Win, lose or draw, 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan and general manager John Lynch will face the same question every week: When will Trey Lance start?
The 49ers selected Lance No. 3 overall in the 2021 NFL Draft with the belief that the North Dakota State quarterback was the type of rare talent who could elevate the franchise once he developed.
Lance saw action in three of the 49ers' first four games, and started in Week 5 when Jimmy Garoppolo was out with a calf injury. Lance suffered a knee sprain in that Week 5 game and was inactive in Week 7, after the Week 6 bye, as he recovered. The rookie has been active for each of the 49ers' past two games, but he didn't see a live snap in either contest.
So, with the 49ers at 3-5 and coming off an embarrassing loss to the Colt McCoy-led Arizona Cardinals, are we approaching the beginning of the Lance era? Not quite.
“It depends how our season goes," Shanahan said Thursday when asked if Lance would play more in the second half. "I've said the same answers with that since the beginning. So, I don't know how many different ways I can say.”
Shanahan noted that he'll continue to have packages for Lance in each game, but the rookie likely won't take over as the starter until dirt has been poured on the 2021 49ers' playoff hopes.
“Because I thought his question was, ‘Is he ever going to become the guy?’ " Shanahan said. "And that's how I have to see how the season goes. When he's ready, when our team's ready. Obviously, there's nothing to play for, you make that decision for a lot of guys trying to prepare guys for the next year and stuff like that."
With rookie quarterbacks Mac Jones and Justin Fields -- both of whom the 49ers passed on to pick Lance -- playing well, Shanahan and Lynch have started to take some heat for their decision to be patient with Lance and the choice to select the quarterback who was seen as the least NFL-ready out of the five first-round prospects.
49ers legend Joe Montana recently said that he would have taken Jones. Lynch, however, hasn't wavered in his belief that the 49ers made the right pick with Lance and knows the 49ers have to construct the proper timeline for the Lance era to begin.
"Look, we had a plan with Trey," Lynch said on KNBR's "Tolbert, Krueger & Brooks" on Thursday. "And I can tell you this -- I've said it over and over. I'll continue to say it because it's what I believe. I'm as convicted that Trey Lance is the right guy [as ever]. It's the guy we should have taken. It's the guy we had the conviction with. And I'm even more convicted now. I just think [the in-game experience] has got to be at the right time.
"I think Jimmy's played pretty well here the last couple of weeks, and we're still very much in [the playoff picture], albeit from the outside looking in. We still feel like we can claw our way back, and if Trey can be a part of that, great. But you're also gauging when's the best time for him.
"We fully know that, at some point, you've got to throw him out there and just play him because that's how you get better. But we want it to be the right time for him, for our team. So, we're working hard to try to come up with that."
While all the focus is on the 49ers' QB situation, San Francisco has much bigger issues to worry about at the moment. The defense hasn't played up to expectations, as a patchwork secondary has struggled to cover and tackle and also has been heavily penalized.
A recent report by Bally Sports' Mike Silver also suggested that Lance, who was impressive in training camp and the preseason, has regressed of late. When asked about the report, Shanahan didn't shoot it down.
“Yeah, he's gone up, he's gone down just like every player in here," Shanahan said of Lance. "So, when someone has a report that he had a really good first week of training camp, he did have a really good first week of training camp. He also had a good fourth week, a good third week. I can't remember exactly how it goes, so there's probably some accuracy to that report, which I think would be accurate with every player on our team."
The 49ers still are in the thick of the NFC playoff conversation. But they haven't looked like a playoff team over the past month, and need to clean up a lot of things in order to warrant being included in the postseason conversation.
But if the 49ers do turn things around this season, it appears, at least for the moment, that Lance won't be a contributing factor to what Shanahan and Lynch hope is a second-half playoff push.