The 49ers enter the 2021 season in a position rarely occupied by expected Super Bowl contenders. San Francisco has two quarterbacks, both of whom coach Kyle Shanahan believes can help the team win this season.
The old "If you have two quarterbacks you have zero" adage might not apply here. Trey Lance has made a huge leap since the end of OTAs, but the rookie's arrival also has pushed incumbent Jimmy Garoppolo to play what Shanahan and general manager John Lynch have described as the 29-year-old's best ball as a 49er.
Lance was behind during OTAs, but he spent the 40 days away working on his mechanics and learning the playbook. The 21-year-old has made a number of impressive throws early on in camp, leading many to assume that what wasn't a quarterback competition has become one.
While Shanahan still believes it will be "tough" for Lance to win the job outright, he does envision both Garoppolo and Lance playing this season and is even open to determining who is under center based on matchups.
“I think I can ride it out week-in and week-out, personally,” Shanahan told The MMQB's Albert Breer. “I think our guys trust us to make the right decision. It’s cool being in a building where no one has an agenda, whether it’s me, the GM, the owner. Everyone’s on the same page, there’s no pressure—Hey, you have to do this or You have to do that. And our players know that too, that’s what’s great about our place here. When players know you’re on the same page with the personnel department, with the owner, then they don’t really care. They just want to win.
“And I think when this is all said and done, there’s gonna be two guys they believe will help us win and I think they’ll trust us to make that decision, whether it’s permanently, for one game, for a series or just a situation. We gotta balance that out right, though. It’s tough to do, but it is as easy as ‘How do you win the game?’"
Rotating quarterbacks based on the opponent and/or situation is something rarely seen, and certainly one that is almost unthinkable for a team with legitimate title hopes. And yet, Shanahan doesn't seem fazed by the thought of bouncing back and forth between Garoppolo and Lance if he believes it's what is best for the team.
“Yeah, I do,” Shanahan told Breer. “And the hardest thing is articulating it to you guys. Which I get. But I really try to keep as simple as what gives us the best chance right now to win. And I think our players trust that I’m like that. I think our quarterbacks trust that I’m like that. You can disagree, but it’s hard to take it personally when it’s like that. I hope we’ve got the right guys, the right team, and if they both keep getting better; it should be a good problem for me.”
Both Garoppolo and Lance admitted they have never been in a QB rotation, but are willing to do what is necessary to help the team win.
“I’ve never been in a situation like that,” Garoppolo told Breer. “I think at any level of football, you get two quarterbacks playing, it’s tough. But we’ll cross that bridge when we get there. There is the whole Taysom Hill thing in New Orleans, they were doing a version of that. There is a place for it. It’s tough, but Kyle, he’s a revolutionary guy, he’s done some crazy s--- in the past, so you never know.”
Even if Lance does eventually nab the job from Garoppolo, don't expect the 49ers to trade the veteran quarterback. After having the 2018 and 2020 seasons go down the drain when Garoppolo went down with injury, Shanahan and the 49ers know the importance of having reliable depth at the position.
They have that now with a motivated Garoppolo and a surging Lance.
The 49ers will open their season in 34 days against the Detroit Lions. Garoppolo is expected to be the starter, but Lance will see some time on the field. Where things go after that truly is anyone's guess.