There were daily arguments about which quarterback the 49ers should start heading into the season during the offseason. Of course, you had the incumbent starter, Jimmy Garoppolo, and his shiny win/loss record at the time.
Garoppolo’s 2020 season comes with an asterisk as he suffered a high ankle sprain early in the season that lingered, which affected his ability to perform throughout the season.
A healthy Jimmy in 2021 was supposed to be what puts San Francisco over the hump and on a path to the Super Bowl à la 2019. Instead, fast forward nine weeks into the season, and the 49ers are 3-5, having lost four of its last five games.
Garoppolo hasn’t been the only problem — far from it. Drops and fumbles on offense have cost this team multiple scores a game. Defensively, ill-advised penalties, below-average secondary play, and missed tackles allow opposing offenses ample opportunities to score.
Tying it all back to Garoppolo, we were sold that he gives the team the best chance to win. He’s not the problem, but he’s also proven he’s not the solution.
So, here we are, heading into Week 10, but still at square one. Thanks to a lackluster conference, the 49ers are still in the playoff hunt despite being two games below .500.
In a recent ESPN column written by Jeremy Fowler and Dan Graziano, the latter emptied his notebook on the 49ers and discussed their QB situation:
Jimmy Garoppolo’s Total QBR over the past two weeks is 76.8, which is the third-best in the league over that time. Pay no attention to the fact the two guys ahead of him are Jalen Hurts and Geno Smith, because that distracts from my point, which is that Garoppolo has been playing some of his best football at a time when people are wondering whether Kyle Shanahan is about to turn things over to rookie first-round pick Trey Lance. The 3-5 49ers’ season is teetering a bit, and they likely could use a boost, but I do not get the sense that Shanahan is about to turn to Lance. Whether that’s because he doesn’t think Lance is ready (likely, since he came into the league as inexperienced as any of the rookie QBs) or whether it’s because he feels Garoppolo truly gives them the best chance to win right now, everything points to Shanahan sticking with Garoppolo for Monday night and beyond. Lance probably starts at some point this season, but it could be a while yet.
To Graziano’s initial point, the fact that Hurts, Smith, and Garoppolo have the three highest quarterback ratings during the past couple of weeks speaks to the parity and poor QB play around the league during that stretch more than anything.
Garoppolo has objectively played some of his best football during the past two weeks. However, knowing that and how the 49ers continue to struggle might be more of a reason than anything to develop the future of your franchise.
I don’t think mixing in Lance for a random series here, and there is doing anyone any favors. If you’re going to play Trey, then the 49ers have to start him and let him learn on the fly. It’s a bit ironic that Shanahan — assuming Graziano is correct — will wait to play Lance after the Niners season becomes irrelevant with Jimmy as the starter.
There’s no guarantee that Lance is “ready,” but there’s no guarantee that he’ll ever be “ready.” If we use the Bears as an example, Justin Fields went from looking like a player who needed seasoning to a promising young star in a matter of starts.
How does a rookie quarterback improve? By learning what he can and can’t get away through live reps. The longer you lean on Jimmy, the longer you delay Lance’s learning curve.