During the 2021 NFL Draft, the 49ers made a move to solidify their future at the quarterback position. After trading up to the No. 3 overall pick well ahead of the draft, they used the selection to take a player with a lot of upside: North Dakota State quarterback Trey Lance. The 20-year-old QB has one full year of starting experience at the FCS level and, though he’s raw, the sky is the limit for him as he looks to develop into a long-term starter. For the 49ers, he figures to eventually replace starting quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo.
Garoppolo, 29, has spent three and half seasons with the 49ers and has posted a 22-8 record. He did help the team reach the 2020 Super Bowl where they lost to the Chiefs, but he has also had a tough time staying healthy. Because of that, the 49ers decided they wanted to go in a different direction long term at QB.
That said, Garoppolo will likely be sticking around and starting this year while Lance develops at the NFL level. His main task will be to serve as a bridge to Lance, but he’s taking it upon himself to mentor Lance as he makes the jump from the FCS to the NFL like Garoppolo did back in 2014.
“I try to use my own personal experiences and just what I went through, what helped me, what challenged me as a young player,” Garoppolo said on the “Keyshawn, JWill & Zubin” show on ESPN Radio. “I’m going to use those tools that helped me and try to help Trey out. It’s hard to come into this league; I know how it was coming from an FCS school to the NFL. It’s a bit of an adjustment, the speed, whatever you want to call it, it’s just different. So, whatever I can do to help him, I’ll be more than happy.”
In that regard, Garoppolo is the perfect mentor for Lance. He’s the only current starting quarterback who played at an FCS school, so that unique experience of coming up from the FCS to the NFL will be something that Lance can tap into. It’s also something that Garoppolo did very well, as he was game-ready earlier in his career than most expected.
Of course, part of that was thanks to the fact that Garoppolo did spend his first couple of seasons learning behind Tom Brady. Jimmy G even credited his competition with Brady as something that helped him to improve greatly in his early years and allowed him to find success when he first saw the field.
“It’s kind of coming full circle,” Garoppolo said. “You go through this NFL career and you start as a young guy coming in. Tom kind of showed me the ropes. The competition between us was awesome. It really made me grow as a rookie and as a young player. So, that’s kind of what me and Trey, we’ll mold our relationship into that. But it will happen naturally. It’s one of those things (where) you can’t force anything. Just let it come as it may.”
It’s nice to see that Garoppolo is willing to help mentor Lance. He was clearly prepared for the 49ers to take his eventual successor and he seems to be hopeful that the competition will help to reinvigorate his career as well. While Garoppolo may not be long for San Francisco, especially with there being easy outs in his contract this year and next, he can certainly prove that he’s still a quality starting quarterback.
And as we’ve seen in Alex Smith and Ryan Fitzpatrick, NFL teams are always willing to take on veteran bridge quarterbacks that are willing to serve as mentors. That’s part of what gave those two passers longevity in the NFL. Garoppolo could be the next in that mold — if he doesn’t immediately re-emerge as a solid starter.
We’ll soon see how the Garoppolo-Lance relationship plays out on the field, but given that Jimmy G is coming into it as a willing mentor, the 49ers should have a strong, connected quarterback room this season.