Niners: 3 reasons it’s not time to panic over the Trey Lance era
Taken with the third overall selection in the 2021 NFL Draft, the San Francisco 49ers had a plan for the future at quarterback – and his name is Trey Lance. Drafted to replace Jimmy Garoppolo when the time was right, head coach Kyle Shanahan understood where the NFL was trending and wanted to get his own version of the best style of QB to help run his offense.
After having seen limited action in his rookie season, Lance was handed the keys to the team this offseason and named the starter. With rumors running rampant about where Garoppolo was going to be playing this season after a trade, it was the 49ers that ended up keeping him, potentially throwing a wrench in Lance’s development.
Plus, the recent restructure of Garoppolo’s contract made it so he will likely remain with the team for the entire season due to no-trade and no-tag clauses being added to his new deal. Will this kind of agreement create friction between Lance and the coaching staff, the staff that reportedly was in his corner while assuming the starting role?
3. High Draft Capital = Long-Term Investment
The easiest aspect to consider for Lance’s sake is his draft capital. Not only did the 49ers take a QB from an FCS school that certainly had his fair share of question marks at third overall, they did so via a trade with the Miami Dolphins that they are still paying for.
By moving up from 12th overall to 3rd overall, the 49ers gave up their 2021, 2022, and 2023 first-round selections, plus a 2022 third-round selection, all to select a QB from North Dakota State, who likely would not even start his rookie year.
The sheer amount of draft capital that Shanahan championed for and John Lynch made happen is enough of a reason in itself to justify the team having the utmost faith in Lance. A potential reason for why the 49ers were so aggressive in their pursuit of Lance could lie in the fact that they wanted to try and replicate the process that Patrick Mahomes underwent when he was drafted in 2017.
Having sat behind Alex Smith, Mahomes earned the trust of the coaching staff and came out to prove exactly why the front office made him a first-round selection, and the rest is history. Lance has the tools to put together that type of career, and San Francisco looks to be wanting to give him whatever resources he needs to make that leap.
2. Dual-Threat Abilities & Scheme Fit
The new wave of NFL QBs relies on mobility and pocket awareness, while still being able to sling the ball all over the field. Lance has a cannon of an arm, and even a Midwest monsoon won’t be enough to slow down some of his more impressive work through the air.
Lance’s work in college painted a pretty clear picture of what the league and team should be expecting from him – a well-oiled machine capable of tucking the ball and running, but having the confidence in staying back in the pocket and throwing a 50-yard rainbow down the right sideline to a streaking wide receiver.
The confidence that Lance exudes whenever he steps on the field looks to be contagious, and the offense has a strong identity attached to it finally, all thanks to the elevation of Lance as the starter. Shanahan is able to tailor the offense more to the strengths of all areas, as the offensive line thrives in a scheme that typically relies on crossing patterns to scheme receivers open.
These short styles of passes are a great style to combine with Lance’s mobility, as they can help him for bailout opportunities more than a scheme that is reliant on staying in the pocket longer as routes develop. His core receiving group (Brandon Aiyuk, George Kittle, and Deebo Samuel) all fill their roles in the offense well, and Lance has grown accustomed to finding his proven targets somewhat close to the line of scrimmage.
But it is his athleticism and running ability that truly opens up this offense, something that obviously was not going to happen with Garoppolo under center.
1. No Turning Back To Garoppolo
Not to take anything away from Lance, but if he were to falter at times this season, Shanahan would likely consider pivoting back to Garoppolo to help stay afloat in the playoff race. But that would give this team and front office such an identity crisis and force outside criticism on it, two things that they certainly would like to avoid.
Lance just needs to be given time to develop into the QB that he was drafted to be – there really is not an easier way to look at the current situation. Grading Lance’s abilities to take over this franchise and lead them to a Super Bowl should not and cannot be judged off of the opening game of the 2022 NFL season, which, as a reminder, was being played on a bad field in monsoon-like conditions.
As is a typical characteristic with many of the new-school QBs entering the NFL, they will be consistently looked at as a running back that can throw the ball, not as a quarterback that can run the ball. Lance is built in a way that allows him to succeed at doing both things, a rarity in a league predicated on physicality and gameplan.
At the end of the day, San Francisco put all of their eggs into one basket when they made the move up the draft board in 2021 to grab Lance. They were fully aware of what kind of look that would give them and their handling of Garoppolo, and now they are needing to find some trusty earplugs to block out all of the noise from Lance not performing right out of the gate.
His skill set translates incredibly well to the offensive style that the game is being played currently, and Lance has had the playbook changed up to benefit his play styles. As long as both the 49ers staff and Lance remain on the same page with his usage, then this situation will play out just fine.
But as we all know, stranger things have happened in the NFL – so buckle up.