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Maiocco: Shanahan will not be judged by 49ers' 2021 season

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SANTA CLARA -- Ownership signed off on the trade that enabled the 49ers to move into the No. 3 overall pick.

Ownership signed off on the decision to retain veteran quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo for one season while the youngster was being groomed to take over.

At some point, Trey Lance will take over for Jimmy Garoppolo as the 49ers’ starting quarterback. But coach Kyle Shanahan this week indicated the timing of that decision will be made with future seasons in mind.

“We didn't draft Trey to just fix this year,” Shanahan said. “We drafted him so he could be the quarterback here of the future.”

Shanahan has come under heat — and rightfully so — for the 49ers’ struggles this season.

But this year could end up being a mere footnote on Shanahan’s tenure with the 49ers.

After all, he and general manager John Lynch will be judged on the outcome of their decision to trade away two future first-round draft picks (and a third-rounder) to secure the quarterback they expect will keep the 49ers as a contender for as long as he plays.

If Lance ends up being great, the cost of acquiring him will be of little significance.

That is why, despite the 49ers’ disappointing 2-4 record, the clock has not even started ticking on Shanahan, who is signed through the 2025 season.

CEO Jed York showed the trust in the 49ers’ top decision-makers to sign off on the plan devised by Lynch and Shanahan.


And until Lance permanently takes over as the starter, there is nothing by which to judge Lynch and Shanahan.

The first phase, of course, was for Garoppolo and his $25.5 million pay commitment to remain as the starter for one season — or step aside whenever Shanahan determined Lance gave the 49ers a better chance of winning.

The 49ers figured they could win a lot of games with Garoppolo at quarterback while also grooming and developing Lance. That part has not gone smoothly, as the 49ers have lost four consecutive games entering their Week 8 game against the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field.

Garoppolo played 2 1/2 games during this current skid. He has not played particularly well at any point this season.

But Garoppolo will be entrusted to get the 49ers out of their funk. Lance returned to limited practice this week after sitting out the team’s Week 7 loss to the Indianapolis Colts. He appears to be on pace to return to his backup role.

It is likely that Shanahan feels as if the longer he can hold off on promoting Lance into the starting lineup, the better.

Shanahan’s No. 1 priority with Lance was, and continues to be, to make sure that he experiences success and his confidence is not shaken by being forced into the offense too early — before he was ready.

When Lance started on Oct. 10 against the Arizona Cardinals, the game plan and play-calling suggested that Shanahan believed the rookie was not ready to run the 49ers’ conventional offense.

Lance’s best skill, at this point, is his ability to run. So, he ran a lot. That is what gave the 49ers their best chance to beat the then-unbeaten Cardinals. It also led to Lance sustaining a left knee sprain that sidelined him until this week.

RELATED: If 49ers wait until Lance is fully ready, it will be too late

Shanahan might feel handcuffed by Garoppolo, who simply does not push the ball down the field and make the big plays in the passing game that Shanahan considers as staple of his offense.

When the 49ers determined Lance was their man at No. 3, the feeling was that he would eventually get to that point where he could do more in the passing game than Garoppolo while also giving the offense a boost with his athleticism, improvisational skills, and using his running ability when plays break down.

Shanahan might not think Lance is there, yet.

In the big picture, only when Shanahan makes the call to Lance will we begin to see whether the long-term future of the franchise is in the right hands.

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