Trey Lance Discussion Demonstrates Why NFL Dominates
Sample size makes Football the most addictive sport to our shortening attention spans. It is also what makes Football the most debatable sport in the United States. The length of each season — hell, the length of a player’s career — in the National Football League feels over in a blink. A full five seasons (the average NFL career is half that) roughly equates to an entire NBA regular season or half of one MLB regular season. That does not leave much time to coronate, condemn, criticize, or commend any player for their body of work. Week to week, expectations and fluctuating assessments draw lines in the sand for fans to choose a side. Right now, there is no better example than the conversation surrounding Trey Lance and his future with the San Francisco 49ers. His performance this past weekend, and throughout training camp, has given some hope, others doubt, and everyone entertainment. It is the type of discussion that makes the NFL gripping, at times self-questioning, and ultimately the most captivating sport this country has to offer.
San Francisco is no stranger to quality quarterback play. Just the names Joe Montana, Steve Young, Y.A. Tittle, and John Brodie make up arguably the greatest collection of signal-callers to play for a single franchise in NFL history. A court stenographer would struggle to keep up with a running list of their accomplishments. The fanbase has seen greatness under center, but it has been some time. Since Total Quarterback Rating (QBR) became a statistic in 2006, the 49ers have never had a QB qualify inside the top five — closest was Colin Kaepernick in 2013 (8th). He is the only QB to crack the top ten. For the past 15 years, all were flawed in some fashion — poor accuracy, arm strength, decision-making, etc. That is what makes Lance so enticing. He shows glimpses of each quality important to successful quarterbacking; an electric arm, stout frame, speed, and the desire to learn. At the age, 21, when most new adults are studying the most efficient route for weekend bar-hopping, Lance is deciphering a PHD-level playbook.
Aside from the one percent of quarterbacks, this kind of talent is also polarizing. Lance is unpolished. His first preseason game affirmed that. His first impression also proved Lance seizes the moment. His 80-yard touchdown pass has been the most trending preseason moment thus far, yet Pro Football Focus graded his 5-for-14 passing performance as the worst of the five QBs selected in the first round of the 2021 NFL Draft. Lance’s first two series featured unfettered poise and impressive ball placement, while his final three series highlighted typical rookie inconsistencies. According to reports of his training camp, none of this should have been a surprise. At times, Lance wows onlookers with zip and presence but struggles to put together successive quality drives. His highs are eye-popping (like Saturday), which attracts attention to his lows.
Lance’s vacillating play is currently the reason why Jimmy Garoppolo is ahead of him on the quarterback depth chart. When healthy, Garoppolo’s strength is steadiness, which often goes underappreciated. He does not make the big play but prevents the disastrous. However, football fans expect the extreme and, aesthetically, Garoppolo cannot measure up to Lance. Garoppolo is a Prius with tremendous mileage. Lance is a Lamborghini with a poor fuel economy. Which car are you choosing?
The majority of 49ers fans are taking the latter.
The few Prius owners are not even non-believers, just steadfast Jimmy Garoppolo supporters. Garoppolo, who Lance will eventually usurp, is the familiar, safer option for a team with Super Bowl aspirations. Lance is the wild card. Lance WILL get the keys to the $4.175 billion scarlet and gold vehicle, but predicting the timeline as to when is the tantalizing part. The decision falls squarely on the shoulders of Kyle Shanahan, but the masses will not stop locking verbal horns. It is a conversation that will continue until Lance inevitably finds himself under center for the 49ers. The discourse may get repetitive, but we will never get enough.
The other factor is the expectation attached to Lance’s third overall selection. It was not his fault the 49ers traded three future first-round picks to move up and draft him. However, that heavy price is forever attached and will be weighed against his future. Fair or unfair, Lance has a high bar to hurdle. For a franchise tied for the third-most championships (5) in league history, that bar is probably a Super Bowl title. Despite the odds, there is reason to believe with the combination of talent, size, worth ethic, and intelligence that Lance can help deliver the 49ers first championship since 1995. The quarterback position has evolved to reward the qualities Lance possesses. That potential is what keeps fans salivating and fuels the argument for Lance to start sooner rather than later.
Comparisons to Russell Wilson — who beat out a veteran Matt Flynn in 2012 — have been thrown around in support of Lance starting week one. The example of Patrick Mahomes — who sat for a season behind a less talented Alex Smith — is used to combat it. Injury may force Lance into the fray as it did with Dak Prescott or more recently, Justin Herbert. All of these QBs, to varying degrees, succeeded quickly. The 49ers hope Lance can walk a similar path. Much of the fanbase wants to set him on that path immediately. Until that happens, Lance supporters will whoop and shout at Shanahan like he was a Roman Emperor about to signal yay or nay at a Gladiator event. Technically, Shanahan’s thumb is not up or down.
Football extracts everyone’s inner extremists. Trey Lance is the Bay Area’s current manifestation. The excitement has everyone buzzing and containing their glee as effectively as a kid on Christmas morning. Every time Lance takes the field, it will be like unwrapping a new gift. We think we know what it is, but have no idea what to expect. It will wow and disappoint and suddenly end. We will scramble to the next present, using the previous as a baseline for elation. The cycle will continue until a heap of mangled wrapping paper finally settles. Either we will be pleased or disappointed. The beauty is that 49ers followers will have a long time to figure that out. The Trey Lance saga has just begun.