In terms of the quarterback position, the San Francisco 49ers had a variety of different paths to consider before the 2021 season.
While they could’ve stuck with Jimmy Garoppolo alone, they ended up trading three first-round picks to draft Trey Lance at the No. 3 spot in the 2021 NFL draft. They elected to keep Jimmy G to allow the young and raw QB to develop behind a veteran.
This was despite the presence of a top-tier quarterback available in Matt Stafford, who was looking to leave the Detroit Lions. Stafford ended up going to the Los Angeles Rams instead, winning a Super Bowl and throwing for nearly 4900 yards and 41 touchdowns during the regular season.
Now, former Dallas Cowboys guard and current NFL Network insider and analyst Brian Baldinger is sharing his thoughts on where Stafford ended up. The former Cowboy went on 95.7 The Game and was asked about “what could have been” with Stafford and the 49ers.
“Yeah. Yes, to answer your question,” Baldinger said. “Because if you put Matt Stafford in San Francisco, they probably win it all. But they built for the future. Now, they’ve got to figure out how to get Trey Lance up to speed. It’s a slow process. I mean, [Buffalo Bills QB] Josh Allen has taken three years, and he still wasn’t good enough. And we saw just how brilliant he is almost every Sunday, and he wasn’t good enough in the moment to do it.”
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49ers vs. Stafford
The interesting thing about Baldinger’s comments is how the Niners and Rams’ three matchups played out this season. Sure, the 49ers could’ve afforded to trade for Stafford instead of committing to Trey Lance, but the context of San Francisco going 2-1 against Los Angeles in the 2021 season makes things interesting.
The first matchup between the two sides featured a 3-5 49ers team that needed a win, and they delivered while holding Stafford to one score and forcing him to throw two interceptions in a 31-10 victory.
The second battle needed overtime to decide it, but the Niners defense again picked off Stafford twice and held him to just 238 yards. Meanwhile, the third and final clash of the 2021 season came in the NFC Championship, where Stafford and the Rams got the better of San Francisco despite only scoring 20 points.
If one only looked at how Stafford played against the 49ers, one might think the Niners didn’t really need Stafford. But when you consider his season totals and the huge plays he made in the Super Bowl, there’s no question he could have taken the Niners all the way to a Lombardi.
Baldinger on Lance
Besides talking about the possibility of Stafford joining San Francisco in the 2021 offseason, Baldinger was also asked about the development of Lance.
The former Cowboy thinks there has to be a significant step up for Lance if the Niners want to reach Super Bowl contention, and one that he says won’t be easy no matter how talented he is.
“He’s got to make a monster leap,” Baldinger said. “I don’t know what the comp is to go from what we saw this year, which was spot duty, a couple of starts, to Super Bowl level. I don’t know that anybody has ever made that kind of a jump. Maybe [Patrick] Mahomes might be the only one… It’s hard to think that anybody can make that kind of a jump.”
Indeed. San Francisco will have to be patient with Lance in 2022, but that’s the investment they’ve made, and is one focused on the long-term rather than the short-term.