When the San Francisco 49ers selected Trey Lance out of North Dakota State University with the third overall selection in the 2021 NFL Draft, swirling rumors picked up steam as to where its current starting quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo might play next.
San Francisco took a slower approach with Lance, benching him behind the former Tom Brady backup for his rookie season. The wait-and-see method didn’t prevent Lance from accruing any playing time. 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan kept the rookie in the fold with a special redzone playbook designed to accentuate the youngster’s mobile skillset.
What ultimately gave Lance his biggest opportunity was the questionable health of Garoppolo as the season progressed. The starting QB suffered injuries to his calf and thumb on his throwing hand, sidelining the QB for two starts. Lance slotted in the starting role, achieving one win in his two games before ultimately handing the job back to Garoppolo.
But as the new season rapidly approaches, San Francisco’s plan looks somewhat clearer than it did a year ago. It’s The Trey Lance Show in 2022, forcing Garoppolo to explore new employment opportunities via trade.
For the four-year starter, injuries have always stolen the headlines. In four full seasons with the 49ers, Jimmy Garoppolo boasts just two campaigns with more than six starts – 2019 and last season. An ACL tear in 2018 and a high ankle sprain in 2020 prematurely cut short the other two.
Reconstruction is no new concept for Garoppolo. Following an offseason procedure to his throwing shoulder, another rehabilitation stint could breathe new life into the quarterback’s dying career as a starter in an impatient and unforgiving league.
Garoppolo’s Immediate Options Far and Few Between
The road to recovery is just beginning for Garoppolo. However, the pursuit of the quarterback’s services is an ongoing process. Number one on the list of potential drawbacks is the quarterback’s financially anchoring $27 million cap hit this season. But uncertainty following another surgery has the immediate future of the 31-year-old in significant doubt.
For the quarterback, a hopeful return to throwing just around the corner means a heating-up trade market. But unpredictability in the rehabilitation process of Garoppolo’s throwing shoulder could result in a parallel finish to his career between New England and San Francisco.
Dealt to the 49ers as a backup in the middle of the 2017 season, New England waited until a team came crawling out of necessity, not opportunity.
Trading the two-time Super Bowl champion backup meant two things: Dealing away a more-than-capable security blanket, and acquiring an asset potentially valuable in the future.
San Francisco could do the same to Garoppolo five years later, but waiting for the team in despair to come crawling could take a while.
At the beginning of the offseason, Indianapolis made the most sense for the 31-year-old. But the Colts opted to trade for Atlanta’s Matt Ryan instead. Atlanta was a favorite to draft Lance with the fourth overall pick in 2021. But the franchise later signed Marcus Mariota away from a backup spot in Las Vegas to start in 2022.
The Seattle Seahawks acquired Drew Lock in a trade that sent Russell Wilson to the Denver Broncos, but look to be in the market for a better option. It appears the franchise wants Baker Mayfield from Cleveland.
For San Francisco, patience in the only course of action available. But even with a healthy shoulder, it’s unlikely Jimmy Garoppolo dresses in the scarlet and gold again.