The 49ers are saying all the right things when it comes to taking as much pressure as possible off of the new face of the franchise. Though they made an aggressive move to trade up to the No. 3 overall pick in order to select Trey Lance in the 2021 NFL Draft, they've given every indication that they won't throw him into the fire until he is ready.
Coach Kyle Shanahan and general manager John Lynch have expressed their continued confidence in incumbent starter Jimmy Garoppolo, and CEO Jed York has gone as far as to say they are entirely comfortable if Lance doesn't play for two years, at which time Garoppolo's contract is set to expire.
That's the correct approach to have at this stage in the process. No OTAs or training camp practices have taken place yet, so there is every reason to believe that Garoppolo currently gives San Francisco the best chance of winning on Sundays. Of course, the 49ers wouldn't have drafted Lance if they didn't view that as a temporary situation.
How temporary? Well, that depends on how each QB performs. If Lance clearly is the superior option right out of the gate, then he will already have proven himself worthy of taking over as the starter. But if Garoppolo can stay healthy -- and do what he always has done when healthy -- then Lance could be holding a clipboard for his entire rookie season, if not longer.
Recent history tells us that of those two possible outcomes, it's more likely to be the latter than the former. NFL Network's Albert Breer recently went back and looked at every first-round rookie QB drafted since 2000 and when they made their first career start. He noticed a big change in 2008 when Matt Ryan and Joe Flacco led a trend of starting from the get-go. Since then, of the 39 QBs drafted in the first round, only three constituted what Breer defined as a "true redshirt." And those three had one major thing in common:
Jake Locker, Patrick Mahomes, and Jordan Love all were drafted by playoff contenders.
Unlike Trevor Lawrence, Zach Wilson, Justin Fields and Mac Jones -- the other QBs selected within the first 15 overall picks -- Lance was drafted by a legitimate playoff contender. The 49ers have one of the deepest rosters in the NFL, and with a fourth-place schedule for the upcoming season, it wouldn't be surprising whatsoever if San Francisco quickly returned to the top of the NFC. As such, Lance's situation is far more similar to those of Locker, Mahomes and Love than any of his fellow draft classmates.
Mahomes didn't start until a meaningless Week 17 game during his rookie season. Locker didn't start until Week 1 of his sophomore campaign. Forget starting a game, Love didn't even make it onto the active roster for any game of his rookie season last year.
So, if the 49ers follow the same general plan that the Kansas City Chiefs, Tennessee Titans, and Green Bay Packers had for their respective rookie first-round QBs, then it could be quite some time before Lance gets his first career start.
Then again, plans have a way of changing, and if Lance is the type of talent that the 49ers believe him to be, he could force their hand.