Trey Lance will need to overcome Jimmy Garoppolo shortcomings

Jimmy Garoppolo #10 and Trey Lance #5 of the San Francisco 49ers (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
Jimmy Garoppolo #10 and Trey Lance #5 of the San Francisco 49ers (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images) /

The reason why the 49ers drafted Trey Lance was fully revealed when Jimmy Garoppolo faltered in the NFC Championship game, and Lance must perform at a higher level as a result.

No one truly knows what the San Francisco 49ers have just yet in their most prized possession from the 2021 NFL Draft, quarterback Trey Lance.

Lance, the No. 3 overall selection, was sprinkled in at times during the regular season and even made two starts, one win and one loss, over the course of 2021 and in light of the veteran starter, Jimmy Garoppolo, suffering injuries.

Despite Lance showing flashes of promise, those expected from a top-five draft pick, head coach Kyle Shanahan nevertheless stuck with Garoppolo as his starter, a move that paralleled the Niners’ push to within one quarter of achieving a victory in the NFC Championship game over the Los Angeles Rams and a second trip to the Super Bowl in three years.

Alas, however, it didn’t happen.

Garoppolo and the offense crumbled in the fourth quarter, and 13 unanswered Rams points resulted in the 20-17 defeat, effectively ending the Garoppolo era in San Francisco and ushering in a new one with Lance in 2022 and beyond.

Garoppolo finished the night going 16-of-30 for 232 yards, two touchdowns against that interception, all for a passer rating of 87.1. Not a terrible game overall. But in light of the clutch moments at hand, Garoppolo simply wasn’t good enough to get the 49ers over the hump.

Not unlike another fourth-quarter collapse against the Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl LIV two seasons before.

Sure, there’s plenty of blame to go around. The Niners would have been in a better spot if safety Jaquiski Tartt didn’t drop that would-be fourth-quarter interception. Shanahan’s conservative play-calling in the fourth quarter, including three short-yard-to-go situations not involving wide receiver Deebo Samuel, should haunt San Francisco all offseason, too.

Still, the No. 1 focal point from the game sheds light on why the 49ers are transitioning away from Garoppolo and onto Lance.

Trey Lance will need to succeed for 49ers where Jimmy Garoppolo failed

None of this is intended to be yet another Jimmy G bashing session. The Niners owe a lot to Garoppolo for helping them get out of the doldrums of the 2017 season and before, and no one will overlook the fact Shanahan went 31-14 with Garoppolo under center in the regular season during his tenure.

And by all accounts, Garoppolo handled himself as the consummate professional, even after San Francisco signed his eventual walking papers by drafting Lance in the spring of 2021.

“Everyone put us against each other,” Lance told reporters on Monday regarding his relationship with Garoppolo. “But he’s been nothing but a big brother to me. …Obviously, he’s going to be one of my best friends for my entire life.”

Garoppolo played a key role in revitalizing the 49ers franchise into a perennial playoff contender. But it was in the playoffs where he ultimately came up short.

In six career postseason games played, Jimmy G completed 60.6 percent of his passes with four touchdowns against six interceptions, all for a passer rating of 74.1.

Lance will have to exceed those numbers. Particularly if and when he makes the playoffs. That’ll be the mark of whether or not the Niners were right to move on.

49ers put Trey Lance into best possible situation to succeed

As it turned out, letting Lance sit behind Garoppolo in year one was the right move. Despite all those calls earlier in the season when San Francisco was struggling (including us) for Garoppolo to be benched in favor of the rookie, Shanahan stayed the course.

And while the end result was painful, the 49ers nevertheless ended up being one of the NFL’s final four teams.

A noteworthy accomplishment. Hopefully one which Lance can appreciate, taking in the kind of work and up-and-down experiences the team had along the way.

Related Story: Trey Lance relationship with Jimmy Garoppolo is still crucial

Moving on from Garoppolo, who aided Lance’s first year as a pro, frees up more than $25 million in cap space for 2022, allowing the Niners to retain the bulk of their offense to provide Lance with the best possible context heading into his first full season as a starter. Samuel should be a top extension priority, while San Francisco can look to re-sign key players like veteran left guard Laken Tomlinson.

Despite all that, Lance will still take his bumps. Those are to be expected. But the end result, whether it be a year from now or even two, will be Lance providing the playmaking prowess his predecessor, Garoppolo, was unable to deliver when games (particularly playoff ones) were on the line.

If Lance succeeds there, the path to that progression will have been worthwhile.

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