SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- Whether or not he wanted to make a change at quarterback, San Francisco 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan has no choice but to turn to third-stringer C.J. Beathard for Saturday's game against the Arizona Cardinals.
That's because Beathard is the only healthy quarterback on the active roster. Desperate for a quarterback to back him up, the 49ers are signing Josh Rosen off the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' practice squad, sources tell ESPN's Adam Schefter and Field Yates.
Beathard's return to the starting lineup comes almost a year to the day after his brother Clayton was stabbed to death outside a bar in Nashville, Tennessee.
"To go through what he did last year and then to go right into quarantine and to come right to us with the season, I know it's been a huge challenge for him," Shanahan said. "And I'm excited he's going to get an opportunity this week. I have got as much respect for C.J. as anyone I've ever been with as a person and as a player, and it's going to be fun working with him this week."
Shanahan said Tuesday that quarterback Nick Mullens is dealing with a right elbow injury that could require Tommy John surgery and will cost him the final two games of the season. Team doctors are waiting for the swelling to go down in Mullens' elbow before determining the severity of the injury and what surgery will be required.
Complicating matters was Tuesday's news that practice squad quarterback Josh Johnson has been placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list, with a source telling ESPN's Adam Schefter that he tested positive for the virus. That means he can't be activated in time for Saturday's game.
And while the Niners opened the 21-day practice window for starter Jimmy Garoppolo to return from the high ankle sprain that landed him on injured reserve, it's unlikely that Garoppolo will play in either of the final two games.
"Right now, he's safe to go out to practice, which we're only having a walk-through today, but it will be fun for him to throw the ball around a little bit," Shanahan said. "But we're going to be very safe with him this week. We'll see next week, but I'd be very surprised if that changes."
Because of the NFL's COVID-19 protocols that require players to go through a six-day testing period before they can be activated, the Niners can't sign a quarterback off the street, leaving them with just the option of signing a quarterback off another team's practice squad.
Rosen was taken by the Cardinals with the 10th overall pick in the 2018 draft and traded to the Miami Dolphins in 2019 as Arizona selected Kyler Murray No. 1 overall. The Dolphins released Rosen in September and he was later signed by the Bucs for their practice squad.
Rosen has made 16 career starts and appeared in 20 regular-season games overall, throwing for 2,845 yards with 12 touchdowns and 19 interceptions while completing 54.8% of his pass attempts.
Elsewhere on the injury front, the 49ers are once again dealing with a rash of ailments. Running back Raheem Mostert will not play in the final two weeks as he deals with an aggravation of the high ankle sprain that has plagued him for most of the season's second half.
Cornerback Richard Sherman is dealing with calf soreness again and is considered day-to-day, according to Shanahan. Free safety Jimmie Ward (concussion protocol) and defensive tackle Javon Kinlaw (knee) were also among those expected not to practice Tuesday. Receiver Deebo Samuel has been ruled out for the rest of the season with a hamstring injury.
Tight end George Kittle, meanwhile, does have a chance to return against the Cardinals. Kittle has been out with a fractured foot since Nov. 1 and opened his practice window last week.
Shanahan said Tuesday that Kittle has "got a chance this week" and noted that if Kittle makes it through the week without any issues, he plans to play him. Asked why Kittle would play despite the Niners being eliminated from postseason contention, Shanahan said it was a matter of fairness to the locker room.
"Obviously, I don't want to get George hurt or anything like that, and that's why we're going to be overly cautious with it and that's why we have been," Shanahan said. "But if someone is 100 percent healthy, I can't look the rest of the team in the eye and tell them they have to play but George doesn't. That's part of having a team and treating people the right way."