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Barnwell predicts when Trey Lance will make first start for 49ers

The long-time ESPN NFL insider thinks we could see the No. 3 overall pick become the starter within a month of the season starting.

Photo by Michael Zagaris/San Francisco 49ers/Getty Images

Since the San Francisco 49ers made a deal with the Miami Dolphins for the No. 3 pick in the 2021 draft, their options at the quarterback position have been under the microscope.

John Lynch and Kyle Shanahan made it no secret that they traded first-round picks in 2021, 2022, 2023, plus a third-rounder next year to select their QB of the future. After more than a month of rampant speculation, the Niners elected to go with North Dakota State’s Trey Lance.

Since the 49ers selected Lance, the focus has been on what will happen with incumbent starter Jimmy Garoppolo. Lynch and Shanahan have said from the start that they intend on keeping Jimmy G for the 2021 season but didn’t shy away from the fact they would move him if the price were right.

Hanging on to Garoppolo gives San Francisco options. If it is apparent that Lance needs more seasoning and time to learn Shanahan’s complex scheme, the Niners will be happy to go into Week 1 with Jimmy G under center. The team has won 72.7 percent of the games Garoppolo has started since 2017.

The issue with Garoppolo has been his inability to stay on the field. Garoppolo has missed 23 starts since the 2018 season. San Francisco’s record is 6-17 when Garoppolo is out of the lineup.

ESPN’s Bill Barnwell’s latest piece focuses on when the five QBs drafted in the first round of this year’s draft will make the first start of their NFL career. When it comes to Lance, Barnwell factored in Garoppolo’s injury history into his prediction.

First start: Week 3 vs. Green Bay

It’s impossible to predict injuries, but Garoppolo hasn’t been able to make it out of September three times in four years as a Week 1 starter. The 49ers play the Eagles in Week 2, which will put Shanahan’s team up against a defensive line that ranked fourth in adjusted sack rate a year ago. If Garoppolo can’t make it through that game without an injury, Lance would be in line to take over and make his first start in Week 3. His debut there would come against the Packers in prime time, so no big deal.

Unfortunately, the QB questions are going to remain unanswered until we get through training camp. More than 80 players — including Lance and Garoppolo — are at the team’s facility for voluntary workouts this week, per NBC Bay Area’s Matt Maiocco.

But the real competition will be at July’s training camp. If Lance dazzles with his performance and outshines Garoppolo, Shanahan won’t hesitate to start the rookie for a second. On the other hand, if the rookie needs more time, Shanahan will simply go with the veteran who helped lead his team to a 13-3 record and Super Bowl appearance in 2019.

Shanahan touched on the quarterback situation on Michael Irvin’s podcast (h/t 49ers Web Zone):

“If Jimmy does and plays at a high level, which he always has done when he’s played, that’s a very good problem for us to have, and we’ll deal with that when it happens. And I hope it happens. But if not, at least we know all our eggs aren’t in one basket.”

Added Shanahan: “The pressure is not on [Lance] right away, but this is the NFL, and so the pressure really is always on you. I think that kid can handle it. I think he’s coming in, doing it the right way, and I love that Jimmy’s here because it can just happen naturally. We’ll see when [Lance is] ready. Everyone will know when he’s ready. And when he is, it will be a fun competition.”

As Shanahan says, having Lance on the roster allows the Niners not to be hamstrung in case Garoppolo gets hurt. The 49ers dealt with an unprecedented amount of injuries last season, but with some competent QB play, they would have had a good shot at getting the No. 7 seed in the NFC. San Francisco finished two games behind the Chicago Bears in the standings, and that was with Nick Mullens’ below-average performance.

The head coach is right. If Garoppolo plays well and helps the team to the playoffs, it’s a great problem to have for the franchise. Garoppolo — who has a no-trade clause — has a cap hit of $27 million for next season, per Over the Cap. If he leads the Niners on a deep postseason run, his value will increase next offseason.

Again, the QB situation will take some time to figure out. There are too many variables to say for certain how things will play out for the time being. But one thing remains evident: the 49ers are in a good spot with both Garoppolo and Lance on a Super Bowl-ready roster.

How many starts do you think Lance will make in 2021?