Peter King thinks he knows exactly how long the Trey Lance experiment will last for the San Francisco 49ers. Lance, the third-overall pick in the 2021 NFL draft, was handed the starting quarterback job ahead of Jimmy Garoppolo this offseason, but the second-year man shouldn’t get too comfortable, according to longtime columnist King.
The 49ers’ decision to keep Garoppolo on the roster instead of trading or cutting him raised more than a few eyebrows recently. It appeared to start a slow boil on a quarterback controversy.
Conventional wisdom says the Niners protected themselves by keeping a proven starter like Garoppolo, who has led the team to a pair of NFC title games and Super Bowl LIV. He’s credible insurance in case the significant investment in Lace doesn’t pay off.
Head coach Kyle Shanahan and general manager John Lynch likely hope the day never comes when Garoppolo is needed because Lance can’t make the grade. That would be an awful look for a franchise that gave up three first-round picks to select an apparent QB of the future.
It’s going to happen, though, according to King. He’s even pinpointed the very game, a Super Bowl rematch no less, when the Niners will send for Jimmy G again.
Garoppolo for Lance Only Takes 6 Games
Six games. That’s all it’s going to take for the 49ers to decide they need Garoppolo back in the starting lineup. King, writing his Football Morning In America column for NBC Sports’ Pro Football Talk, made the following prediction: “Jimmy Garoppolo for Trey Lance prior to facing Kansas City in week seven.”
A visit from the Kansas City Chiefs seven games into the season would be quite the moment to for Garoppolo to make his comeback. It was the Chiefs Jimmy G was unable to overcome in the Super Bowl following the 2019 season.
Garoppolo struggled on the big stage, completing 20 of 31 passes for 219 yards and throwing two interceptions, including this one to Bashaud Breeland:
Ultimately, Garoppolo found himself outplayed by dynamic Chiefs signal-caller Patrick Mahomes, who was named MVP. Getting more dynamism from football’s most important position is one reason why the 49ers have handed Lance the keys to the kingdom. He’s a superior athlete to Garoppolo, with a stronger arm and posing a significant threat as a speedy and elusive runner.
It looked like a straightforward transition from a veteran with some issues to an exciting youngster with greater upside. The 49ers were even in the enviable position of being able to get something for their dethroned starter, with Garoppolo featured in trade rumors involving the Cleveland Browns, New York Jets and Tennessee Titans, per NFL Insider Jordan Schultz, speaking on the Pat McAfee Show.
Instead, Lynch restructured a one-year deal, reported by ESPN’s Adam Schefter, to keep Garoppolo in the fold. This immediately create speculation about when or if Lance will come under pressure from the man who used to have his job.
Such speculation was inevitable and only compounded by Albert Breer of the MMQB saying Lance “was a little annoyed” by the decision to keep Garoppolo. Although, it should be pointed out Breer did emphasize he was merely gauging Lance’s initial reaction to “complicated news.”
Both Breer and King have made direct forays into the speculation surrounding the Lance and Garoppolo dynamic. King’s is a bold prediction given the soft early slate of games in which Lance will get ample chances to prove himself.
Weeks 1-6 Look Good for Lance
It’s hard to believe Lance won’t make hay when looking at the initial part of the 49ers’ schedule. The first six weeks are bookended by road games against the Chicago Bears and Atlanta Falcons, two talent-shy teams widely expected to be among the worst in football this season.
There’s also a trip to take on the Carolina Panthers, 5-12 in 2021 and rebuilding again with Baker Mayfield at the controls. Another quarterback with plenty to prove, Geno Smith, will be at the helm when NFC West rivals the Seattle Seahawks visit Levi’s Stadium in Week 2.
Lance should be able to pick apart some shaky defenses given the weapons at his disposal. Not many quarterbacks can rely on playmakers as versatile and productive as Deebo Samuel, George Kittle, Kyle Juszczyk and Brandon Aiyuk.
Games against the Denver Broncos and defending Super Bowl champion Los Angeles Rams will offer sterner tests of Lance’s longevity as a starter. Yet, if he can’t out-duel Mayfield, Smith and Marcus Mariota before then, the 49ers will be in trouble and Garoppolo will soon be earning some of those sweet incentives baked into his reworked contract, per David Lombardi of The Athletic:
Trusting a QB with a 45-18 won-loss record wouldn’t be a bad thing, but having to dump the player deemed worthy of three first-round picks so soon would be an embarrassing about turn for Lynch and Shanahan.