In the days leading up to the draft, speculation was rampant that the Niners were going to go with Alabama’s Mac Jones, but general manager John Lynch and head coach Kyle Shanahan went with the guy they feel can lead the organization to a championship in the future.
Lance only played one full season at the FCS level and turns 21 on Sunday. He has the physical tool to be a special talent at the pro level but some believe it will be best for Lance to sit for a season and learn behind veteran Jimmy Garoppolo.
Matt Maiocco of NBC Sports Bay Area caught up with Jed York to discuss Lance’s selection and the 49ers’ owner explains why he is comfortable with Lance sitting for a season or two.
“We’ve talked about this internally,” York said. “If we’re in a situation where Jimmy goes out and takes us to a Super Bowl again and has an MVP-caliber season, and does it again, there are worse dilemmas to be in. And Jimmy certainly has the ability to do that.”
The 49ers are 24-9 (including playoffs) when Garoppolo starts under center, so there is no doubt that the team can win with him at quarterback. He had a good 2019 season when he threw for 3,978 yards, 27 touchdowns, and 13 picks while leading the Niners to a 13-3 record.
Here is where Garoppolo ranked among all QBs in some key passing stats from the 2019 campaign:
69.1 completion percentage (No. 4)
8.3 average yards per attempt No. 9)
12.1 yards per completion (tied for No. 4)
7.22 average net yards per attempt (No. 10)
102.0 quarterback rating (No. 8)
Four game-winning drives (tied for No. 2)
The well-known issue with Garoppolo is the injuries. He has missed 23 starts over the past three seasons and San Francisco’s record cratered with Garoppolo out of the lineup in 2018 and 2020.
But the Niners were in a rare spot going into the 2021 NFL Draft. They have a Super Bowl-ready roster and were able to land their QB of the future, which gives them the benefit of time. If Garoppolo can stay healthy next season, Lance will have the opportunity to learn the offense and pro game from a veteran who has won 72.7 percent of the games he has played for the franchise.
York believes having Garoppolo still on the roster is a good problem for the 49ers to have.
“And even if he (Lance) doesn’t play for two years, we still have an extra $100 million to put back into our team on top of whatever we would have for free agency for the next five years,” York told Maiocco.
“It’s really an investment in the team of how do you want to build this thing.”
The sentiment among league insiders was that the Niners would try and move Garoppolo for a pick at the 2021 NFL Draft. But Lynch and Shanahan have said they intend on keeping Jimmy G for the 2021 campaign ever since they made the trade with the Miami Dolphins to move up nine spots at the draft.
Shanahan likes the position he is in with the two QBs on the roster. He talked about the team’s approach during last week’s media availability following Lance’s selection.
“We didn’t sign a guy who’s capable of or has the history of being a starter right away. We have a guy, every time he’s been a starter, he’s played at a high level. So to have that with Jimmy with having a rookie quarterback gives us a lot of leeway into this. I’m not going to set anything into stone, but I know that’s the situation that would be hard to get rid of.
When you take a rookie quarterback and you have a veteran like Jimmy who we know can win with, just to move on from that is something that’s not easy to do. That is a good situation for us and I think that is something that’ll be important to us this year.”
San Francisco doesn’t have to throw the rookie into the fire right away. The Niners are loaded with talented veterans and aren’t in the typical position you would find a team who took a QB in the top three. On a rebuilding team, it’s likely Lance would have gotten the bulk of the starts during his first year.
Looking at recent history, it’s wise for the 49ers to be patient. The most recent five QBs selected in the top three of the NFL draft after a team traded up to get them did not last long in their first NFL homes. All of the QBs have one thing in common: None of them played more than five seasons with the team that drafted them. Robert Griffin, Jared Goff, Carson Wentz, Mitchell Trubisky and Sam Darnold were all jettisoned before they reached year six.
Now, the list of first-round QBs that sat behind a veteran during their rookie year is star-studded. Patrick Mahomes, Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees, and Philip Rivers. Three of them went on to win a Super Bowl, while Rivers went 134-106 as a starter during his 17-year career.
The Kansas City Chiefs were a playoff team in Mahomes’ first season, as he sat behind Alex Smith. Rodgers didn’t start a single game over this first three years behind Brett Favre and has gone on to become one of the greatest QBs of all time.
No one is saying Lance is definitely going to be the next Mahomes, Rodgers, or Brees, but allowing the rookie QB time to develop and learn while backing up Garoppolo seems like the best option.
This could change if Lance wows Shanahan with strong performances during OTAs and if he outplays Garoppolo during training camp. But given the complexities of Shanahan’s offense, it will probably take the rookie some time to get acclimated to the system.
If Garoppolo can lead San Francisco to a Super Bowl win, the organization will still be in a great position next offseason. His trade value will increase and the 49ers could move his $27 million cap hit for the 2022 campaign which will free up some cash for the impending extensions for Nick Bosa and Fred Warner.
If Garoppolo fails to stay healthy once again, Shanahan will now have a QB he believes in as a backup.
It has been said a million times before, but no team has won a Super Bowl with a rookie QB. It looks like Lynch and Shanahan aren’t betting that Lance will be able to make history by keeping Garoppolo around for at least the 2021 season.