Jimmy Garoppolo must be threatened by Trey Lance’s rapid ascent

San Francisco 49ers quarterbacks Trey Lance (5) and Jimmy Garoppolo (10) Mandatory Credit: Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports
San Francisco 49ers quarterbacks Trey Lance (5) and Jimmy Garoppolo (10) Mandatory Credit: Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports /

The 49ers young rookie quarterback hasn’t made it easy on incumbent Jimmy Garoppolo, forcing people to reconsider how quickly Trey Lance could start.

I was one of many people who believed from the outset that San Francisco 49ers rookie quarterback Trey Lance would need to take the Patrick Mahomes route and sit out for a season to develop his unquestionable yet raw ability.

If the performance of Lance so far has been any indication, it may be time to rethink this philosophy drastically. His ability to learn the nuances of the playbook has been much more advanced than anyone could have dared to hope.

You could argue even that he’s thoroughly outplayed starter Jimmy Garoppolo in camp, which is true to an extent (more on that later).

While Lance has been primarily the backup quarterback in camp, his throws have been eyepopping. His athleticism and arm power combine to make throws that are simply astonishing to watch, not unlike what the 49ers have had to put up with watching Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson two times a season.

There is a caveat to this, however. Lance has mostly been playing with backups and playing against backups. He’s had some first-team reps, but not a lot of them.

Jimmy Garoppolo now has tenuous hold on 49ers starting job

While Garoppolo is still almost definitely going to be starting in Week 1, his spot is still not as secure as it was before training camp started. He’s been just fine in camp but is still prone to the same Garoppolo shortcomings that leave fans scratching their heads.

Yes, he’s going up against starters, unlike Lance, but Jimmy G’s still going to be held to a different standard than a rookie just beginning his career.

That’s opened up an opportunity for Lance, who has had some understandable teething problems as a rookie but also has been much more impressive than the incumbent.

The 49ers have made it clear already that Garoppolo will play just one series during the Niners’ preseason opener against Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs, while Lance will play the rest of the first half, which makes sense with Garoppolo as the assumed starter. But it also gives Lance some extended time on the field.

And if Lance’s performance is an impressive one, it’s going to be harder and harder to resist the rookie getting even more reps with the starters.

Garoppolo knows he’s on borrowed time. The 49ers want to essentially make 2021 an audition tape to maximize their trade capital, but they may also end up just giving up Garoppolo as a sunk cost and starting Lance sooner rather than later.

And if Lance is handed the keys to the franchise, Garoppolo isn’t likely to be getting them back.

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