Trey Lance will ultimately replace Jimmy Garoppolo as the San Francisco 49ers starting quarterback. The Niners wouldn't have traded a yacht-load of draft capital unless they had faith in the rookie's transcendent talents.
The question for Kyle Shanahan and the 49ers is when Lance will get the gig. Throughout the process, the Niners' brass has insisted the starting job is Garoppolo's. The unstated caveat to the insistence: ... until/unless Jimmy G falters.
Speaking to Peter King for Football Morning in America, Shanahan noted his belief that Garoppolo at his peak is better than Lance or any rookie.
"It's not been as hard as you think," he said when asked when he might play Lance. "In this business, if you're trying to plan out the next six months and say, 'Where's it going?' that's a mistake. You can't do it. What I told Jimmy right when we made the trade is, 'I don't know any rookie who can come and beat you out if you're playing at his best self.' I didn't necessarily think he was there last year at training camp. Then he had the injuries and stuff. But right now, I see him playing well out here. If he can continue to go that way, that's great for Trey. That's great for our team. Then Trey can wait till he's at his best self, which doesn't happen overnight."
Perhaps the most interesting part of Shanahan's response is that he admits Garoppolo wasn't impressive last season even before injuries sideswiped the season, and the Niners eventually cratered. It's the opposite of what the San Francisco coaching staff has said of Jimmy G this offseason, glowing about how the QB has impressed. It appears the draft move has motivated Garoppolo, who is fighting to keep his job for as long as possible.
Despite suggesting Jimmy G at his best will keep Lance on the bench, Shanahan also admitted anything could change in the coming weeks and months.
"I truly don't know what's going to happen here," he said.
Reports from 49ers camp suggest it's been an up-and-down learning process for Lance thus far, not surprising for any rookie, particularly a quarterback. The NDSU product has mixed in some errors and wow-throws. However, it's the guts the rookie shows at times that have turned the heads of fellow teammates.
"We're on the practice field now, and you're a first-round pick, so everyone's looking at you," Shanahan told King of Lance. "Your new team wants to see your talent level, which he has, but they also want to see how he carries himself. I think that's what they've been impressed with. He doesn't know everything yet. He's still trying. This was his eighth practice since he's been here, including OTAs.
"But Deebo Samuel comes up to me at one point, and he's like, 'This guy's got some balls.' And I think that's what the guys feel. He goes out there, and he's not scared to fail. He goes out there and lets it rip, and there's some good, some bad. Players can feel it. When you're not scared to fail, and you're talented, you do things the right way, guys believe it's a matter of time."
It's only a matter of time until Lance overtakes Garoppolo. When that happens, veterans on a playoff-caliber roster will need to be convinced it's in the best interest of the Niners' chances to make a deep postseason run.