Week 1 starter: Bulger? Hasselbeck? Johnson?

Due to space constraints, this item in today’s newspaper on quarterbacks who have been connected (however loosely) to the 49ers wasn’t fully developed. On the blog, however, I’m paid by the word so let’s take a more exhaustive approach (especially with April 15 looming and the Chevron on the corner charging $4.04 a gallon).

Now, perhaps you’ve heard — David Carr is the only quarterback presently on the Niners’ roster.

And regardless of what quarterback(s) are selected in the draft, there are no guarantees they’ll be off their training wheels by September, particularly given the lockout’s potential to drastically slow their learning curve.

With that in mind – and assuming Alex Smith heads elsewhere – one of the five quarterbacks below could start San Francisco’s next regular-season game.

Here’s a look:

Marc Bulger, Ravens (free agent)
Age (in September): 34
2009 stats (did not throw a pass in ’10): 140 of 247 (56.7), 1,469 yards, 5 TD, 6 INT, 70.7 rating
Career stats: 1,969 of 3,171 (62.1), 22,814 yards, 122 TD, 93 INT, 84.4 rating
The speculation: NFL Network’s Michael Lombardi wrote, “I would fully expect (the 49ers) to make a play for Bulger once the free-agent market opens.”
Why it makes sense: Harbaugh’s older brother, John, the Ravens’ head coach, cut quarterback Troy Smith in 2010 and went with two quarterbacks on his roster: Joe Flacco was the starter and Baltimore signed Bulger to a one-year, $3.8 million deal. Less than a year later, Jim Harbaugh evidently has also parted ways with Troy Smith. Will he also share his brother’s apparent belief in Bulger?
Why it doesn’t make sense: Bulger hasn’t thrown a pass in a regular-season game since Nov. 22, 2009. From 2007-09, when he was the starter for unsightly St. Louis teams that went 6-42, he threw 27 touchdowns, 34 interceptions and compiled a 70.9 rating. At this point in his career, does he need one more starting gig or a permanent clipboard?

Josh Johnson, Tampa Bay
Age (in September): 25
2010 stats: 14 of 16 (87.5), 111 yards, 0 TD, 0 INT, 95.6 QB rating
Career stats: 77 of 141 (54.6), 796 yards, 4 TD, 8 INT, 56.9 QB rating
The speculation: Pro Football Weekly floated a rumor that Harbaugh “could be interested” in the Bucs’ backup.
Why it makes sense: Harbaugh coached Johnson from 2004-06 at Division I-AA University of San Diego and was one of the few coaches to express much interest in the then-165-pound Johnson when he was a senior at Oakland Tech. In 2006, Johnson’s junior season, Harbaugh declared that he was the best quarterback in college football.
Why it doesn’t make sense: Is Johnson, a former fifth-round pick, starter material? In a four-game audition during his second year in 2009, he threw four TDs and eight INTs and was benched after compiling a 29.2 rating in a 35-7 home loss to the Patriots. In fairness, he was 23 years old. Then again, he was replaced by 21-year-old rookie Josh Freeman, who threw seven TDs and five INTs in his first four starts and is now considered one of the league’s best young quarterbacks.

Kevin Kolb, Eagles
Age (in September): 27
Stats in his seven career starts: 148 of 239 (61.9), 1,714 yards, 10 TD, 9 INT, 81.8 rating
The speculation: ESPN’s Adam Schefter wrote “every NFC West team except St. Louis has to consider (Kolb) and deal with the Eagles.”
Why it makes sense: Without an obvious franchise QB in the draft, Kolb is still young enough to be a quarterback of the future. He’s spent his first four seasons in a West Coast offense and has shown tantalizing flashes in his seven career starts.
Why it doesn’t make sense: The Eagles’ rumored asking price is supposedly quite steep. And Kolb’s new contract won’t be cheap either (he has one more year on his deal). Then there is the lockout. In the likely event the league year — complete with trades and free agency — doesn’t begin before the draft it would seem to make a post-draft trade for Kolb unlikely. The Niners will almost surely take a quarterback with one of their first two picks. Would they really want Ponder or Dalton or Kaepernick etc. waiting indefinitely behind Kolb?

Carson Palmer, Bengals
Age (in September): 31
2010 stats: 362 of 586 (61.8), 3,970 yards, 26 TD, 20 INT, 82.4 rating
Career stats: 2,024 of 3,217 (62.9), 22,694 yards, 154 TDs, 100 INT, 86.9 rating
The speculation: Sports Illustrated’s Peter King wrote that the Niners, Cardinals and Vikings would be the “leaders in the clubhouse” in the race for Palmer if those teams didn’t draft a quarterback in the first round or trade for Kolb.
Why it makes sense: Palmer has dealt with serious knee and elbow injuries, but he still has something left. In a Week 16 win against the Chargers, who were fighting for a playoff spot and had the league’s top-ranked pass defense, he had a career-high 157.2 passer rating in a performance eighth-year Bengals coach Marvin Lewis termed “as fine a game as he’s ever played here.” Palmer grew up in Southern California and his wife was raised in San Francisco.
Why it doesn’t make sense: If Cincinnati owner Mike Brown is to be believed, Palmer isn’t going anywhere. Brown has stated that he will not be trading his disgruntled quarterback. Beyond that sticking point, how much should a team give up for a quarterback who might repay them with endless ulcers? Palmer’s 20 interceptions last year ranked third in the NFL and five were returned for TDs.

Matt Hasselbeck, Seahawks (free agent)
Age (in September): turns 36 on Sept. 25
2010 stats: 266 of 444 (59.9), 3,001 yards, 12 TD, 17 INT, 73.2 rating
Career stats: 2,572 of 4,279 (60.1) 29,579 yards, 176 TD, 128 INT, 82.2 rating
The speculation:
Pro Football Weekly’s Dan Arkush wrote of the 49ers’ QB shopping, “It appears a far more likely option (than Kolb) could be … Hasselbeck … the Niners’ personnel staff is pretty familiar with Hasselbeck’s body of work.”
Why it makes sense:
No other QB on the market is more familiar with the intricacies of the West Coast offense than Hasselbeck, who has played in the system with the Seahawks since 2001.
Why it doesn’t make sense: It’s true that Hasselbeck has been playing in a WCO, but he hasn’t been playing particularly well lately. In the past three seasons, he’s thrown 34 TDs, 44 INTs, posted a 71.2 rating and missed 13 starts due to injuries. Of course, beggars can’t be choosers. Hasselbeck is arguably the best quarterback in a weak free-agent class. If it’s not Hasselbeck, it’s probably that guy in San Francisco. You know, what’s his name – Alex …

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