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Why So Negative? A Look at the Trey Lance Narrative

Brian Renick
May 19, 2022 at 2:28 PM

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Trey Lance, who just celebrated his 22nd birthday on May 9, has played ten quarters of regular-season football thus far in his career with the 49ers. However, if you were to search his name on Twitter, or fire up the ol' Google machine and search there, you would think that the kid has played for multiple seasons and has been downright awful at playing quarterback.

There are 49ers fans on Twitter who have no problem calling him a bust. There are countless national media members and analysts who continue to question Lance's readiness to play the position. Whether it's rumors of coaches and front office members being "continually underwhelmed" by the young signal-caller, or the newest report about concerns over Lance's "arm fitness" (whatever the hell that means?), the narrative surrounding Trey Lance this offseason has been overwhelmingly negative.

It begs the question—why?

I think there are multiple factors that have led to this narrative, and I want to take the time to explore them here.

Jimmy Garoppolo's Popularity With Fans

There are many 49ers fans who are not happy with the franchise for moving off of the quarterback who led the team to a Super Bowl appearance in the 2019 season and an NFC Championship Game appearance this past season. I understand that. Football is a game of passion, and when you have a quarterback that has led your team to success, especially after some very difficult seasons prior to his arrival, that player is going to engender passionate support.

Jimmy Garoppolo won a lot of football games with the 49ers—when healthy. I believe it's largely that caveat that led the team to make the difficult decision to trade up in the 2021 NFL Draft and bring in a new quarterback to lead the team. The great Bill Parcells was fond of saying that a football player's "best ability is availability," and the 49ers experienced losing seasons in 2018 and 2020 as a direct result of injuries to Jimmy Garoppolo. In a sport where it's often joked that NFL stands for "Not For Long," a head coach and front office simply cannot hang their hopes on a quarterback who has a fairly extensive history of getting injured and missing games.

On top of the injuries, Jimmy Garoppolo's skillset seemed to limit the offense as well. Garoppolo has some excellent tools as an NFL quarterback, including his lightning-quick release, toughness, and willingness to throw over the middle and into tight windows—though sometimes those last two led to turnovers on overthrows or mistimed throws. His seeming unwillingness to throw to the deep areas of the field really limited Shanahan's playcalling ability and allowed defenses to crowd the middle of the field and play up in the box in order to try and stop the run. I believe it's this combo of injury history and limited skillset that led Shanahan & Co. to make the switch, despite the fact that they were winning games at an incredible clip with Garoppolo under center.

Fans typically only care about wins, and rightfully so. It stands to reason that many of them would be angry and surprised by the team moving in another direction at the position, and that anger has been directed at the kid from North Dakota State.

Current Media Landscape

The current media landscape is driven by engagement. The word "click-bait" has entered our lexicon because consumers of media are presented more and more with headlines that are designed to spark anger or debate in order to get readers to engage with the content.

49er fans are an easy mark for clickbait. They are notorious for engaging with anything related to their beloved franchise. The more scandalous your headline/tweet/article, the more likely you'll get 49er fans to bite. I imagine 49er fans seeing a negative tweet or article about Trey, cracking their knuckles, and then proclaiming "I'm your Huckleberry."

Old Information Being Reported as Fresh

Many of the negative reports about Lance and how the 49ers feel about their young quarterback tend to mention sources within the 49ers organization, either in the front office or on the coaching staff.

If we learned anything from the drama leading up to the 2021 NFL Draft, it's that the 49ers as an organization do not leak information. The majority of analysts and pundits were certain that Mac Jones was going to be the pick at three, and they couldn't have been more wrong. Any report that mentions a source "close to" or "in" the front office is automatically invalidated in my opinion.

As far as sources within the coaching staff, one thing that people seem to overlook is the massive turnover amongst the 49ers coaching staff since the season ended, especially on the offensive side of the ball.

OC Mike McDaniel? Gone.
QB Coach Rich Scangarello? Gone.
TE Coach Jon Embree? Gone.
WR Coach Wes Welker? Gone.
Asst. Offensive Line coaches Butch Barry and Zach Yenser? Gone.
RB Coach Bobby Turner? Gone (for this season at least).

So who exactly are these coaches that people are talking to? They can't be current coaches because none of them have seen Trey Lance on a practice field yet. That means that whoever they are talking to is giving them information that is outdated at best, or downright wrong at worst.

It doesn't pass the smell test.

National Media Simply Can't Process the 49ers' Plan

This is the conclusion that I came to today, and it seems to make the most sense.

The NFL Draft is designed to reward the bad teams with the best incoming talent. Typically, if you have a Top 10 pick in the draft, it's because your team is bad and didn't win a lot of games the previous season. The most important position in football is quarterback, so it stands to reason that if your team struggled to win football games, it's because your quarterback wasn't very good. Teams in the Top 10 draft quarterbacks to come in and start right away because they have a need at the position.

In 2021 the 49ers flipped the script.

The team had a Top 15 pick in the draft because Garoppolo missed ten games in 2020 due to injury and the team had a losing record (6-10). However, the roster was still loaded with talent and John Lynch and Kyle Shanahan both believed the team was still in position to compete for a Super Bowl, but they could no longer count on Jimmy Garoppolo at quarterback because of his propensity to miss games. They were reportedly one of the top suitors for Deshaun Watson prior to his legal troubles, and they were one of the teams that tried to acquire Matthew Stafford from the Lions as well. When those two moves didn't work out, they switched gears and decided to move up in the draft to take one of the quarterbacks in a class that was loaded with talent at the position.

This is where I believe the disconnect comes in for the national media.

The team traded significant draft capital to move up to the third overall pick. That in and of itself is enough for most people to assume the team wanted to move on from Garoppolo immediately. Add to that the accepted wisdom that quarterbacks drafted in the Top 10 come in and start right away, and you have a recipe for assumption: Lance was going to come in and unseat Jimmy Garoppolo in 2021.

Kyle Shanahan and John Lynch had a different plan.

They knew that, at that point in time, they only had one winning season under their regime and needed to win in 2021. They knew this team was ready to compete for a Super Bowl and that Jimmy Garoppolo was capable of leading there. They knew that the 2022 quarterback class was bereft of franchise quarterback talent. And they knew that the kid they fell in love with from North Dakota State would need a redshirt season to begin his NFL career.

I genuinely believe they never intended for Trey Lance to start in 2021, and the national media can't fathom that was the case because—quarterback go top 10, quarterback start.

Lynch and Shanahan played a delicate game of competing now while also eying the future.

The franchise is in an excellent position because of that plan, and I expect Trey Lance will take the reigns and prove the doubters wrong.

It's nothing but positive vibes from here on out.
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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  • Joe H
    Brian Walker "And our drafts have been pathetic. Our free agency has been C- work...but we still have the talent to win a superbowl." Pathetic drafts and lousy free agency, yet still have loads of talent...UM....OK
    May 30, 2022 at 4:23 PM
  • Brian Walker
    Jones was a better QB, and we wouldn't have had to trade for either of them, most likely. But nothing against Lance, we didn't want him to begin with, and particularly not for what we gave up. Remember Walsh trying to.replace Montana? This will be shanahan and lynchs final season with SF, they got cocky, and messed up...again. Shanahan is a choke artist and kind of a deceitful and shady locker room presence. And our drafts have been pathetic. Our free agency has been C- work...but we still have the talent to win a superbowl. Kyle Shanahan will never win a super bowl as a head coach or an offensive coordinator who calls plays. He is the WORST fourth quarter coach I've ever seen...and our drafts are so effing bad, him and lynch think they're smarter than everyone else...theyre not!! Their jobs aren't that hard...a lot of madden fanatics could make better calls
    May 23, 2022 at 10:43 PM
  • Brian Walker
    How can you blame Jimmy for limiting shanacan'ts play calling ability. He has what, three of the top playoff breakdowns in football history? Beginning with the falcons who mathematically could not have lost to the patriots has the offense (he coordinated) had properly snapped the ball with under 5 seconds a snap. Then, a team running over 6 yards per carry, with a 10 point lead with like 6 in the 4th of the superbowl, decides to start throwing dumb passes? Not to mention, hey instead of supporting Jimmy, let's trade our future away on a raw product that has not ever seen legit competition. We are negative because this team has had chances to improve on how great they are, but the sheer arrogance and ineptitude of shanahan and lynch (we ranked 31 in draft efficiency for the past 5 years) will give us a few more tim rattay or Colin keepernick years in the future. Any idiot, or half wit football fan could see that Alex Smith was far better!! I am a die hard niners fan, and i hope to God I'm wrong, but I know my team, and i just dont think lance is going to be a starter in this league outside of this year...maybe the fan controlled league.
    May 23, 2022 at 10:33 PM
  • morro
    Nice breakdown. It gets very tiring with all the 'hair on fire' schtick.
    May 20, 2022 at 6:21 AM
  • John
    Well put together article. It's sad because nobody knows what Trey is yet but people are so willing to knock him. I get it from fans because fans are irrational. The media are the ones that grind my gears because if Lance is good they will never admit their sources or themselves were wrong. They'll just move onto the next. Really takes no talent to do.
    May 20, 2022 at 5:18 AM
  • Darrell
    Thank you for bringing sanity to the discussion. I've been a fan since 'the Saints comeback in '80. I'm used to the off season bed wetting nonsense from the media and rabid fans, but this year has been abnormally absurd.
    May 19, 2022 at 5:30 PM
  • Rolo T.
    Finally, an article that isn't just hot-take nonsense. The NFL pre-camp period is the absolute worst.
    May 19, 2022 at 2:36 PM


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