Peanut butter and jelly. Burgers and fries. Beer and pizza. Seemingly, it’s only natural for things to improve when adding a quality counterpart. Why then, is it so difficult to imagine an NFL team succeeding with a two-quarterback system?
It’s not like it hasn’t happened before. In fact, in 1982 the Miami Dolphins deployed a dual quarterback attack which propelled them to the Super Bowl that season. The Dolphins used both Don Strock and David Woodley as alternating quarterbacks that season. Ultimately, the Dolphins fell short of the greatest prize in the game, but head coach Don Shula proved that you could win with two quarterbacks.
Can a 49ers Two Quarterback System Work?
Fast-forward to 2021, the San Francisco 49ers are flirting heavily with the dual quarterback concept. During their final pre-season game against the Las Vegas Raiders, the 49ers alternated Jimmy Garoppolo and Trey Lance consistently throughout their first two offensive series. The result, two long scoring drives that looked awfully easy. The success of this swap made headlines.
It shouldn’t be the results that turn heads, it’s the experiment itself. 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan is one of the best offensive play-callers in the league. It is safe to say that Shanahan wasn’t merely goofing off in August.
A Man With a Plan
Garoppolo and Lance are two completely different quarterbacks. Like any great pairing, this is necessary. Contrasting styles often highlight the strengths of the individuals involved. Garoppolo is a throwback to a fading generation. An accurate passer with a lightning-quick release, whose athleticism leaves a lot to be desired.
Lance represents the new generation. The evolution of the quarterback position. An incredible athlete with an absolute cannon for a right arm. Lance is the type of quarterback you would make as a create-a-character in Madden 22. A true-to-life fantasy football player. Yet, when Lance has taken the field this summer, reality has slightly changed the narrative. He has completed less than 50% of his pass attempts in the pre-season. Sure, 49ers receivers have dropped nine passes, but throwing rocket balls to players seven yards past the line of scrimmage had something to do with it.
These differences are key, each man possesses what the other lacks.
The Odd Couple
The most difficult part about a dual quarterback system has very little to do with xs and os. Football, like any other workplace, relies heavily on the relationships of the participants. A head coach is essentially the CEO and switching quarterbacks often seems like a recipe for a power struggle. These power struggles can lead to a split in the locker room and a fracturing of the cohesive unit. It would take two special individuals to make this experiment work.
The 49ers might just have the two perfect quarterbacks to solve this puzzle. Garoppolo, two years removed from a super bowl appearance, has exhibited none of the insecurity one might expect. The first 49ers player to congratulate Lance on draft night was the man he was selected to replace. Unlike many athletes, Garoppolo can bench his ego. He knows Lance will eventually take his job, so his focus on the present allows him to be the leader the 49ers need right now.
Trey Lance has every reason to be cocky. He’s an elite athlete who was just selected third overall following a trade that labeled him worthy of three first-round draft picks. The whole world knows Lance is now the face of one of the most prestigious franchises in NFL history. Somebody should inform him because he sure doesn’t act like it. He exudes subtle confidence and an insatiable appetite for learning. This confidence allows him to choose patience, knowing this time watching Garoppolo will be critical to his development.
Ego doesn’t exist in the 49ers quarterback room. No, Garoppolo and Lance are both leading through humility and cohesion.
Will it Work?
This big question is: Will it work? Will a 49ers two quarterback system work? We will have to wait for that answer, but neither quarterback may be responsible for providing it.
When the 49ers made it to Super Bowl LIV, they brandished a fierce defense and a nearly unstoppable rushing attack. Add Lance to that team. Now ask yourself, is that team better or worse?
There is your answer.