of the ball a split second or two faster than ever. Otherwise, turnovers are going to be an issue, just as they were for Mullens (12 interceptions, four lost fumbles) as he went 2-6 in place of Garoppolo (26 interceptions, five lost fumbles since ’17).
Rosen fits two traits of many 49ers: He’s a former first-round draft pick (now their 15th on this roster) and he’s a turnover machine. His 11 career touchdowns have been offset by 19 interceptions and five lost fumbles in 20 games (16 starts).
The 49ers are Rosen’s fourth team in 20 months. The Cardinals, who took him No. 10 in 2018, shipped him to Miami upon drafting Kyler Murray No. 1, and the Dolphins dumped him prior to this season upon committing to first-round pick Tua Tagovailoa and Ryan Fitzpatrick.
Could the 49ers be Rosen’s team in 2021? Could they be Garoppolo’s, Beathard’s, and a rehabilitating Mullens’? Could a veteran castoff and/or a high draft pick enter the picture?
Theories and speculation will run rampant for many more months. The 49ers set the gold standard in quarterback controversies with Joe Montana and Steve Young 30 years ago. Until a 26-year Super Bowl drought ends, the hunt for quarterback royalty will continue.