Even just days into training camp, it’s apparent how much the quarterback battle will dominate the 49ers news cycle. So far, in two press conferences with the media, Kyle Shanahan has been asked 14 questions about Jimmy Garoppolo and/or Trey Lance. Considering how much more on-field work is to come, this isn’t going away any time soon.
During today’s Niners Nation Gold Standard Podcast, Levin Black asked me a really interesting question: Is the starting quarterback job Jimmy Garoppolo’s to lose or is it Trey Lance’s to win?
You might think that’s a distinction without a difference, but it’s not. Each part of the question is a different scenario. The first part essentially asks whether Jimmy Garoppolo can lose the job without a disaster performance. The second part asks whether Trey Lance can win the job regardless of Jimmy’s performance.
Kyle Shanahan seems to have fallen on both sides of the issue. At different points this week, he’s said both that no rookie can take Jimmy’s job if he’s at the top of his game and, “If someone ever looks like they give us a better chance to win, we’ll make that decision.”
Personally, I believe Trey Lance will get the job as soon as Kyle thinks he can handle it, regardless of how well Jimmy Garoppolo is playing. That could potentially create a dicey locker room situation down the line, but two things continue to stick in my mind when it comes to that decision. First, the sheer amount of resources that the 49ers spent to draft Lance in the first place.
Second, the team's structure from a salary cap standpoint almost mandates having a quarterback on a rookie contract. It would be incredibly difficult to build the kind of deep roster Shanahan and Lynch covet with Trent Williams, George Kittle, Fred Warner and Nick Bosa (eventually), and Jimmy Garoppolo, all making top-of-the-market money. You’ve got to save money somewhere, and quarterback is the perfect place to do it.
As the days and weeks play out, it’s possible the two quarterbacks go in different directions, and the question itself becomes moot. Assuming that doesn’t happen, however, I think it’s fair to wonder which way Kyle would go if everything else were equal.