Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

The Trey and Jimmy Arrangement: 49ers’ Surprise Move Could Put Them Closer to a Sixth Super Bowl Win

Don Atkinson
Sep 3, 2022 at 2:53 AM--

If we've learned anything about the San Francisco 49ers since Head Coach Kyle Shanahan and General Manager John Lynch arrived in 2017, it's to expect the unexpected. Lynch and Shanahan are known to do things that are sometimes unconventional. This past week, they continued to make good on that reputation.

In what was a surprise to most everyone watching the 49ers' 2022 pre-season come to a close, the team decided to keep its publicly-declared, former-starting quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo to serve as backup to sophomore quarterback Trey Lance. Garoppolo signed a restructured one-year, heavily-incentivized deal worth $6.5 million guaranteed. People immediately contemplated why Garoppolo would accept such an arrangement. They pondered how the move might affect Trey Lance. They offered conjecture about what might happen in the locker room.

While Shanahan and Lynch have been mostly unwavering in both their faith in Lance and their appreciation of Garoppolo, the move was certainly polarizing for analysts, football journalists, and fans alike, and resulted in reactions ranging from shock to curiosity to dismay to elation.

While separating truth from fiction around the move to keep Garoppolo on the roster may be emotionally taxing, it's not all that difficult to do if one maintains an objective view of the team and the circumstances and personalities involved. There are worries, fears, anxieties, suspicions, concerns, and rumors about what transpired. But when the situation is broken down to its nuts and bolts, it becomes evident that there are no losers here. In fact, the 49ers may have found a way to, as the old expression goes, "Have their cake and eat it, too."

So, what exactly is the issue with what Lynch and the 49ers did with Garoppolo? A quick analysis of the common complaints bemoaning the move makes it easier to see that what some are presenting as fact looks a lot more like fiction.

THE WORRY: Keeping Jimmy Garoppolo on the roster will create strife in the locker room.

There is no reason to legitimately believe the locker room will suffer with having Garoppolo wear the backup ball cap on the sidelines. In fact, there is every reason to believe the opposite is true. Both Lance and Garoppolo have been candid about the roster situation and about their relationship as teammates. Lance speaks with genuine affection about Garoppolo, recounting how the veteran quarterback helped him since his arrival last year, and often referring to Garoppolo in interviews as his "big brother." Garoppolo in return speaks openly about his regard and appreciation for Lance, even in the face of losing his job as starter. The rest of the team's players seem supportive of both Lance and Garoppolo and there has yet to be any word from any player that the situation is even remotely awkward or stressful.

THE FEAR: Trey Lance will have his confidence destroyed by Jimmy Garoppolo's presence.

This is always a fear for those who are not tuned in to how team dynamics work, or at least how they work in San Francisco. For this fear to be reasonable, it would have to be accepted that Trey Lance has all the fortitude and strength of a porcelain teacup. It would also require us to believe Jimmy Garoppolo is a sly opportunist hoping for Lance to falter. Given the personalities of both quarterbacks, the idea is patently ridiculous. The only thing Garoppolo is hoping for is to get healthy, finish out the year with the teammates he loves, and find a great starting role with another club in 2023. And if Lance was so frail that the mere presence of Garoppolo would cause him to wilt, he wouldn't belong in the NFL anyway. He's not frail, and he certainly does belong. Despite his youth, Lance is mature and has more than enough confidence in himself to deal with the circumstances.

THE ANXIETY: Keeping Garoppolo creates a quarterback controversy.

A heads-up to those promoting this narrative: you can't have a quarterback controversy where there is no hedging about who the starting quarterback will be. Trey Lance has been given the position with as much clarity as you can expect from an NFL head coach and franchise. Lynch and Shanahan have been firm in this regard. The players are on board. Lance knows the job is his. Garoppolo acknowledges that fact and is fine with it. A quarterback controversy comes about in only two ways: when the head coach or organization starts to waffle about the identity of QB1, or when the play of the starter becomes so abysmal that everyone is calling for a change. The former situation does not exist. As to the latter, if Lance's performance becomes so tragically awful that fans are calling for a change, a change likely needs to be made. That's not a controversy, that's a depth chart adjustment.

THE SUSPICION: Garoppolo is secretly looking for an inroad to recapture his role as the starter.

This is a very dramatic and Machiavellian idea and would add a great plot twist to the quarterback saga of the last two years, but it's got all the substance of a basket of helium. Garoppolo long ago came to terms with the fact that he has been replaced. He was hoping for a trade that suited him. The 49ers were likewise hoping to see a trade happen. When the trade market dried up, so did those intentions, and both the team and Garoppolo saw the benefit of him staying one last year. The organization, despite its drafting of Lance, still carries great affection for Garoppolo, and Garoppolo holds the team and its fans close to his heart. A chance to make one last run for a Lombardi Trophy is undoubtedly appealing to Garoppolo, and his teammates, including Lance, are happy to have him on board. Add to this the fact that Garoppolo is arguably one of the most selfless players in the NFL, and the idea that he is plotting a coup to upend Lance becomes laughable. Jimmy may be inconsistent at completing a deep pass outside the numbers, but as to engaging in devious scheming, he's downright incapable.

THE CONCERN: With Garoppolo around, Kyle Shanahan will be quicker to bench Lance if he stumbles.

Yet another baseless idea. Shanahan, like all coaches, has his quirks and flaws. But impatience isn't really one of them. While players have at times ended up in Shanahan's infamous "doghouse" for lackluster effort, he has never actually shown an unwillingness to give players a chance to work through their technical problems in games. Shanahan could easily have yanked Garoppolo in games last year where the veteran struggled or was not completely healthy. He did not, and there is no legitimate reason to believe he would be quicker on the trigger with Lance under center. It would probably take a major, multiple-game breakdown on Lance's part—one that threatens a possible playoff run—for Shanahan to bench him. And if that were the case, pulling the plug would honestly be the right thing to do.

THE RUMOR: Keeping Garoppolo is John Lynch's setup to increase trade value.

This would be something to consider except for the fact that a mid-season trade of Garoppolo would then leave the 49ers with the dire choice of elevating rookie Brock Purdy as Lance's backup or trying to find and sign an available veteran in order to educate him on the team's elaborate offense on the fly. Neither idea is remotely palatable if you are a Super Bowl-ready roster. And with the rate starting quarterbacks inevitably miss games due to injury at some point during the long season, trading Garoppolo would burn any chance the 49ers would have to see the post-season if Lance gets hurt. Make no mistake: Garoppolo isn't going anywhere this season.

In the end, the move to keep Garoppolo on the roster for Lance's first real season at the helm may prove to a brilliant one, most especially if Lance suffers any sort of injury that limits his ability to play at full capacity. And it's a win to the fourth degree as well. The team wins by having two capable quarterbacks who can get them into a deep playoff run. Trey Lance wins by having another season of access to Garoppolo's experience—a depth of knowledge that Garoppolo seems more than willing to share. Lance may further find a sense of relief that he won't feel enormous pressure to rush through rehab from any potential injury, with Garoppolo there to step up. Garoppolo himself wins by getting the chance to fully recover from his off-season shoulder surgery and find a better and more lucrative opportunity to start for a new team in 2023. Lastly, the fans win because the chances of their team's season auguring into the dirt as a result of a torn ligament or broken bone went from 50-50 down to nearly zero with one swipe of Paraag Marathe's pen.

It's easy to feel worried, fearful, anxious, suspicious and concerned when roster decisions in the football world don't follow traditional routes. And it's easy to listen to baseless rumors. But this is 49er football. The one thing that's truly consistent is that the team consistently does its best to win football games. And that's not a bad thing. The decision to keep Jimmy Garoppolo around may seem weird to some, but it's unconventionality that has helped the 49ers to five Super Bowl victories, and it may give Trey Lance, Jimmy Garoppolo, and a whole group of their close friends some nice-looking rings by next February.

Stay weird, San Francisco.
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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  • Kerwin
    this QB experiment had better work! Very few times has a team GIVEN A JOB to a QB without him earning it has it worked.
    Sep 11, 2022 at 12:55 PM
  • Javier
    Good analysis. Go niners! # questforsix
    Sep 3, 2022 at 9:09 PM

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