The San Francisco 49ers have themselves a nice little problem at the quarterback position after selecting Trey Lance No. 3 overall in last week’s 2021 NFL Draft.
Incumbent starter Jimmy Garoppolo remains under contract for the next two seasons and could very well be under center Week 1. As for the 20-year-old Lance, he has not thrown a pass in a regular-season game since 2019 — the 2020 FCS campaign was postponed to the spring, but he decided to opt out in order to prepare for the draft.
As for Lance’s ability to start immediately, 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan seems to think that he could be ready if the circumstances warranted such a drastic move. A mere 15 months from leading San Francisco to a Super Bowl appearance, Garoppolo has been subjected to trade rumors on a near-never-ending loop.
Now that the Chicago Bears (Justin Fields) and New England Patriots (Mac Jones) selected a quarterback in the first round of the 2021 NFL Draft, the trade market for Garoppolo just isn’t there. What does this all mean for the San Francisco 49ers? CEO Jed York had some rather interesting comments recently, as he told Matt Maiocco of NBC Sports Bay Area:
“We’ve talked about this internally. If we’re in a situation where Jimmy goes out and takes us to a Super Bowl again and has an MVP-caliber season, and does it again, there are worse dilemmas to be in. And Jimmy certainly has the ability to do that.”
There’s an obvious caveat here. Garoppolo has never been a top-10 quarterback in the NFL, let alone an MVP candidate. The 29-year-old signal-caller has also missed a combined 23 of a possible 48 regular-season games over the past three campaigns — leading to San Francisco trading up from the 12th pick to No. 3 overall for Lance.
However, he did complete 69% of his passes for nearly 4,000 yards with 27 touchdowns against 13 interceptions in 2019 en route to leading the 49ers to a 13-3 record and the NFC title.
There’s two ways to look at this. Technically, San Francisco exhausted three first-round picks and a third-round selection on the talented young quarterback. You’re not getting too much bang for your buck if Lance doesn’t start until the 2023 season.
With that said, Garoppolo continuing to man the starting position up until his contract expires likely means that the 49ers have returned to Super Bowl contention after an injury-plagued 2020 season. All the other noise aside, that’s the goal for this team right now.
As for York, he did focus on the financial component to all of this.
“And even if he (Lance) doesn’t play for two years, we still have an extra $100 million to put back into our team on top of whatever we would have for free agency for the next five years,” the front-office head said.
That’s a major thing to look at. The San Francisco 49ers will save $25.6 million against the cap in 2022 if they were to move off Garoppolo in favor of Lance starting. In turn, this money could be used to sign star youngsters Nick Bosa, Fred Warner and Deebo Samuel to long-term extensions. It could also help as it relates to potential big-ticket free-agent signings.
As we saw with Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs, sitting a young quarterback for a season could make sense. Said signal-caller would still be playing under his rookie contract for a few more seasons, creating more flexibility. Perhaps, that’s the San Francisco 49ers’ thinking right now.