49ers add QB Josh Johnson; claiming Baker Mayfield would be a ‘surprise’

by 24USATVDec. 6, 2022, 5:01 a.m. 17
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On Monday, about 23 hours after Kyle Shanahan had looked stricken when telling reporters quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo ’s season was over, the San Francisco 49ers head coach could joke about his team’s less-than-ideal situation at the NFL’s most important position.

Asked if any prominent retired players had reached out to the 49ers, Shanahan referenced the best QBs in franchise history.

“We’re still waiting on Joe (Montana) to call,” said Shanahan, who was then asked about Steve Young. “I’m definitely ready for Steve. I think he could still run it. Let’s do it.”

The Hall of Famers with the combined age of 127, of course, aren’t coming to the rescue. And it appears the 49ers aren’t poised to add any other QBs whose signing would create headlines after Garoppolo suffered a broken foot in the first quarter of a 33-17 win over the Dolphins.

Instead, they will apparently forge ahead with a QB who has barely played, rookie starter Brock Purdy, and a just-signed backup who has played for more teams (14) than any player in NFL history, Josh Johnson, 36.

“It is a big deal,” Shanahan said of losing Garoppolo after season-opening starter Trey Lance suffered a season-ending broken ankle in Week 2. “I do also believe our team is built for this.”

The 49ers signed Johnson, an Oakland native, off the Broncos’ practice squad Monday. But Shanahan indicated they don’t have interest in adding a bigger-name QB, Baker Mayfield, the No. 1 pick in 2018 whose release by the Panthers on Monday inspired widespread speculation the 49ers would try to claim him off waivers.

Mayfield, who went 1-5 as Carolina’s starter, requested his release after he was recently benched. Mayfield’s passer rating (74.4) and completion percentage (57.8) rank 32nd among the NFL’s 33 qualifying QBs.

They 49ers have done their due diligence on Mayfield, a league source said. Based on Shanahan’s response, their digging into the QB won’t inspire a waiver claim. However, the possibility was still being discussed as of Monday night, a source familiar with the situation said.

“That would surprise me right now,” Shanahan said. “We have to discuss more this afternoon. I’ve always been a fan of his, but I feel real good about our players. We’ll look into everything, but I’m pretty good with where we’re at right now.”

If the 49ers did have interest, it’s possible they wouldn’t be able to add Mayfield. The league’s waiver-claim priority is based on the reverse order of the current league standing. The 49ers (8-4) are 24th in the claiming order.

The apparent decision to pass on Mayfield is at least partly tied to Purdy’s encouraging fill-in performance against Miami (8-4), which had won five straight. The seventh-round pick completed 25 of 37 passes for 210 yards with two touchdown passes and an interception (88.8 rating), earning a chorus of praise for his poise and confidence.

“I love his mindset,” pass rusher Nick Bosa said. “He’s super tough. He’s not afraid to make mistakes. He gets playmakers the ball. He’s our guy now, so we have to roll.”

The 49ers are poised to roll with Johnson as Purdy’s backup partly because he has familiarity with Shanahan’s offense. Johnson had a seventh-month stint with the team that began with him spending the final seven games of 2020 on their practice squad.

Johnson is starting his fourth stint with the 49ers. He was also with the team in 2012 and 2014 when Jim Harbaugh, his coach at the University of San Diego, was the 49ers’ head coach.

Johnson made the last of his nine career starts with the Ravens in 2021. He completed 28 of 40 passes for 304 yards with two touchdowns and an interception in a 41-21 loss to the Bengals in Week 16.

“We like the player, but more importantly, we really like the guy,” Shanahan said. “I think that’s why he has been around for so long and so many places continue to bring him back because he is a natural leader. Guys like playing with him, guys like playing around him, and he has a skillset that can go in and give you a chance to win.”

Briefly: Defensive tackle Hassan Ridgeway suffered a strained pectoral against the Dolphins that will sideline him for six to eight weeks. … Safety Tarvarius Moore has a knee sprain that will sideline him multiple weeks. … Bosa’s practice workload will be managed this week after he had “hamstring irritation” after Sunday’s game.

Eric Branch covers the 49ers for The San Francisco Chronicle. Email: [email protected] Twitter: @Eric_Branch

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