Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Have Kyle Shanahan and John Lynch mismanaged the 49ers QB situation?

Marc Adams
Sep 19, 2022 at 1:46 PM--

The San Francisco 49ers plan was set. Draft a young quarterback who would eventually replace Jimmy Garoppolo. The young draftee would be able to sit and learn under the veteran Garoppolo, and then take over in 2022.

But things haven't exactly gone according to plan, and on Sunday, the plan imploded when Trey Lance broke his ankle—an injury that will cost him the remainder of the 2022 season.

Much has been made about how well (or poorly) Kyle Shanahan and John Lynch have managed the 49ers quarterbacks. I've seen many fans and media blaming Shanahan for the current situation. Many have criticized the duo for how messy the QB situation has been since trading away two first-round round picks, and swapping another first-round pick, to draft a quarterback. Have Kyle Shanahan and John Lynch mismanaged the 49ers QB situation?

Frankly, I do not believe they have. They did, after all, decide to bring back Garoppolo, which right now looks like a great move. Even if it was because they couldn't trade him.

But if this situation gets any messier, and the team underperforms this season, the head coach and general manager could find their seats a little warmer. Some have already started calling for Shanahan to be fired. I'm not one of those. I think Shanahan and Lynch have built a great roster. I also remember the Jim Tomsula and Trent Baalke days.

And I realize that if Garoppolo moves on next season, and Lance never develops into the QB fans are hoping him to be, that will signal the end for one of them, if not both.

But for now, I want to break down what's in front of us, namely the questionable decisions made by the coach and GM, and I'll give my take on each one. Not that you care about my opinion. But you're still reading, so maybe you actually like me.

Not drafting a QB in 2017 because they were waiting for Kirk Cousins

Hindsight is 20/20, as we know, but in 2017, the 49ers passed on Patrick Mahomes and Deshaun Watson because Shanahan wanted Cousins, who was scheduled to be a free agent after the 2017 season. It hurts to think of what could have been, had San Francisco drafted Mahomes. The Watson pass is looking like a great decision, considering he's shown himself to be a piece of trash.

But there weren't many teams high on Mahomes. The Kansas City Chiefs were, and they now have a Lombardi Trophy as their reward. But there wasn't much hype surrounding Mahomes leading into the draft.

My take: The 49ers made a mistake by not drafting Mahomes. But at the time, we didn't know he'd become the quarterback he's become.

Trading for Jimmy Garoppolo while waiting for Cousins

The trade for Garoppolo caught everyone by surprise. For one reason, the previous regime was famous for leaking information. This regime does not.

But it was also a surprise because we all knew Shanahan wanted Cousins. Why would he trade for anyone other than who he really wanted? This led to some suggesting Lynch traded for Garoppolo without Shanahan's blessing. I doubted those theories at the time, and I still do.

There's no way Lynch would trade for a QB that his head coach didn't want. Lynch isn't Baalke.

My take: I'm not sure why they traded for Garoppolo instead of waiting on Cousins, but it's what they did. And I can't fault them for doing it. The 49ers needed a good starting quarterback, and Garoppolo filled that spot. It doesn't help that I've never been high on Cousins.

Failing to have good backup QBs behind Garoppolo

Garoppolo missed most of 2018, almost half of 2020 and a few games in 2021. And the team struggled in many of those games.

In 2018 and 2020, Garoppolo's backups were Nick Mullens and C.J. Beathard. Neither are legitimate NFL starters. And both were young players during those seasons.

Last season, Lance was the backup. Again, a young, inexperienced QB backing up the starter. This time, the backup at least had talent. But he just wasn't able to lead the team to victory until late in the season.

My take: The 2018 team was still not very good, so a good backup might not have made much of a difference. The 2020 team dealt with injuries unlike any season we've seen. It's doubtful a solid backup would have equated to more wins that season. Still, I think they made a mistake those seasons by not having better backup QBs. And maybe that's one reason they brought Garoppolo back this year.

Flirting with Tom Brady, but sticking with Garoppolo

Tom Brady left the New England Patriots in 2020, and it was no secret that he wanted to play in Santa Clara. Brady, as you know, grew up in the Bay Area as a 49ers fan.

Shanahan and Lynch admitted to discussing it, but ultimately decided to stick with Garoppolo. Of course you have to consider it. It's Tom Brady. But I actually agreed with their decision to stick with number 10. Mainly because Brady had not looked like Brady in 2019, and Garoppolo was fresh off a Super Bowl appearance. I thought Garoppolo would be better than Brady moving forward. Evidently, so did the 49ers. We were wrong.

My take: This was a bad decision. There's no way to soften that blow.

Flirting with Matthew Stafford and Aaron Rodgers

Then there were the stories that the 49ers were in on trading for Matthew Stafford, and even reached out to Green Bay about trading for Aaron Rodgers. I'm not that sad they missed out on Stafford, but Rodgers would have won multiple Super Bowls in San Francisco.

Now, the reason I mention the 49ers looking into Brady, Stafford and Rodgers is that each time they did so, they were telling Garoppolo they didn't completely believe in him. And even though it wasn't personal, I'm betting Garoppolo took it that way. How do you play/work with the kind of confidence it takes to be an NFL quarterback when your coach and front office continues to tell you they're not all-in on you, or that they don't believe you're the one to win them a title?

My take: If you're going to try to replace your QB, while you still have said QB, you better be sure no one finds out.

Drafting Trey Lance

I don't have any problem with the 49ers drafting Lance while Garoppolo was still on the team. Bill Walsh drafted Joe Montana while Steve DeBerg was still in San Francisco. Walsh brought in Steve Young, while his two-time Super Bowl MVP was still the starter. Rodgers was drafted while Brett Favre was still in Green Bay. And even a few years ago, while Rodgers was still there, the Packers drafted...oh wait, bad example.

The point is, it happens. Lance has great talent and potential. Will he be great? Who knows! But I loved the pick.

My take: That said, it deepens the message to Garopollo that you don't believe he's the guy. I'm not sure how that could have been handled better, but maybe if the flirting hadn't happened with the other quarterbacks, it wouldn't have been as big of an issue.

Sticking with Garoppolo for 2021

I don't even have to give my take on this. It was the right decision. Lance wasn't ready. The 49ers were a win-now team in 2021.

But what I don't agree with is that Shanahan had a chance to get Lance more playing time, in certain spots last season, and failed to do so. Early in the season, it looked as though he was going to do that, bringing Lance in to play in certain situations, like goalline plays. But he stopped doing that after only three weeks. There were rumors that Shanahan stopped bringing in Lance because some veteran players went to the coach to express their discontent over his taking Garoppolo out in those scenarios.

My take: I don't know if that actually happened or not, but the coach missed some golden opportunities to give Lance more reps.

Trying and failing to trade Garoppolo

If trying to replace him wasn't rough enough, the 49ers tried to trade Garoppolo during the offseason. Much to the surprise of many, they couldn't find a trade partner.

My take: How many times do I have to tell you I don't want you anymore before you finally start believing it? That sounds like a country music song, but it's actually the Garoppolo-49ers saga played out before a worldwide audience.

Keeping Garoppolo on the 2022 roster

After not being able to trade Garoppolo, most thought the quarterback would be released. But instead, the team reworked his contract and brought him back as Lance's backup.

This is when the anti-Lance rhetoric reached its fevered pitch.

Don't get me wrong. Bringing Garoppolo back didn't make criticizing Lance popular. That happened months ago. And it was exhausting. The amount of hate, doubt and criticism thrown Lance's way was mind-boggling. The kid had played 10 NFL quarters. There's no way anyone could say, with any confidence, that he was a bust. But that's what Lance had to deal with all offseason.

All along, Shanahan said Lance was the starter. And I believe that was the plan. Yet, when they brought Garoppolo back for 2022, the national doubt increased exponentially.

And I haven't even mentioned the amount of hate directed at Lance since the Bears game, a game in which the entire team blew it. But for some reason, Lance received the blame. It makes no sense.

My take: I feel bad for Trey Lance. He endured a lot of crap in the offseason, that continued to get worse during the preseason. It crested between weeks one and two, with multiple people in the media saying the 49ers have quit on Lance and that players want Garoppolo. By the way, on the first drive yesterday, it sure didn't look that way to me. Now some media types and even fans are saying the players were giddy when Garoppolo came in. How disrespectful. It's disrespectful to Lance and to the 49ers players. Are there players who quietly prefer Garoppolo? Of course. But there are probably some who prefer Lance.

Running Lance into the teeth of the defense

The 49ers drafted a mobile quarterback. Based on how Shanahan used Lance, he thought he drafted a running quarterback. There's a difference between the two.

I don't mind Lance using his legs. But he ran the ball 16 times in a game last season. Lance ran the ball 13 times last week in Chicago, and had run the ball three times already on that initial drive when he got injured on Sunday.

My take: I'd love to inject Shanahan with some truth serum to uncover the real reason why he ran his young QB so much. Was it because he doesn't think Lance is ready as a passer? If you wanted to run your quarterback, that's fine. But I would suggest running him outside of the tackles, not inside.

My overall take is that Shanahan and Lynch have made some mistakes. Most are par for the course. To me, the biggest mistakes have been:

  1. The way they have treated Garoppolo, showing him they didn't want him, and then stringing him along while they searched for his replacement. I hate that. I realize it's business, but it's almost like, after telling Garoppolo he wanted to break up, Shanahan decided to start telling him he still loved him until the day came when Shanahan ultimately told Garoppolo he wanted him to go away. But then even after that, Shanahan made up with Garoppolo and they got back together. If this wasn't a business relationship, we'd label it "toxic."
  2. How Garoppolo's treatment has indirectly impacted Lance. There was always going to be critics, but the 49ers have fanned those flames.
  3. The number of designed run plays called for Lance, and the fact that several have been between the tackles.
  4. The lack of accountability from Shanahan. I've defended him from day one, but on Sunday, he not only came across as arrogant when questioned about his running of Lance, but when speaking of the QB's injury, didn't even sound like he felt bad about it. I felt horrible for Lance. I was sick to my stomach and felt like crying for the kid. Maybe Shanahan was trying to be strong for everyone, but he came across like a jerk who didn't even care about his player.

No, I don't blame Lynch and Shanahan. They've made some mistakes. But I don't think they should be on the hot seat. Of course, that could change, depending on how this season goes. Remember, if Garoppolo goes down, as he has in three of his less than five seasons in San Francisco, your starting QB is Mr. Irrelevent, Brock Purdy.
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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