The 49ers' franchise-altering decision to trade up to the No. 3 pick in the 2021 NFL Draft and select Trey Lance meant a number of things. General manager John Lynch and head coach Kyle Shanahan wanted to control their own destiny and win or lose with the quarterback of their choosing.
It also meant the clock was ticking on Jimmy Garoppolo's time in San Francisco.
Seventeen months ago, Garoppolo piloted the 49ers to a 13-3 record and a berth in Super Bowl LIV and was 10 minutes away from delivering a title and possibly earning MVP honors. But after missing 10 games in 2020 and 23 games in the past three seasons, Lynch and Shanahan made the decision to move on from Garoppolo.
Lynch was honest with Garoppolo when the 49ers made the deal with the Miami Dolphins to move up to No. 3, giving the veteran quarterback a clear understanding of why they made the move and what it meant for him.
"I think Jimmy's got a really good trust in myself and Kyle," Lynch told FS1's Colin Cowherd on Tuesday (h/t 49ers Webzone). "I think you earn that, and I think from day one, we've been very upfront with Jimmy. When I went to Jimmy, I told him the truth. Like, 'Look, we have made a decision that we're going to pursue a quarterback this offseason. You know, Jimmy, when you've played, you've been tremendous, and the record speaks to that. We feel like there's room for growth. The biggest thing has been it's hard to keep you on the field.'
"That's not an easy thing to tell a player but Jimmy took it tremendously. And my other commitment was, 'But here's the good news, Jimmy. We don't want you to go anywhere. We want you to be here, and our ownership has made the commitment that we can do that. We can fit it in our cap, and we think it's a good situation for you; probably not the one you ultimately want to hear. I'm sure you want to be the long-term guy. There's a flip side to that. You still could be.' Because he's going to have a chance to compete and earn that job, and we're just going to let that play out. But Jimmy's a really good football player."
To his credit, Garoppolo has approached Lance's arrival with the right attitude. He reached out to the 21-year-old when the 49ers made the pick and is excited to have the opportunity to compete with the guy tasked to eventually take his job.
"The chip will always be there," Garoppolo told ESPN's "Keyshawn, JWill & Zubin". "That hasn't gone away at all. Since I got in the league, I've had that. I think that kind of comes from just the way you were raised and everything like that. My dad was an electrician, blue-collar guy and I think it kind of just rubs off on you.
"It's kind of the way the league is going nowadays. Everybody is drafting young, wants to get the developmental guy and things like that, so I kind of know what it is. I've been on both sides of it now, but at the end of the, like I said earlier, all you can really ask for is the opportunity. Once you get that, you've got to take advantage of it."
Shanahan has said it will be difficult for Lance, who only started 17 games in college, to win the job this season. But it's very rare for quarterbacks drafted in the first round, especially top 10, to sit for an entire season. Lance was impressive in rookie minicamp, but Garoppolo, if healthy, should enter the season as the 49ers' starting quarterback.
It would be easy for Garoppolo to feel slighted by the 49ers. After all, he did just lead them to the brink of a title. But the 29-year-old quarterback knows that is just how the game is played in the NFL.
"That's not really the NFL. It's a what-have-you-done-for-me lately type of business," Garoppolo told CBS Sports Radio's Damon Amendolara when asked if he felt people forget how good he is. "I know that. I've known that my whole career. It's one of those things where you can't be satisfied with doing it once. You have to just every season keep going at it."
Like any competitor, Garoppolo will do everything he can to hold onto his job for as long as possible. But eventually, Lance will take over.
It's just a matter of when.