Kyle Shanahan and John Lynch both like Jimmy Garoppolo and know the 49ers can win a lot of games with him under center. But they didn't want their legacies in Santa Clara to be written without a quarterback they believed could eventually be a top-five signal-caller in the NFL.
Enter Trey Lance.
The 49ers swung a blockbuster trade with the Miami Dolphins to move up to the No. 3 spot in the 2021 NFL Draft to select the North Dakota State product. While Lance is just 21 years old and only played one full season for the Bison, Shanahan has no doubt Lance has what it takes to become an elite signal-caller who can win a team a Super Bowl on his own.
“Yeah, totally,” Shanahan told The MMQB's Albert Breer of Lance's potential to be a top-five QB. “And that’s it. You’re not gonna see it all on college tape. He played at a small school, and it was only one year, he got to play in one game his second year. But with Trey it comes with what you see on tape, yeah, but it’s also the horsepower you believe he has inside in him. Can you bring it out as a staff? Can he bring it out, being the right person? Can you put him in the right atmosphere? A quarterback who has a running element changes a lot of the game.
“But I’d get over that stuff quickly if you don’t think he’s got the skill set to do everything else. And we believe he does. And he’s showed us that so far. He’s by no means there yet, but he’s continuing to get better. And I believe he will his whole career.”
Shanahan ultimately decided to trade up in the draft for a quarterback because of the two Super Bowl losses he's experienced. He was offensive coordinator in Atlanta when the Falcons blew a 28-3 lead to Tom Brady, and, of course, he and the 49ers fell victim to Patrick Mahomes' greatness in Super Bowl LIV.
Shanahan knows his best shot at winning multiple Super Bowls is having a guy like Brady or Mahomes who can cover up for their team's deficiencies.
“I was in a Super Bowl, up 28–3, we’d just scored with four minutes left in the third quarter, and from then on out I watched a quarterback put 400 yards up in a quarter-and-four-minutes,” Shanahan told Breer. “And I thought people were covered pretty good, and he just picked us apart. I sat there and watched a quarterback just dissect somebody. So I’ve always felt that way. Quarterbacks are everything. You always want to try and get the Tom Brady. And Mahomes has played like that for a couple years.
“And there are some guys coming up that have the capability of doing that. I’ve known that for a real long time. Watching my dad, I mean, he was a real good coach when he had good quarterbacks. So it plays into everything. When you don’t have one of those Top 5 guys, you can still win. You gotta have a good defense. You gotta know how to run the ball. But yeah, when you have a guy who can play at that type of level, Hall of Fame-caliber, it makes things a lot easier.”
Lance admitted he was well behind during OTAs, but the rookie spent the 40 days between then and the start of training camp working on his mechanics and studying the playbook. Lance has been impressive early on in training camp, leading Shanahan to admit the rookie will play this season in some capacity and to even contemplate a quarterback rotation.
Shanahan has said it will be "tough" for Lance to beat out Garoppolo for the starting job. But if the rookie continues to develop faster than expected, it will be tough for Shanahan to keep him off the field.
He is, after all, the future.