The 49ers quarterback room has generated plenty of discussions all season long, and even as they gear up for the NFC Championship Game this Sunday against the Rams, some prominent pundits are debating whether rookie quarterback Trey Lance would give the Niners a better chance to win than starter Jimmy Garoppolo. On Tuesday, former NFL cornerback and current ESPN analyst Domonique Foxworth strongly endorsed Lance on ESPN’s Get Up!.
Foxworth acknowledged that the 49ers' postseason victories with Garoppolo under center would make a change difficult, saying, “I know it’s crazy. I wouldn’t have the heart to do it if I was [49ers head coach] Kyle Shanahan,” but made the case for Lance.
He pointed to Garoppolo’s limited arm strength and turnover-prone tendencies as a key reason to make a change. He said, “Jimmy Garoppolo is missing important passes in big moments, so he’s not giving you those high-end plays, and he’s also desperately trying to throw the ball to the other team every single week.”
While Garoppolo has played in the 49ers two postseason wins, his cumulative numbers (27-44, 303 yards, 0 touchdowns, and 2 interceptions) have been far from impressive. Granted, Garoppolo completed 68.3% of his passes for 3,810 yards, 20 touchdowns, 12 interceptions, and a league-leading 12.7 yards per completion during the regular season. While he missed 2.5 games with injuries, the Niners went 9-6 in games he started. On the other hand, Lance completed just 57.5% of his passes this regular season for 603 yards, 5 touchdowns, and 2 interceptions. The 49ers were 1-1 in his starts.
Foxworth’s endorsement of Lance did not go without pushback from his fellow analysts. ESPN’s Jeff Saturday, a former All-Pro center, adamantly defended Garoppolo. “I’m gonna give you some stats. They led the NFL in yards per play this season. They led the NFL in yards per completion this season… He [Jimmy Garoppolo] also makes throws against the Rams that win the game, against the Packers that win the game. He finds Deebo Samuel. He finds ways to win games,” said Saturday.
It would be unprecedented for an NFL team to make a quarterback change to a rookie in the middle of the postseason. Still, the Niners' unusual handling of Lance’s rookie campaign has meant that questions asking whether the North Dakota State alum is already better than Garoppolo will remain until he takes the helm of the franchise.