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The feel-good part is done because Jimmy Garoppolo preferred to stay with the Francisco 49ers as a backup than be released. And the team preferred to keep a well-respected player on the roster at a new, cheaper salary than simply let him walk.
So it worked out for everybody.
Except Trey Lance.
Lance, we’ve been told by the 49ers, is the starting quarterback.
“This is Trey’s team,” coach Kyle Shanahan said emphatically a month ago and continues to repeat publicly.
But Monday’s move to keep Garoppolo didn’t match action to Shanahan’s words. The significant move to keep Garoppolo strongly suggests it really isn’t “Trey’s team.”
It may be “Trey’s team” right now. But that can change during the season and there are compelling reasons it will change before 2022 is over.
Reasons Trey Lance May Lose Starting Job
The reasons for this run the gamut from perception to actual concern within the 49ers about Lance’s readiness for the starting QB assignment.
Let’s deal with the more important thing first and that’s Lance being ready to immediately succeed as San Francisco’s starting quarterback.
One club source told OutKick this week and has repeated over the past several weeks he has concerns about Lance being ready for the Sept. 11 regular-season opener at the Chicago Bears.
The source said he’s concerned about Lance’s accuracy and also his “eye level” when on-rushing lineman pressure him.
Lance’s eye-level apparently drops to the defenders around him when he’s under pressure in the pocket. Doing that means Lance is no longer looking downfield for open receivers while avoiding the rush instinctively.
It suggests Lance is more thinking about running out of trouble than passing himself out of trouble. And that simply isn’t the way many good, experienced quarterbacks handle pressure — because it limits them to one option (scrambling) for saving a play instead of two (scrambling and passing).
There is a strong belief within the 49ers that Lance can and will eventually solve his eye-level issue and handle pressure well as he gains more playing time. So this is not an indictment on Lance’s long-term viability to be an effective starting quarterback.
Trey Lance And 49ers Roster In Different Places
But it is an issue now on a team that has designs on being a Super Bowl contender now.
The 49ers have a roster built to vie for championships while they have a starting quarterback who is still in his developmental stages and might take a season or two to hit his ceiling.
That could be the reason the 49ers sought a solution for keeping Garoppolo rather than simply releasing him to gain a $25 million salary cap benefit.
The Niners are paying Garoppolo $7 million ostensibly to be their backup. That’s guaranteed and the team will strongly make the point Jimmy G is the backup.
But the club also included incentives in the new contract in case the backup becomes their starter again. Garoppolo can earn up to $9 million in incentives, per a league source, should he regain the starting job.
Garoppolo A Tempting Option
And this is where perception comes into play:
The truth is the 49ers are “Trey’s team” as long as they win with him. Maybe it’s not pretty all the time. Maybe he struggles as he grows while they win with their running game and defense.
But the Niners, it said a few a paragraphs ago, are a Super Bowl contender now with a veteran roster that loves Garoppolo. If Lance is losing games or holding the team back somehow, it will no longer be his team.
Players in the locker room who respect Garoppolo will want the quarterback change.
Fans will demand it.
And coach Kyle Shanahan and his assistants will make the change regardless of what they said a month ago because their job is to do what’s best for the entire organization.
Ultimately, the 49ers are being very smart because they recognize Lance will be entering the season — barring a seismic leap in the next 12 days — with limitations as a starter.
The team is willing to live with those limitations as long as it doesn’t cost games. But if Lance’s learning curve or health (another issue) threaten to derail the season …
…The San Francisco 49ers will be Jimmy Garoppolo’s team. Again.
OutKick writer Jason Cole contributed to sourcing in this report.
Follow on Twitter: @ArmandoSalguero