The San Francisco 49ers quarterback competition must start now. If we’re being honest, it probably started this past Saturday.
Both Jimmy Garoppolo and Trey Lance have started off training camp hot. Saturday was the first day that Garoppolo failed to impress. On that same day, Lance exhibited the skills that made him the third-overall selection in the 2021 NFL Draft. 49ers Head Coach Kyle Shanahan called four read-option plays, all to varying degrees of success, none of them included Garoppolo. By sampling that which seduced them into dealing a boat-load of capital for the North Dakota star, Shanahan officially opened the window of opportunity for Lance.
The San Francisco 49ers Quarterback Competition Must Start Now
A lot has been written and said about Garoppolo. Take away all the narratives, disregard a horrendous fourth-quarter performance in Super Bowl LIV, and, in the one full season he played, Garoppolo was a very good quarterback. Whether you measure a quarterback by statistics, wins, or any other intangibles, Garoppolo succeeded in almost every way possible in 2019.
Except for where he was needed to succeed most. Despite that epic failure, Garoppolo is still a good option at quarterback. The 49ers would not have kept him around if they didn’t feel that way, his price tag is just too high. Heading into 2021, the 49ers, realistically, believe they have an opportunity to contend for a championship if they get a full, healthy season from their incumbent quarterback.
“If” is one of the more magical words of the English language. So fittingly comprised of only two letters. So effectively separating two possible outcomes relying upon the words that follow it. When Garoppolo is healthy, the 49ers are a legitimate contender. When Garoppolo isn’t healthy, they end up with a top-five draft pick. Some people’s ifs are just too big. Therefore, Trey Lance has entered the chat.
The 49ers are no longer in love with Garoppolo. Truth be told, they probably never really were. When trading for him in October 2017, it was little more than an experiment. The team was 0-8, half a season remained and the 49ers forked over a 2nd round pick to the New England Patriots for a promising, yet untested Garoppolo.
The trade paid immediate dividends and Garoppolo finished that season by winning every game he started and reigniting a downtrodden franchise. In doing so, he forced the organization to pay him a king’s bounty when he became a free agent in 2018. Everyone knows the rest of the story: a stellar 2019 was sandwiched between two injury-plagued seasons.
In 2021, the 49ers gave up much more for Lance than they did for Garoppolo. Many considered the sacrifice too great, but sometimes an ex makes what we’re looking for become all so clear. Lance possesses all the abilities that Garoppolo lacks. Following the trend of the dual-threat quarterback, Garoppolo is a proto-type from a bygone era.
While the 49er’s offensive line failed to protect Garoppolo in 2020, Lance offers the ability to make up for those deficiencies with his elite athleticism in 2021. In his first four seasons as 49ers play-caller, Shanahan rarely dialed up the deep ball, four days into training camp and Lance is landing deep shots to Deebo Samuel. Shanahan can’t help but marvel at all the new features on this quarterback 2.0.
Why the 49ers Quarterback Competition Starts Now
The NFL is an ever-evolving organism. Two weeks ago, we didn’t have four days of training camp to dissect. Two weeks ago, Peter King wasn’t singing the praises of Lance’s supreme talent and admirable dedication. Two weeks ago, Indianapolis Colts quarterback Carson Wentz didn’t need foot surgery and the Colts were confident with their quarterback room.
There are about six weeks left until the kickoff of the 2021 season and the 49ers have some soul searching to do. How good is Lance? How much do they want to rely on the experience of Garoppolo? If the former is better than the latter, should they make a call to an old trade partner and try to unload Garoppolo to the Colts?
On August 2nd, 2021, it’s not crazy to think this team’s best chance to win the Super Bowl is with a 29-year-old quarterback who was about 7 minutes away from winning Super Bowl LIV. Unfortunately for San Francisco, there’s much more to it than just that.
If Lance goes on to outperform Garoppolo in camp, Shanahan will have to recall back the very worst memory of his and Garoppolo’s time together where they lost that Super Bowl. The 49ers gambled a large sum on their new quarterback, they knew from that point on the stakes have risen to an entirely new level.
What’s Next for the 49ers?
There is only one possible option left and that is to allow Garoppolo and Lance to compete for the starting job. This may be one of the most important decisions of Shanahan’s career, he must diligently examine both players on an equal level playing ground. All reps should be split equally, allowing both players the same amount of time with the 1st team offenses and playing against the same defenses.
Plain and simple, the 49ers need to find out as soon as possible. Who is going to be their starter when they visit the Lions in Week 1? If that man is Lance who wins the 49ers quarterback competition, the 49ers GM John Lynch should be shopping Garoppolo immediately. A safety-net Garoppolo would be nice, but unloading a hefty contract to free up some money for the long-term 49ers on the roster would be much more useful. At that point, it’s completely on Shanahan to steer this young man through the rigors of a rookie season and the rugged waters of the NFC West.
If Garoppolo wins out, he’ll have earned every single bit of the job and the 49ers will have quite an enviable quarterback room. May the best man win.