The 49ers’ first loss of the season to the Packers in Week 3 opened the door for quarterback discourse that had been pounding the door nearly off its hinges since Trey Lance was drafted third overall. Jimmy Garoppolo didn’t play particularly well and for the second consecutive week had as many lows as he had highs. Calls among the fan base for a starting quarterback change became as loud as ever in the days following the Packers loss. Those calls, however, are likely fruitless given what we know about head coach Kyle Shanahan and the 49ers’ quarterback situation.
Garoppolo’s up-and-down start isn’t a surprise. The 49ers and Shanahan put themselves in this spot knowing exactly what was coming. They knew for every great play there would be one head-scratching one. They knew their offense would be somewhat handcuffed by Garoppolo’s skill set. While Lance’s ceiling is undoubtedly high, Shanahan doesn’t want him to start just yet.
He’s been adamant since the start of camp that Garoppolo is the starting quarterback. That stance has never wavered, and the play under center hasn’t been bad enough to warrant thoughts of a change. Shanahan has even outwardly expressed satisfaction with what he’s gotten from his quarterback this season.
“I thought Jimmy played real well tonight,” Shanahan said after Sunday’s loss to Green Bay. “The fumble there, there was a screen. He got let through way too early. It was a play action screen, right when he turned around, it looked like 97 was in his face and he tried to get rid of it and threw it backwards.”
Now, Garoppolo’s sporadic play could become a problem if the 49ers lose four or five in a row, but there’s no reason to believe Garoppolo is going to string enough bad performances together to lose that many games. He hasn’t done it to this point which is why he’s still around.
On the other side of that token, there’s no reason to believe he’s going to consistently play like he did on the final drive against Green Bay. He’s far from perfect, but he’s capable of enough high-level play which is why he manages to be on the winning side of so many games.
Such is the ups, downs, loops, twists and turns of the Garoppolo roller coaster.
Consistency is the issue more than his ceiling or the limited passing offense. Consistency on the field and in his availability are what pushed them to move up to No. 3 in the draft to take Lance. It’s not because they necessarily wanted to replace Garoppolo this year. He can win a Super Bowl if things fall into place defensively. This year Lance offers a better backup in the event the starter is unavailable. The big payoff with him comes next year and beyond.
The 49ers, for all their offensive shortcomings the last two weeks, are probably going to be in contention as long as Garoppolo is healthy which is why he’s not going anywhere this season – even if it does mean scuffling through a game against the Eagles and then needing a furious rally only to lose in the waning seconds to the Packers.
The 49ers knew exactly what the Garoppolo roller coaster was when they got on, and they’re not going to get off after the first steep drop because there’s another high coming. It’s the nature of his play and has been during his tenure in the Bay Area. It’s suboptimal for sure, which is why San Francisco is very likely moving off Garoppolo after 2021. But they’re fine with suboptimal this year if it means optimizing the astronomical talent waiting in the wings.