Maybe the worst kept secret of the past offseason was that the San Francisco 49ers were in the market to upgrade the quarterback position. While Jimmy Garoppolo wasn’t abysmal, his inconsistency and the uncertainty surrounding his availability due to various injuries led head coach Kyle Shanahan to seek ways to help his team take the next step.
San Francisco explored the possibility of signing top-flight free agents and ultimately made the bold move to trade up to the No. 3 position in the 2021 NFL Draft. Some general managers around the League were infuriated with this trade because San Francisco gave up two first-round picks to move up a mere nine spots—effectively damaging the future trade market. After overpaying to move up to No. 3, there was no question they were selecting a quarterback. However, they successfully diverted the attention of prognosticators with their alleged infatuation with Mac Jones, which turned out to be smoke.
They did all of this to secure the guy they wanted all along: Trey Lance.
As it stands, the 49ers find themselves in a tough but somewhat enviable position. From the moment Lance was selected, Shanahan gave the company line. He said there would be no quarterback competition and that Garoppolo was the starter while Lance would serve as his backup—which was understandable because Lance had just turned 21 and had such a small sample size coming out of college, including playing only one game last season due to the pandemic.
Essentially, Lance was far from ready to take the helm. This was only solidified as there were reports out of San Francisco that during OTAs Lance looked rusty and uncertain, but also showed the traits that made him the No. 3 pick in the draft. Even Lance himself conceded that he wasn’t close to being ready to compete with Garoppolo for the starting position. However, a strange thing happened during the 40 days between OTAs and training camp.
Lance arrived with a purpose and a plan. During camp so far, Lance has been more impressive than anyone anticipated. His emergence has effectively thrown a monkey wrench into the quarterback competition. Lance has shown the ability to be a threat to the defense with his arms and legs. By all accounts, Lance has closed the gap considerably with Garoppolo, putting Shanahan in a difficult position.
Lance has wowed onlookers with his arm strength and his mental quickness as a processor. While those attributes are comparable to Garoppolo, the superior attribute that Lance possesses is his ability to move the chains with his legs. This makes Shanahan's offense considerably more dangerous. Athleticism is one of the attributes that Shanahan has always coveted in the position because It gives opposing defenses another element to account for.
So what will Shanahan do? Will he stick to his word about allowing Lance to develop as Garoppolo goes out and plays what will likely be some of his best football? Or, does he start the quest to develop the future quarterback of the franchise?
The answer is yes… on all accounts.
I believe Garoppolo will not only start the season but play some of the best football he’s ever played in the NFL. He believes he's a starting-caliber NFL quarterback but knows he won't get that chance in San Francisco—effectively beginning his audition for the other 31 teams. However, Lance will have a package in which his ability to run the football and effectively execute RPO concepts will not only be utilized but highlighted. I believe he will also be given the chance to throw the football in order to keep the defense honest.
I truly believe Shanahan wants to slowly incorporate him into the offense. However, if Garoppolo gets injured again or if his inconsistent play returns, the Trey Lance Era will begin sooner than anticipated. As a result, San Francisco could end up as the division winners in the most competitive division in the NFL, the NFC West.
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