All the questions and reports about 49ers quarterback Trey Lance have called out the bigger picture on why NFL insiders report what they report.
Earlier today, we broke down a rebuttal on a report from CBS Sports HQ’s Ryan Harris, which suggested San Francisco 49ers quarterback Trey Lance had an issue with “arm fitness.”
Now, this wasn’t Harris’ opinion. At least he didn’t frame it that way.
Instead, he cited sources by pointing out, “From players I’ve talked to and coaches I’ve talked to who are at the 49ers, Trey Lance is really leaving a lot to be desired in terms of the fitness of his arm, whether or not he can digest the playbook, and can really start to process the game at a high level.”
The opening line of that quote is what matters here. Harris is reporting on what he’s hearing, not what he thinks is actually happening with Lance.
It’s not unlike what NFL insider Matt Lombardo reported about Lance earlier this month:
I’ll give you about two seconds to imagine how the bulk of the Niners fanbase felt about Lombardo following that particular tweet.
Hint: It wasn’t particularly positive.
Public reactions to what analysts and insiders like Harris and Lombardo said can be awfully negative, and those of us working in sports media know it’s all part of the business. Believe me, writers and insiders aren’t going to lose sleep over what @JoeBob49ersFan01813223311 on Twitter says about them being hacks.
However, the whole offseason discussion about Lance and these kinds of reports should make us think a little deeper and look at the bigger NFL media picture.
Why are they happening? Are these reporters actually making this stuff up?
NFL media isn’t throwing crap about Trey Lance against the wall to see what sticks
Before going any further, it’s important to differentiate between reports and opinions. When someone like ESPN’s Adam Schefter said a year ago, “I believe that in the end [the 49ers] will pick Mac Jones” and not Lance, it was his opinion.
“I believe” is the keyword.
Had Schefter said something along the lines of “sources tell me Mac Jones will be the pick,” then that’s a report. Not an opinion.
I don’t know Harris. But I do know Lombardo personally. He was a colleague of mine for some time here at FanSided, and he’s well-connected around the league. If he says he heard from a connected someone that the Niners staff was “continuously underwhelmed” by Lance, I absolutely100-percent believe he heard that.
Is it an accurate report? Is his source fully correct on the situation? Those are fair questions, sure.
But let’s not automatically jump to a critical conclusion that both Harris and Lombardo are making this sort of thing up just “for clicks” or to create some sort of shock-jock knee-jerk reaction.
Niners Nation’s Rob Guerrera, who does a great job over there, details why it’s important to understand this sort of thing:
"Before you start – don’t tell me they’re “making it up for clicks.” People say that crap all the time but I can tell you from experience that it rarely happens. I have been a part of the media for around 15 years. Before joining SB Nation I worked at ESPN Radio and with NBC’s Pro Football Talk for about 15 years. I have gotten to know many an analyst and reporter. They don’t just make stuff up. They don’t have to. There are enough people inside organizations, or people that used to be inside organizations that someone is going to say something that they can use."
On top of that, should an NFL insider or analyst make up a source for the attention and subsequently be found out, it would be “game over” as far as that career is concerned.
Again, not all sources are equal. And many an insider has better sources than others. It’s part of what makes this all so intriguing, and teams often funnel misleading information to insiders, too, as part of their oh-so-frequent smokescreen campaigns.
Still, it doesn’t mean those insiders are making it all up.
So, who’s the source of all this Trey Lance talk and 49ers being underwhelmed?
Guerrera makes another great point about where the source is coming from:
"With so much coaching turnover and with the new coaches having virtually no time with their players to this point, it seems highly unlikely that anyone currently with the team is criticizing Lance to outside sources. How could they? Their relationship has barely begun.If people currently inside the organization aren’t likely sources, that only leaves ex-coaches and players as the source."
The Niners experienced plenty of personnel turnover during the offseason, including their coaching staff, so that’s certainly a possibility. Names have been thrown out there, too, such as former quarterbacks coach Rich Scangarello, who departed for the same position with the University of Kentucky.
Insiders almost never reveal their sources, though, so the hard reality is we probably won’t ever find out exactly who is telling insiders like Harris and Lombardo all this stuff about Lance. And with so many different personalities within a front office and coaching staff, it’s almost impossible to have everyone universally on board with selecting and developing a high-profile player.
Perhaps there are a few players and coaches within San Francisco’s organization who still have doubts about Lance. Maybe it’s someone no longer with the team.
The likelihood is we’ll probably never know.