First things first, yes, Jimmy Garoppolo is still a 49er – for now. While rumors have swirled around the quarterback and his immediate future in the Bay, a cloud of doubt has remained over San Francisco’s 2022 season without a clear and decisive plan under center. Coming off the heels of a third and fourth place finish in the NFC West the last two seasons, patience has begun to run thin with the musical chairs act between Garoppolo and 2021 No. 3 overall pick Trey Lance this spring.
While Garoppolo looked to be as good as gone as the final seconds ticked off in the Niners’ NFC Championship Game loss to the Los Angeles Rams, Head Coach Kyle Shanahan looks to be without a convincing plan of action less than a month away from the start of training camp. Although both the long-tenured head coach and General Manager John Lynch have remained pat on their intent to move Garoppolo this summer, following multiple waves of free agency, and the NFL Draft, Garoppolo remains in scarlet and gold. And however much the front office tandem seems to believe in Lance, they can’t deny that Garoppolo did in fact lead San Francisco to the NFC championship game last year.
An unproven talent out of North Dakota State, it’ll be trial by error whenever Lance fully takes over the reins of the 49ers offense. Whether it’s from the first snaps of camp that Shanahan has teased at, or later on the season if something unforeseen were to occur with Garoppolo, the speed of the NFL game could quickly humble the dual-threat signal caller, no matter how good he looks in 7-on-7 or 9-on-9 work this offseason. But his potential is through the roof as an explosive athlete with a bazooka on his shoulder and a pro-ready frame that can withstand the physical nature of the NFL game. Lance – despite his inexperience – has every tool in the bag to lead the Niners back to playoff football this fall.
“[Lance] has more horsepower inside of him than I think he even knows of,” Shanahan said. “Just from the whole talent, but also what he’s made of, how intelligent he is, I think he’s going to be able to overcome adversity. I do believe he’s going to handle this pressure. It’s going to be hard – that’s what the position is. And there are only so many people in this world who have the talent to be put in this spot. There might be 32 of them. But there definitely aren’t 32 who have the talent and who have the stuff inside that allows you to handle that position through the ups and downs.”
Similar to quarterback Mac Jones’ success in New England last fall working under the tutelage of Head Coach Bill Belichick, getting Lance under the direction of Shanahan – an offensive guru whose work speaks for itself – places him in an advantageous position in comparison to many young talents.
More than Shanahan, the faces and names around Lance should make things that much easier this fall. Offensive weapons like George Kittle, Brandon Aiyuk and do-it-all talent Deebo Samuel, scheming the ball out of Lance’s hands will force teams to pick their poison on the defensive side of the football. Add in second-year ball-carrier Elijah Mitchell, potential rookie standouts in wideout Danny Gray (SMU) and versatile running back Tyrion Davis-Price (LSU), and Lance won’t be asked to play hero ball to keep the 49ers in games, which should prove a recipe for success when developing a young quarterback.
The opposite side of the ball is where San Francisco will hang their hat this fall, no matter who aligns under center and how successful they are. One of the top defenses in football over the last three seasons, defensive end Nick Bosa remains the straw that stirs the drink for Shanahan’s group off the edge. After missing the 2020 campaign due to a torn ACL, Bosa ravaged offensive gameplans last fall totaling 15.5 sacks during a full 17-game slate. He’s one of football’s most intimidating presences at the 5-tech and is by no means is he a one-man show. Interior defensive lineman Arik Armstead and rangy linebacker Fred Warner form the rest of Defensive Coordinator DeMeco Ryans’ nucleus of defenders. The signing of Charvarius Ward to start opposite of Emmanuel Mosely could go down as one of the sneakiest additions this offseason, too. A former UDFA out of Middle Tennessee State, Ward has started 41 games (nine playoff starts) over the last three seasons for the Kansas City Chiefs and will provide another veteran voice on the backend within a division touting 2021 triple crown winner Cooper Kupp, D.K. Metcalf, Tyler Lockett and DeAndre Hopkins.
A roster looking to find long-lasting consistency under Shanahan, the Niners remain one of the biggest boom-or-bust teams in the entire league. A trip back to the NFC title game could be more of a fallacy this year, but if they put everything together and Lance outplays expectations, San Francisco could very easily find themselves back in the thick of things come playoff time.
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