San Francisco 49ers quarterback Trey Lance will make the third start of his young career as the sophomore leads his team to Chicago to face the Bears on Sunday afternoon.
This is not like the two starts last season. There is more pressure. Lance has been anointed as a starting quarterback. He was an emergency starter for Jimmy Garoppolo in those two games as a rookie. He is now the face of the franchise and has been given the keys to the kingdom.
The only decisive backdrop to this season opener is the fact that Garoppolo surprisingly returned with a restructured deal after it seemed the Super Bowl quarterback was all but gone.
This has led to a story that Lance has a short belt. It is a belief that Garoppolo will take over in the short term if the 22-year-old signal caller were to struggle out the gate.
For what it’s worth, 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan has remained consistent in his public support for Lance as a starter, while making it clear that he believes the media has no idea what they are talking about.
“It sounds like a fan talking and they have no idea what they’re talking about. Not to insult a fan or anything,” Shanahan told the KNBR on Friday when asked about the national media who said that Garoppolo came back only because the San Francisco buyer doesn’t believe in Lance.
This is a story that has been more than a year in the making. Once San Francisco exhausted two first-round picks and changed to go to No. 3 in the NFL Draft for Lance 2021, it became clear that Garoppolo would soon be ousted from the throne. The move came just over a calendar year after Garoppolo “led” San Francisco to a Super Bowl appearance.
Less than eight months after Garoppolo and his 49ers held a 10-point lead over the Los Angeles Rams in the NFC Championship Game, the veteran will be holding a clipboard once the season starts on Sunday in Windy City.
Shanahan wants to turn this in a certain direction. The media wants to direct the story. It’s a perfect storm with Lance himself being the unintentional victim of back and forth.
“Guys, this is Trey’s first year starting for us. We unleashed a $24 million starting quarterback to do that. We got it back for a backup price,” Shanahan said Friday. “I don’t think it has to do with not having faith in your starter.”
Indeed, Garoppolo would count north of $26 million against the cap by 2022. Its base is now just $6.5 million with certain incentives after the restructuring.
Despite the positive dynamics on the field (San Francisco has the best backup in the league), Shanahan and Co. knowing that bringing Garoppolo back would trigger some reflex reactions from the masses. It will also result in more pressure being thrown in Lance’s direction. That’s human nature, and anyone who doesn’t see this is being tricked by the 49ers’ spider.
Trey Lance on being unnamed team captain
In what has been yet another topic of conversation, Lance was not named as one of the six 49ers team captains heading into Week 1. Usually, the starting quarterback is a team captain. Fellow 2021 concept mates Trevor Lawrence, Zach Wilson, Mac Jones and Justin Fields earned those titles.
Lance’s situation is a little different because as a rookie he wasn’t a full-time starting quarterback. Those other four were first round choices. He talked about not being named team captain recently while keeping his cool.
“Of course that’s a goal of mine, but I don’t think you can look at six of those guys and say ‘this guy is an idiot,'” Lance told reporters earlier this week. “They’ve all played football at a very high level. Situations are different. I’m excited. I voted for each of those guys, so I think they all deserve it.”
Nick Bosa, Arik Armstead, George Kittle, Jimmie Ward, Trent Williams and Fred Warner were all named team captains. Lance finished seventh in the team voting.
A championship-class team that names six captains who have been instrumental in building the foundation for a 22-year-old sophomore? Imagine that!
Other than this being just another way of clickbaiting, I’m not sure how much this really matters. Shanahan talked about that too. “The whole captain’s voice (criticism) is kind of a joke to me,” Shanahan said. “Bosa finally got enough votes to get to number 6, and look at those six people for Trey.”
Make no mistake, Trey Lance is under pressure
Aside from the headlines leading up to Week 1, it would be foolish to believe Lance isn’t under pressure to start his third career.
Lance, a product of the state of North Dakota, has thrown all 389 regular season passes since his high school days in Minnesota. He leads a team with legitimate Super Bowl aspirations and has a quarterback in Garoppolo who has helped the 49ers to two NFC Championship Games and a Super Bowl appearance in the past three seasons.
Anyone with common sense would conclude that Lance is under more pressure than any other quarterback in the 2021 first round, including Sunday’s opponent Justin Fields.
Lance shouldn’t shy away from it. He should applaud the pressure. It would already exist regardless of Garoppolo’s presence on the roster.
“It’s the hardest thing, it passes. It’s not unworldly, because you can do it, but it’s an almost impossible job. Let’s face it, and it’s proven by the number of people who have been able to do it effectively,” says franchise legend Steve Young of the pressures that come with being a 49ers starting quarterback.
Young was under that pressure when he took over from the great Joe Montana. Jeff Garcia felt the same way when he was forced to replace Young. More recently, the early run of Colin Kaepernick, who replaced Alex Smith, was a prime example of this.
Lance needs to embrace this and run with it. There is no looking back now. He is the starting quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers. It will lead to pressure. Just ask Garoppolo.
Jimmy Garoppolo lurking in the background
Regardless of what Shanahan wants us to believe publicly, Lance will be given a short line. It shouldn’t be any different given San Francisco’s championship class roster and Garoppolo’s success as the team’s leader over the past few seasons.
Let’s put this in perspective for a moment. Despite his obvious limitations, Garoppolo has a 31-14 starter record in San Francisco since joining the team midway through the 2017 season. All other quarterbacks during the Shanahan era have an 8-28 starter record. If we were to go back to the first season of the post-Jim Harbaugh era in 2015, every San Francisco starter not named Garoppolo has set a 15-43 record.
If Lance were to struggle with the nuances of leading an NFL charge out of the gate, there’s absolutely no reason to believe he won’t be put in Garoppolo’s favor. San Francisco has worked too hard to build this roster. The players have that too.
This doesn’t mean this will happen. It remains an unlikely scenario given Lance’s level of talent and the group he has around him on the attack. Unlike the other second-year quarterbacks heading into the 2022 campaign, he’s in a great position.
“He’s all set for the opportunity,” 49ers All-Pro linebacker Fred Warner said of Lance recently. “Who wouldn’t want to be the quarterback on that attack with the guns, Kyle’s spirit and the support of your entire team? It’s the perfect opportunity for him.”
It starts on Sunday afternoon at the famous Soldier Field. All eyes will be on Lance, including the 49ers copper and Garoppolo himself watching from the sidelines.