The 49ers’ quarterback situation between Jimmy Garoppolo and Trey Lance has proven how quickly things can change in the NFL.
In less than eight months, San Francisco’s QB1 went from Garoppolo to Lance and then back to Garoppolo again.
Now, with Lance out for the rest of the season and the 49ers once again being Garoppolo’s team, executives around the league wonder if San Francisco needed to trade for Lance in the first place.
“If Jimmy did not get you where you want to be, then where do you want to be?” an NFC exec told The Athletic's Mike Sando. “Because I can tell you this: 29 or 30 other teams aren’t where you were. Who is adding one player that takes multiple years to get the answer on, to a Super Bowl-caliber team that you built, to get you to win the Super Bowl? How does that work?”
Garoppolo was traded from the New England Patriots to the 49ers back in 2017, and has had only two fully healthy seasons since then. But in both of those seasons, the veteran QB has led San Francisco on deep playoff runs, including a visit to Super Bowl LIV.
Of course, much of Garoppolo’s success came from the team’s success with an overly talented defense and multiple offensive weapons around him.
Still, since the 49ers acquired Garoppolo, they are 35-16 in games with him under center. In that same span, when he doesn’t start at QB, San Francisco is 9-29.
But even though Garoppolo has helped take the team far, it was never enough. And in 2021, San Francisco made the decision to trade up for Lance in the draft, using three first-rounders and a third-round pick to acquire him.
It became crystal clear that the 49ers were ready to move on from Garoppolo, and have Lance be the future of the franchise.
But Lance’s inexperience, both in college and in the pros, became worrisome, as one AFC executive mentioned.
“To me, the only analysis that is worth making right now is, was the one game Lance played [in 2020] and the rest of his college career enough to say this guy was worth three first-round picks?” the AFC executive said. “The deal itself is totally defensible. Look what the Eagles gave up for [Carson] Wentz or the Rams gave up for [Jared] Goff.”
But the NFC executive pushed back on that notion.
“These other teams did it, so we have to, too?” he said. “Then let’s guarantee everybody $240 million when you have a civil rap sheet against you.”
Back in that 2021 draft, San Francisco held the 12th pick before trading it as part of the trade-up for Lance.
There's absolutely no way of knowing who the 49ers would have selected had they not traded away their pick. The Dallas Cowboys ended up with the pick and used it on Micah Parsons, who won NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year and finished second in AP Defensive Player of the Year voting last season.
And the four players drafted after Parsons in the draft were tackle Rashawn Slater, guard Alijah Vera-Tucker, QB Mac Jones and linebacker Zaven Collins.
It ultimately comes down to whether the 49ers' decision to potentially pass on one of those players, along with the future picks they traded away, was worth gaining Lance.
“The fact Lance played only one game in his final year [of college] and you knew he wasn’t going to play much in his first year with the 49ers, it made the consequence of injury in year three much more significant,” the AFC executive said.
Injuries are never predictable, and it'd be unfair to say the 49ers made a mistake to move up for Lance after a heartbreaking injury in his second start as QB1.
The back-and-forth and what-if game likely will continue for at least another year with Garoppolo back in the picture, but the goal is the same for all parties involved: Just win, baby.