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Jimmy Garoppolo, Trey Lance, and the 49ers’ Long-Term Quarterback Dilemma

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Three weeks ago, Jimmy Garoppolo didn’t have a San Francisco 49ers gamebook. TechnicallyJimmy was still on the team throughout preseason, but spiritually he wasn’t. In the midst of training camp, Garoppolo barely talked to his team’s new quarterback coach, Brian Grise, according to NBC. Peter King. Even in late August, Garoppolo was reported to throw outdoors while his teammates were at meetings, and indoors (or at home) while his teammates were training. The 49ers were apparently so confident they would cut or trade Garoppolo before the start of the season that they were more concerned about his corporate espionage than the possibility of committing their crime.

Fast forward a few weeks, and Trey Lance, the second-year quarterback who was anointed as future San Francisco’s quarterback, is out of the season with a broken ankle after just five quarters of football. Jimmy G to lead the 49ers against the Denver Broncos Sunday Night Football this week he has San Francisco’s kickoff work and playbook again.

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49ers odds of winning the Super Bowl improved after this news, from 20-to-1 with Lance to 18-to-1 with Garoppolo. But in the long run – hell, in not this season term — The 49ers quarterback situation is as confusing as ever. At the end of this year, Garoppolo could leave as an unrestricted free agent. Lance will have one year before eligibility for a contract extension. The 49ers may be forced to choose between trying to get Garoppolo back (again) or committing to Lance, even though he only had four pro starts after only 17 college FCS level starts. Anything short of winning the Super Bowl this season will leave the 49ers in an even bleaker situation than this year, with no plan of action on how to deal with it.

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There is no doubt that in the short term the 49ers are better with Garoppolo. Since Kyle Shanahan and John Lynch took over the team in 2017, its results with and without Garoppolo have been the difference between a Super Bowl contender and one of the league’s worst teams. Since Shanahan became head coach, San Francisco’s record for when Garoppolo started is 35-16 (including playoffs). Their record without starting Garoppolo 9-29.

San Francisco win percentage Garoppolo makes up 69 percent., which would be the third-best record in the NFL since 2017. Without him, the 49ers won less than a quarter of their games, which would have been the worst record in the NFL during that period. With him, Shanahan’s 49ers had basically the same winning percentage as the Rams (and Garoppolo was 6-1 against Shaun McVeigh’s Rams). Without Jimmy G, the 49ers were worse than the Jets.

But the 49ers, who have won many games with Jimmy, should not be confused with Jimmy win many games. He looks more like a passenger in a cool car. Garoppolo does well against Shanahan’s attack, but he doesn’t excel at anything other than what the manual says.

In fact, many times it seemed like Garoppolo was holding back San Francisco. The 49ers miraculously defeated the Packers in the playoffs last year, mostly due to their defensive choke and dominance on special teams; Garoppolo threw for only 131 yards. The following week, Garoppolo threw an interception late in the NFC Championship game that cost the 49ers their trip to the Super Bowl. His game-tying shot came two years ago when he beat open Emmanuel Sanders in the fourth quarter of the Super Bowl against the Chiefs in February 2020. Had he made that pass, it would be fair to assume that the 49ers would have won this game. But even in the NFC title game two weeks earlier, Garoppolo had just eight assists in a dominant 37-20 win over the Packers. Garoppolo is basically Vincent from real life. Entourage: A necessary character for the show, but more of a central point of reference for the more talented and interesting stars around him.

But Garoppolo’s biggest limitation wasn’t his ability; it was his availability. He has been injured in four of the six seasons he has played in any NFL football (he even got injured in 2016 while filling in for the suspended Tom Brady). He missed double-digit games twice during his tenure with the 49ers. He recovered from season-ending thumb and shoulder injuries last year and was nowhere near 100 percent in the playoffs. The 49ers wanted to get away from Jimmy G in large part because of his health, but it was his health that made them leave him.

Garoppolo decided to have shoulder surgery in early March.what surprised 49ers officials— and no team wanted to trade for a quarterback who had just had surgery on his throwing shoulder.

Garoppolo’s health has long been his biggest concern. Weeks after the 49ers drafted Lance in 2021, Lynch went on Colin Cowherd’s radio show and revealed how he explained his decision to Garoppolo.

“Jimmy, when you played, you were great,” Lynch said. “The hardest part is keeping you on the field.”

Enter Lance. The 49ers traded to get Lance in the 2021 draft, using three first and third round players to acquire him. The idea was that he could solve both problems for the Garoppolo 49ers. Lance had a chance to be a better passer than Garoppolo, but he also brought in a 6ft 4in, 225lb quarterback who reportedly ran 40 yards at an average speed of 4.5 – about the same. time as 49ers wide receiver Brandon Aiyuk. With Lance in the Shanahan system, the upside seemed extraordinary. Lance was a promising player and the plan for his rookie year was for him to sit behind Jimmy and learn – and eventually replace him in 2022 and beyond. If Garoppolo gets hurt during that time, Lance can intervene. Lance still hasn’t solved any of the 49ers quarterback’s problems. He didn’t let the 49ers leave Garoppolo, stayed healthy enough to be a substitute, or got time to develop into a better starter than the guy he was asked to replace.

In the end, the 49ers will have to decide what they’re going to do after this season ends. If Garoppolo plays well—and it’s entirely possible the 49ers could make it to the playoffs again thanks to their loaded defense and seasoned offense with the likes of Trent Williams, George Kittle and Deebo Samuel—the team might be tempted to return him in 2023. But if Garoppolo doesn’t get hurt (which is of course possible) or play horribly this year, he has no reason to come back to deal with the whole circus again. So the 49ers had to take Jimmy into the starting lineup and pay him a lot of money to get him back. But that would mean that San Francisco, in fact, lost to Lance only four starts in his career. The 49ers probably won’t write Lance off as a sunk expense, so Garoppolo is likely out.

But if handing over a championship-caliber team to Lance in 2022 seemed like a calculated risk, doing it again next season will be scary. This 49ers team is ready to win currently. Lance is not. The term “raw” is often used with prospectuses, but it’s worth rephrasing how few football matches Lance played. Just 21 admissions separate him from his high school career in Marshall, Minnesota, a small town about 40 miles from the South Dakota border. He played 16 games for FCS North Dakota State in 2019; take the season he quit 28 touchdowns and zero interceptions in 16 games for the Bisons, and here’s how his other four seasons have gone in the last five years:

2018 (North Dakota State): Passed one pass as a redshirt freshman.

2020 (ND State): Played one game as a sophomore because NDSU canceled the season due to COVID. Basically, the game was an exhibition and a way for Lance to play in front of the NFL scouts.

2021 (49ers): Started two games in lieu of Garoppolo but played over a broken finger what made him change the way he threw.

2022 (49ers): Played five quarters before breaking his ankle in week 2. Four of those quarters proved pointless because it rained so hard in Chicago that day that the paint was washed off the field.

So, to recap, Lance has had one full season as a starter in North Dakota State in the FCS in the last four years, and has hardly had four games of actual football experience in the other three seasons. Lance threw 102 passes in his NFL career; Jets quarterback Joe Flacco threw 103 passes in the first two weeks of this season alone. After graduating from high school, Lance threw 420 passes in games. Trevor Lawrence, who was taken two picks ahead of Lance, threw more than three times as many in the same period – 1546.

Imagine that you play for the San Francisco 49ers and need to make a commitment to Lance in 2023. After this year – which will be his first real season as a starter – he will be eligible for a contract extension, the 49ers will have to make a decision on his approximately $20 million an option for a fifth year, and the cheap years of his contract are almost over.

All these problems are getting worse. Not only is Lance still trying to learn how to play in the NFL, he will also be recovering from a serious ankle injury next season. Shanahan’s plan to bring in Lance was to rely on his power as a runner and work slowly on passing concepts while the defense tried to stop the 49ers’ running game. But will Lance be able to run as much in 2023? And wouldn’t the rudeness of a passer-by turn him into a deer in the headlights if he came in…


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