Of the five quarterbacks taken in the first 15 picks of the 2021 draft, four have become their team’s starters. One has not.
That one, of course, is 49ers quarterback Trey Lance. From the moment the 49ers moved from No. 12 to No. 3, the writing became sandblasted into the concrete. Jimmy Garoppolo would be traded or cut by the team, sooner or later.
The time for saying “later” to Jimmy G has become later than sooner because, quite simply, Lance hasn’t shown that he’s the better option than Garoppolo.
Think about that one for a second. The 49ers invested the 12th overall pick, two more first-round picks, and a third-round pick in a quarterback who has been, to date, unable to prove that he’s the better option than a middle-of-the-pack quarterback who can’t stay heathy and who sufficiently freaked out coach Kyle Shanahan during the 2019 playoffs to prompt Shanahan to go three-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust for the balance of the divisional round win over the Vikings and the NFC Championship shredding of the Packers.
Garoppolo remains the starter in part because the locker room is loyal to the incumbent. If they saw that Lance was clearly the better option, the loyalties would immediately pivot to the rookie.
None of this is to say that Lance won’t develop. However, at a time when more and more young quarterbacks are arriving via round one and instantly becoming starters, the guy in whom the 49ers invested three first-round picks and a third-round pick should be starting.
It may not be his fault. Maybe he shouldn’t have been the third overall pick. Maybe Shanahan is better with veterans than rookies. Maybe the third pick should have been Justin Fields or Mac Jones. Maybe the 49ers, after passing on Patrick Mahomes in 2017 and telling Tom Brady “no thanks” to a homecoming in 2020, pushed the needle too far the other way, going all in when they should have just stayed put.
The 49ers could have had Mahomes. They could have had Brady. They could have stayed at No. 12, kept their future first-round picks, and waited to see how the board played out. Instead, they still have Garoppolo, who will definitely start on Sunday night because he has recovered from his latest injury and because Lance, in his only start of the season, suffered a knee injury that has him out for the game.
To summarize, then, the 49ers had a veteran quarterback who is average at best and who can’t consistently stay healthy, along with the 12th overall pick in the draft, a third-round pick in 2021, and their first-round picks in 2022 and 2023. Now, they have a veteran quarterback who is average at best and who can’t consistently stay healthy, along with a rookie quarterback who has yet to beat out the veteran quarterback who is average at best and who, in one start, suffered a knee injury that two weeks later hasn’t healed.
Maybe Lance will eventually become the franchise’s next Joe Montana. Maybe Lance will get his fingerprints on three or four Lombardi Trophies. For now, though, it’s obvious that the move isn’t paying dividends for a team with 2021 Super Bowl aspirations that has lost three of its first five games and that will be hard pressed to even make the playoffs if they rack up their fourth loss before Halloween.