The 49ers are in the midst of deciding the fate of the most important position on their roster, and their decision will make or break their season.
The San Francisco 49ers have traded for their new quarterback of the future, getting rid of their old quarterback, who had just signed a contract extension, who had just signed a contract extension.
Jimmy Garoppolo and Trey Lance have been the subject of enough trade rumors to fill a book. But what do we actually know about their current status with the team?
SANTA CLARA, Calif. — With their exhibition finale on Sunday, the San Francisco 49ers wrapped off their preseason and training camp.
In the Bay Area, there has been a lot of interest over the last month or so, much of it focused on the Niners’ intriguing quarterback dynamic. According to coach Kyle Shanahan, incumbent Jimmy Garoppolo and rookie Trey Lance competed “their asses off.”
Let’s address some important questions about how everything has gone thus far, what we know, what we believe we know, and what the future may hold for the 49ers at quarterback as we approach the Sept. 12 opening against the Detroit Lions.
During training camp and the preseason, how did the 49ers utilize Garoppolo and Lance?
They went pretty much precisely how Shanahan predicted at the outset of camp. Garoppolo worked with the starters the bulk of the time, while Lance worked with the backups. Lance received a few reps with the starting offense during the first two weeks of camp, but only for five snaps, all of which were planned running plays that were expressly put into the system for Lance. Lance worked with the starters for specific circumstances during the last week or so, beginning with an eight-play drive in a joint session with the Chargers and then sharing repetitions with Garoppolo in move-the-ball periods and red zone work with the starting offense. Lance also saw action with the starting offense in preseason games, including the season finale against the Raiders in Las Vegas.
What was Garoppolo’s and Lance’s performance like?
Throughout camp, both quarterbacks had their ups and downs.
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Garoppolo got out to a strong start, encountered some snags, and then went on little hot runs that were followed by difficulties. Garoppolo threw nine interceptions in the 19 sessions available to the media, indicating that interceptions are still a problem. But there were times when he was focused in and swiftly spreading the ball all over the field, such as during a move-the-ball period on Aug. 16 when he completed his last 10 throws, including a score to receiver Mohamed Sanu.
Lance didn’t have as many turnovers as he had at North Dakota State, throwing just three practice interceptions, but he did show some of the accuracy problems that evaluators saw on his video. When he missed, he tended to miss high, increasing the likelihood of a turnover, especially when throwing over the center. Lance was also under a lot of stress, which made it difficult to keep track of his development. Some of it was due to Lance’s inability to get the ball out quickly, according to Shanahan. Lance, on the other hand, performed well in red zone drills, tossing eight touchdowns and rushing for at least three more. He showed a willingness to drive the ball downfield, something he did more successfully and consistently than Garoppolo.
The three preseason games didn’t make a significant difference. Garoppolo threw for 105 yards on 10-of-16 passing with an interception and a running score. Lance threw for 276 yards on 19-of-41 passing with three touchdowns, an interception, and a running touchdown.
In Week 1, who will start as quarterback?
Shanahan has so far rejected numerous chances to make it official, but all indications go to Garoppolo with Lance working in on a situational basis, until the scenario changes due to an injury.
Why has Shanahan been reluctant to choose a starting quarterback?
He doesn’t have much incentive to tip his hand, to be honest. Before camp began, Shanahan made it plain that surpassing Garoppolo would be difficult for Lance. Some speculated that Lance’s increased practice with the starters indicated that it had become more of a competition than Shanahan claimed. Though it’s fair to see it that way, the larger reason is that Shanahan has made it obvious that he intends to use Garoppolo and Lance together in actual games.
So, how does a quarterback duo work?
Shanahan hasn’t said exactly how it’ll look or how often Lance would cycle in, but he’s been quite clear about the basic idea. He used Drew Brees and Taysom Hill of the New Orleans Saints as an example. Lance is obviously a more polished passer, which gives Shanahan more leeway in the passing game. The notion of rotating quarterbacks to take use of Lance’s speed and throwing power seems to be a solid starting point.
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At the very least, it offers opponents a lot to think about while devising a game strategy.
“I know that when you have a quarterback that has a different skill set than your starter, regardless of whether or not they’re ready to play the whole game,” Shanahan said. “You have to spend a lot of time preparing for it. Other defenders won’t be able to go out and play against something you haven’t prepared for.”
How long do you think Lance will remain the starter?
We can’t truly use health as a foundation for answering this issue since there’s no way to forecast it, but we can note that Garoppolo has only started more than five straight games once in his career (2019). The Niners start the season with two winnable away games (at Detroit and Philadelphia) before facing Green Bay, Seattle, Arizona, Indianapolis, Chicago, Arizona again, and the Los Angeles Rams.
Starting Garoppolo and playing Lance in different situations enables Lance to get valuable experience while also offering bite-sized litmus tests on his preparedness. If Lance can capitalize on those chances, it will put a lot of pressure on Garoppolo. Much of the answer will be determined by how well the team performs. There’s no reason to think Shanahan will deviate from the present strategy as long as the Niners are winning and Garoppolo is doing well.
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