The 49ers didn’t spend three first-round picks for Trey Lance to carry a clipboard on the sideline. Love it or hate it, the Trey Lance Era has arrived, and the time to embrace it is now.
San Francisco 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo may have sparked energy into an otherwise lifeless organization in 2017, but five years later, it’s time to move on. Although the Niners made a pair of deep playoff runs during Garoppolo’s tenure, they never finished their job of bringing the Lombardi Trophy back to the Bay Area, where Conference Championships hold no value.
Garoppolo is a serviceable starting quarterback who benefitted from one of the deepest rosters in the league, and arguably the NFL’s best play-caller in head coach Kyle Shanahan. Although the 49ers flourished with Jimmy G under center, Garoppolo never established himself as the franchise quarterback the team and fans expected.
Shanahan and 49ers general manager John Lynch wanted a reliable signal-caller who wasn’t a constant injury risk, and could be called upon to lead his team down the field to victory in the fourth quarter of a playoff game. So, despite Garoppolo’s hefty contract, the Niners executed an expensive trade and drafted North Dakota State quarterback Trey Lance with the third pick of the 2021 NFL Draft.
Shanahan and Lynch believe Lance, if managed correctly, will be the San Francisco 49ers’ next great franchise quarterback. The first half of their plan came to fruition last season, with Lance learning from the sideline and film room, while the Niners and Garoppolo nearly reached the Super Bowl for the second time in the past three years.
Similar to Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes in 2017, Trey Lance was afforded the opportunity to utilize his rookie year to improve mentally and physically, while also being a part of the team and experiencing playoff football. Despite taking a back seat to Garoppolo in 2021, Trey Lance saw twice as much playing time as Mahomes did during his rookie year, which helped Lance develop a feel for the speed of the game.
Still, the vast majority of Lance’s development occurred on the sideline and practice field, and in the film room, where he could observe and learn from mistakes instead of making them. Overall, the first phase of the Trey Lance plan was a success.
Now it’s time to turn the page to the second and final phase: Trey Area.
49ers Fan Expectations For Trey Lance In 2022
Lance has all the physical attributes NFL coaches crave in a quarterback. He’s an agile 6-foot-4 athlete with good speed and a cannon for an arm. The ceiling is very high for the 22-year-old starter. His physical traits alone make him a dangerous weapon for opposing defenses. Lance also spent considerable time training with third-year wide receiver Brandon Aiyuk over the offseason and the duo has impressed during training camp. Lance’s athleticism and ability to push the ball downfield gives Shanahan additional space to work with for all of his playmakers, including wideout Deebo Samuel and tight end George Kittle.
However, Trey Lance is also young and a raw talent. The QB just turned 22 years old and was one of the least-experienced college quarterbacks to be drafted near the top of the draft. Lance’s draft status, including the draft capital the Niners spent to select the youngster, combined with the 49ers’ open playoff window makes it difficult for many fans to manage their expectations.
Lance does not need to have a Mahomes-like sophomore year to be a success, nor should anyone realistically expect such a performance. Technically, he doesn’t even need to be a top-10 NFL quarterback in the league for the 49ers to have a legitimate chance at winning it all. Lance just needs to be an improvement over Garoppolo in certain aspects of his game. Niner fans should expect Lance to experience some growing pains this season, similar to nearly every first-year starter. There will be some head-scratching plays and errant throws from the 49ers’ quarterback this year, but what else is new?
What is Trey Lance’s Ceiling This Year?
The 49ers were able to defeat two difficult opponents in road playoff games last season — The Dallas Cowboys and their top-ranked offense and the Green Bay Packers, led by 2021 MVP Aaron Rodgers — without Garoppolo throwing a touchdown pass. With the 2022 version of Lance under center, would the outcome of those two games have been any different? When playing in a snowy Lambeau Field, at least the 22-year-old’s scrambling ability would have created problems for Green Bay’s defense.
Lance is surrounded by dangerous weapons on offense, which will likely be reinforced with a high-ranked defensive unit. What more could a “redshirt rookie” quarterback ask for? Shanahan and Lynch continue to do everything they can to give Lance the opportunity for success. Given his physical ability, a season to learn, and the impressive team surrounding him, Trey Lance’s ceiling is the San Francisco 49ers’ sixth Lombardi trophy.
It’s time to spur the development of the current 49ers regime’s largest investment. Not only will Lance greatly benefit in the development process as the starting quarterback this season, but even with their new quarterback under center, the Niners’ sights remain set on a Super Bowl victory.
Both Shanahan and Lynch have made it clear this is Lance’s team. They have concluded Jimmy Garoppolo is not “the guy”, and they are betting heavily that Trey Lance is. If they are correct, then the 49ers have struck gold — but there is only one way to find out. The 49ers have turned the page to the next chapter of their storied franchise. It is time for the 49ers’ Empire to embrace this journey forward.
Let the Trey Lance Era begin.