While every NFL's official team page includes a depth chart that has a banner across the top in bold, unambiguous letters that it is "unofficial," they don't get any more unofficially official than when they list the official quarterbacks in unofficial descending order four days before a game. (And that sentence set an unofficial record for most uses of those terms that will never be officially broken.) So it's big news when the San Francisco 49ers site lists Jimmy Garoppolo ahead of Trey Lance like they have posted right now.
Now you might be tempted to reduce this to something as simple as, "Doy, Old Balls. You might be a virile genius and all, but Trey Lance is young. They want him to develop for a while first." And that's why this is no surprise at all. But as always when you're talking about the zero sum game that is allocating resources to build an NFL roster, it's a lot more complicated than that.
Pro Football Talk explains some of the ramifications of this move:
Given that Garoppolo, not Lance, will do the midweek press conerence, it was already assumed that Garoppolo will be the starter. But it’s still a little jarring to see Garoppolo not only on the team but also on the top of the depth chart, given that the team invested three first-round picks and a third-round pick to get Lance.
There’s another wrinkle to watch as Week One approaches. If, as it appears, coach Kyle Shanahan will keep the door open indefinitely for Lance to take over as the starter, the 49ers could still approach Garoppolo with an offer he can’t refuse.
With a $24.1 million salary that becomes guaranteed if he’s on the Week One active roster, the 49ers could still say to Garoppolo something like, “We’ve paid you a ton of money the past few years. We can’t justify guaranteeing you $24.1 million. How about $15 million, and you can make the rest in incentives? And if you don’t like that, well, good luck finding it somewhere else a few days before the start of the season.”
My point being that the 49ers have had every incentive to move on from Jimmy G up until now. No one costs you three 1st round picks and a 3rd - including the No. 3 overall pick, just to stand around while sand runs down the hourglass on his rookie deal. Not even a 21-year-old who only appeared in 19 career games at North Dakota State. Not when he's been signed for $34 million guaranteed. By the same token, veteran quarterbacks who've taken their teams to a Super Bowl aren't paid $24 million to hold a tablet on the sidelines looking handsome. Incredibly, dreamily, swarthy and handsome. Swoon.
I went away for a second. But I'm still with you. Sorry.
So what gives? It's possible PFT is right and this is just John Lynch's way of leveraging Garoppolo into taking a more team friendly deal or else they'll leave him by the side of the road like an unwanted pet. But if they are, that's a high-stakes game of chicken they're playing. And doing dirty to a guy who has been a model teammate throughout the whole process of them very publicly trying to replace him. And allow me to mention once again that he took them to a Super Bowl just two Super Bowls ago.
And since they are trying to move on from Jimmy G, which is a fact not in dispute, the logical thing would've been to trade him. Months ago. The going rate on lesser QBs like Matthew Stafford was such that they could've gotten a haul for Garoppolo. And recouped some percentage of the assets they spent to get his replacement.
Either way, this is a bizarre way for a team that considers themselves a contender to operate. You've got huge investments in dollars, cap space and draft stock invested in two guys at one position. Capital that should've been spent elsewhere, all over the starting lineup on both sides of the ball.
Which brings us to the only logical conclusion: That they believe Lance is way further away from being an NFL starting-caliber quarterback than they thought. If they have faith he'll be ready by mid-season, they wouldn't be paying him 24 mil to play half a year or so. That's just an irresponsible allocation of resources when you've got other needs. I'm assuming that they discovered his one full season (meaning his only one where he appeared in more than two games) in the Missouri Valley Conference didn't prepare him as much for life in the NFC West as they'd hoped. Not for 2021 anyway. So they're left with no choice but to stick with Garoppolo or risk tanking this season and damaging Lance's development for good. Then they have to hope a year of watching Jimmy G play will have him ready for 2022 and beyond. It better. Because they have no high draft picks to build around him with.
If the Niners do end up screwing Garoppolo by releasing him before his contract year kicks in, and he becomes a free agent, looking for a soft landing spot to tide him over until next offseason, I know just the place. There's a backup QB job open at his last port of call. And a GM who'll gladly sign him to a team friendly deal. Make it so, San Fran.