For the fourth consecutive offseason, the San Francisco 49ers have major questions to answer at their quarterback position - not for their lack of trying to find answers.
Since their most recent Super Bowl appearance in 2019, Jimmy Garoppolo, Brock Purdy, and Trey Lance have all spent varying amounts of time under center. Yet, despite contrasts in their styles of play, and notwithstanding team success, all three have something in common. - injuries.
Regardless, Head Coach Kyle Shanahan and General Manager John Lynch have some critical decisions to make. They have a pressing imperative to name a quarterback befitting a roster brimming with talent and ready to compete for the franchise's 6th Super Bowl ring.
The 49ers have all but ruled out a reunion with Jimmy Garoppolo. During his end-of-season press conference, Shanahan commented that he doesn't "see any scenario" in which the team re-signs their longstanding starter. That said, Garoppolo has had a Jason Voorhees-esque ability to continually revive his 49ers tenure.
However, this time with younger options at quarterback, reports of tension between Shanahan and Garoppolo’s relationship, as well as his own open market value, this seems to be the end of the road for Jimmy G and the 49ers.
As such, there appear to be three remaining options for San Francisco to address the most important position in football, with the rest of their team - except for a few vacancies on the defensive and offensive line - ready to compete.
Despite being the last pick in the draft and starting the season 3rd on the 49ers depth chart, Purdy has hardly put a foot wrong since he was thrust into the starting role in Week 13 of last season. He averaged 220 yards passing per game, held a 13/4 TD-to-INT ratio, and had a quarterback rating of 107.3, the highest of any 49ers quarterback in Kyle Shanahan's coaching tenure. He is 7-1 as a starter, with his only loss being in the NFC Championship, where he tore his ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) on the second play of the game.
Purdy would perhaps have been a lock-in incumbent starter, but alas, his injury has raised doubt about that possibility. The 23-year-old is set to have an "internal brace surgery" on February 22nd with Dr. Keith Meister, with a return-to-play timeline of approximately 6 months, provided there are no post-surgical complications.
In terms of play on the field, Shanahan has been steadfast in his praise of Brock Purdy, and his performance has undoubtedly backed it up. But it is one thing to endorse your 7th-round rookie quarterback when he is the last man standing, and another thing entirely to hand him the starting job and keys to an offence with Super Bowl-level talent and expectations.
Lance's initial run as the starting quarterback was cut short in Week 2 of last season when a broken fibula and torn deltoid saw him sidelined for the rest of the year. Jimmy Garoppolo (who would also suffer a season-ending injury) and rookie Brock Purdy managed to salvage the 49ers campaign - but where does that leave Lance, who was initially thought to be the franchise's impending starter moving forward?
Whilst his main competition for the starting job, Purdy, is yet to have surgery, Lance has almost completed his rehabilitation program. He stated on January 31st that he was "three-and-a-half weeks out from being totally cleared" to begin running. The 49ers are expecting him to be "100 percent before OTAs," sometime in mid-May.
Although Lance will be on the track well in advance of his rookie counterpart, his play on the field is yet to establish that the North Dakota State product is a long-term NFL starter.
With only 8 career games played and a 2-2 record as a starter, Lance has been inconsistent and inaccurate, completing just 48.4% of his mere 31 pass attempts with a quarterback rating of just 55.0 before going down last season.
To be fair, there just isn’t enough of a sample size on Lance to draw any conclusions about his viability as a starting quarterback - he was a raw prospect when the 49ers drafted him. However, there is a real contrast between his relatively slow start and Purdy’s 7-0 opening run as the chief signal-caller.
The health advantage he possesses over Purdy is a real bonus for the 3rd overall pick in the 2021 NFL draft. Lance taking all starting reps with the likes of Deebo Samuel, Christian McCaffrey, George Kittle, and Brandon Aiyuk will help to build chemistry.
But as the 49ers learned last season, it is less important who the quarterback is in Week 1 than who the quarterback is in the final minutes of a playoff game.
Whether or not Lance truly has the makings of the 49ers future starter is unknown - but he must capitalise on the advantages he has during the preseason, lest Lynch and Shanahan return to the proven winning commodity of Brock Purdy.
Prior to Tom Brady’s retirement, there were already swirling rumours and connections being made between the 49ers super-bowl ready juggernaut, their uncertainty at QB, and the man considered to be the greatest quarterback of all time.
However, with Brady seemingly off the board, the 49ers options in the free-agent market have slimmed to Derek Carr, a disgruntled Jimmy Garoppolo, or Baker Mayfield - all of whom seem near certainties to find a different home.
Undoubtedly, John Lynch will explore the possibility of adding an experienced third arm to the 49ers quarterback room - the likes of Teddy Bridgewater, Jacoby Brissett, Joe Flacco, or Andy Dalton will be considered.
While last year proved that it is possible to have your 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 4th options at quarterback all suffer injuries, any signing would have to be for a relative bargain - as the 49ers have holes to fill at safety, edge, right tackle, offensive line as well as an upcoming (and well-deserved) contract extension to 2022 NFL Defensive Player of the Year, Nick Bosa.
Aaron Rodgers has already removed himself from any potential homecoming, with the once Cal star, jokingly confirming that he's "not going to San Fran" at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am Golf Tournament.
The stage may be set for a true quarterback competition between Brock Purdy and Trey Lance heading into the 2023 NFL season. This itself is some sort of cruel irony for the 49ers, who traded multiple first-round picks to acquire Lance at 3rd overall, yet have so far found their greatest success in a quarterback they selected with the very last pick in the following year's draft.
Regardless of who starts and who backs up during Week 1, the 49ers would do well to have as many qualified quarterbacks ready to go as possible. The past few years have shown that depth at the most important position in football is a vital lifeline for a team that expects to compete at the highest level.
That being said, the old adage that "if you have two starting quarterbacks, you have none" has proven true time and time again. Whoever is QB1 next season must operate Shanahan's system to a high level before their Super Bowl window closes.
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2 weeks, 1 day ago by drcem
This is the most comprehensive analysis of the 49ers I have ever read. Brilliant.
2 weeks, 1 day ago by [email protected]
This is an excellently written analysis of the football players and the Game. His style of writing reminds me of one of America's outstanding sports writers of the 20th century--Grantland Rice. (look him up). We look forward to future articles by this author-whose voice is authentic, well researched and well written. Colleen and Harry.
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