The 49ers should have taken note of how Bears quarterback Justin Fields is progressing nicely, which means Trey Lance has to be starting now, not later.
For a while, the No. 3 overall pick was joined by Chicago Bears quarterback Justin Fields, a player many thought head coach Kyle Shanahan could have selected after the Niners’ aggressive trade-up last spring.
But Fields, whom San Francisco defeated in Week 8 despite a strong effort from the rookie, continues to show some serious development. And while Fields is just 2-5 as a starter, his trajectory from an unrefined rookie to a quality passer during that span isn’t hard to follow.
Especially after he dazzled in Week 9 against the Pittsburgh Steelers on Monday Night Football.
True, Fields and the Bears ultimately lost the prime-time bout 29-27. But after Chicago fell behind early, the No. 12 overall pick nevertheless was responsible for what was looking to be an epic comeback.
Fields finished the game going 17-of-29 for 291 yards, one touchdown against an interception while rushing for 45 yards and picking up a passer rating of 89.9.
Against one of the NFL’s toughest defenses, on the road and under the bright lights of Monday night. His efforts weren’t indicative of a rookie either, as Fields frequently made big-time throws well down the field and didn’t rely solely on the short, high-percentage tosses many a young rookie will attempt to make.
The Jacksonville Jaguars and New York Jets were forced to commit to their two rookies, Trevor Lawrence and Zach Wilson, respectively, right out of the gate. The New England Patriots ultimately decided Mac Jones should be their starting quarterback out of training camp.
Now, Fields is proving to the Bears why they made the right decision to trade up and get him, too, and his on-field play is beginning to pay the dividends.
So, what about the Niners? Why is Lance still on the bench behind the starter, Jimmy Garoppolo, not even getting the handful of snaps and plays San Francisco was offering up earlier this season?
Justin Fields a case study why 49ers must start Trey Lance now
Chicago, now at 3-6, has one more loss than the 3-5 49ers after Week 9. The Bears have fully admitted they’re not in playoff contention at this point, as the Green Bay Packers are running away with the division. In the Niners’ case, both the Cardinals and Los Angeles Rams are running away with the NFC West.
And even if both Chicago and San Francisco make a playoff push, at least the Bears are committing towards the future by giving Fields the experience he needs now.
Early on, Fields didn’t look good, true. Kind of like how Lance looked completely raw and unpolished during his lone start of the season, Week 5 against the Cardinals when Garoppolo was out with a calf injury. But that practical field time opened up the door for Fields to make those improvements, capitalize on the experience and turn into the kind of rookie quarterback who can go toe-to-toe against one of the league’s better defenses in Pittsburgh in prime time.
Lance, meanwhile, hasn’t taken a snap since that Arizona game weeks ago.
True, there’s a small argument Lance would benefit more by developing behind Garoppolo first. As head coach Kyle Shanahan has often said when asked about why Lance isn’t playing much, not all experience on the field is a good experience.
Yet with the 49ers slipping further and further out of the playoff discussion, the need to take a Bears-like route with Fields should be equally applied to the Niners with Lance.
49ers can’t use Jimmy Garoppolo as excuse not to start Trey Lance
Fields had to overtake the veteran quarterback, Andy Dalton. Lance has yet to take over Garoppolo.
Despite whatever Shanahan has said about Garoppolo being the de facto starter, it doesn’t change the fact Jimmy G is a lame duck. He knows it, the team knows it, the fanbase knows it and the rest of the league knows it. Lance is the future, hands down.
Granted, if the Niners were legitimately competing for a deep playoff push and potential Super Bowl berth, and Garoppolo was at the helm of that and playing well, then it would make some modest sense to keep Lance on the sidelines. But all of those factors would have to be true. Yes, Garoppolo has played well the last two weeks, yet San Francisco went 1-1 in those games. The team is no longer a Super Bowl contender, and the likelihood of even making the postseason appears grim at best.
Once that threshold is reached, 2022 becomes more important than 2021. The Bears realized it, hence putting Fields into a starter’s role to further his development.
The 49ers need to realize that now, too, regardless if it means benching or outright waiving Garoppolo. He’s not the future.
Lance is. Start him.