The 49ers have been the source of multiple stunning news stories in the Kyle Shanahan era. They broke the bank to sign a fullback, they traded DeForest Buckner to the Colts, and now they’re bringing back Jimmy Garoppolo to back up Trey Lance. While I think this could potentially split the locker room if Trey struggles, Kyle Shanahan didn’t see it that way yesterday.
During the conference call, Shanahan said all quarterbacks face pressure from fans and media that are calling for the backup quarterback during rough patches. “I don’t know how anyone could be successful in this business if they get caught up in that stuff,” Shanahan said, “I don’t believe that stuff has an effect on whether a guy succeeds or not. I think it’s what he does in here and what he does on the field.”
Some players clearly are more affected by outside criticism than others. Mike McGlinchey, for one, admitted he was doom scrolling two years ago during tough times and that it hurt his play on the field. We still haven’t seen enough of Trey Lance to learn how he’ll deal with the spotlight that comes from being the starter.
But there’s also pressure that comes from inside the locker room as well. General managers and coaches have to worry about the long-term health of a franchise, but players only care about that week’s game. They don’t care who gets them a win or how; they just want a W.
There were plenty of calls for Jimmy to be benched last season, to be sure. But they came from outside the team because Jimmy had built up credibility with his teammates thanks to the Super Bowl run in 2019. Trey Lance doesn’t have that same credibility yet. If he struggles, players will begin to wonder why a guy that’s been on the winning side so often as a starter is sitting on the bench.
Yesterday I asked Kyle if Garoppolo is a bigger threat to Lance in that way than Trey was last year.
“I don’t know, that’s not what it felt like from the outside every single game, every time that Jimmy had a bad pass, every single game we lost, I didn’t think that’s how anybody handled that. We were good in the building here and nothing will change now. So I don’t see any difference.
I think the quarterback position is really tough. No matter what, if you don’t win games that’s stuff’s gonna come. If you have a guy on the bench who has done it, yeah, that’s what the narrative’s gonna be, to put him in. If you have a rookie who hasn’t done it before, the narrative’s gonna be put the rookie in and see what you got. If you’ve got a guy that’s never played before, usually the backup quarterback’s always the most popular guy.
So like, no, I don’t see a difference. I see different stories but I see the same result. When you don’t play good in this league at quarterback, or you don’t win games, something’s coming. It’s all pretty much at the same level, it’s just what’s the obvious thing that they’re going to choose?”
One of the strongest parts of the Shanahan era has been the culture he’s built in the locker room. It’s possible that cracks within the team never form if Lance doesn’t have success right out of the gate. But it has happened in plenty of other places before.
Pete Carroll did a pretty good job building the Seahawks culture in 2012, and players on that team nearly revolted after Russell Wilson lost his first game as a pro. It can happen even in the best of locker rooms simply because there’s incredible urgency to win all the time.
The 49ers have never been afraid to make a big bet since this regime came to power in 2017. Right now, they’re betting that the locker room is strong enough to handle anything in 2022.
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