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Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports

The Curious Case of the 49ers’ “Non” Quarterback Controversy

Marc Adams
Aug 4, 2021 at 1:53 PM--

Writing about the 49ers quarterback situation can be risky. I wrote an article that was "pro" Jimmy Garoppolo. Hatred followed. The "anti-Jimmy" crowd didn't want to read about him. I wrote an article that was "pro" Trey Lance. All I heard was that he isn't ready and we shouldn't keep writing about him and putting pressure on him.

The 49ers have a rich history of quarterbacks, and their fans expect greatness from each one. And so this is always a hot topic. If you don't believe me, Google "Alex Smith 49ers."

The current quarterback situation has been a curious one so far. We were told that there is no quarterback controversy. We were told not to expect anyone other than Garoppolo to start this season, especially early on, for the 49ers. Longtime beat writers told us this. 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan told us this. The fact that they drafted a quarterback who had played in only one game the previous season told us this. I even wrote about this. Multiple times. I truly believed that Lance would not start this season, until perhaps the final regular season game. But there have been some clues along the way that are forcing me to reconsider my stance. We all know the old clues:

  1. 2019 NFC Championship Game. Garoppolo had only eight pass attempts. I didn't think much about it then, because the run game was so dominant that night.
  2. Flirting with Tom Brady. A lot has been written about the 49ers 2020 offseason consideration of signing Brady, who was a free agent at the time. I won't add to it, other than to say I believed it was just something they considered for a moment and then decided against. Who could blame them? I don't blame them for flirting, or for deciding to stay with their current quarterback.
  3. Another season lost to injuries. 2020. Enough said.
  4. Flirting with other quarterbacks in the 2021 offseason. It is no secret that the team's front office considered trading for or signing other quarterbacks this past spring.
  5. Trading up for the third overall pick in the draft. Here's where things take a turn. Everyone knew the team had traded up for a quarterback. Garoppolo's days were numbered.
  6. Drafting Trey Lance. Even with Lance as the pick, we still were told that Garoppolo would start the season, while Lance sat and learned, much like Patrick Mahomes sat for a year.

But it's actually the recent clues that have caused me to reconsider my earlier predictions:

  1. Shanahan going out of his way to proclaim Garoppolo the starter...right now. Key words: "right now." So sneaky how he always gets that last part in. And he has done this a lot.
  2. Shanahan going out of his way to praise Garoppolo and downplay Lance. At first I thought this was normal coaching stuff. But I'm becoming more and more convinced that Shanahan is doing this strategically. He seems to have a purpose for everything he says. So when a reporter mentions how Lance has logged the most hours in his playbook, Shanahan makes a point to suggest anyone can make it look like he's studying, when he actually may not be. That was brilliant.
  3. Shanahan suggesting he put Lance in with the first team for the sake of the offensive line. He may very well be telling the truth, but I think he is toying with us.
  4. Beat writer, Grant Cohn likes Lance. If Cohn likes a player, there may be something there. He usually doesn't like anyone.
  5. Other beat writers changing their tunes. There are some beat writers I have followed for many years. I trust them. They are usually right when predicting what the 49ers will do. They have been telling us for months that Garoppolo would be the starter. But over the last week, they have started to shift in their thinking. Consider some of the things some have recently posted while watching the quarterback "non" controversy:

  • "The 49ers quarterback competition ended before it technically started." -Grant Cohn
  • "I can't emphasize enough how effective the zone read was from Lance. Defense running one way, Lance with nothing but grass in front of him." -Jason Aponte
  • "Kyle Shanahan says there is no QB competition. He's right. There's a long way to go in camp, but Trey Lance gives the 49ers a better chance to win. It's not even close." -Dieter Kurtenbach
  • "Suffice to say it was a strong day for Lance. How strong? He threw one incompletion, which came on the final throw of practice. (Too deep for Richie James)." -Matt Barrows
  • "The 49ers' QB race is compelling once again..." -Cam Inman
  • "Trey Lance was the best player on the field today and it was not particularly close imo Spectacular performance from the rookie today." -Jordan

These are the clues. It's a curious case. But it's becoming less and less curious. There may not be a quarterback controversy, as some suggest. But there may soon come an announcement that could surprise us still.
The opinions within this article are those of the writer and, while just as important, are not necessarily those of the site as a whole.

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