As good as the Super Bowl champion Los Angeles Rams are, the roster of the San Francisco 49ers is arguably better. The difference between LA winning a ring and San Francisco losing at SoFi Stadium in the NFC Championship game can be distilled down to the quarterback position.
Sean McVay’s Rams seemed to be on the decline after getting showed up by Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots in the 2018 world championship. LA followed up the disappointing loss by playing a full season of offensive football that was not up to the standards they had set the two years before. Things were mostly better in 2020 - though late in the season McVay pulled at the loose string that was Jared Goff and the quarterback position, and the rest of the offensive sweater came unraveled. It was time for a reset.
Kyle Shanahan and the 49ers found themselves in a similar position at the end of 2020. While Jimmy Garoppolo wins twice as many games as he loses with San Francisco, accumulating a 31-15 record as a starter, his durability was a major concern. Jimmy G missed most of the 2018 and 2020 seasons, which effectively ended the 49ers’ campaign both times. San Francisco needed a constant presence in the offensive huddle.
But while the Rams and 49ers found themselves on the same ground following the 2020 NFL season, the path they took thereafter diverged.
6. Donald pressure, Travin Howard interception pic.twitter.com/r3GUo39ac4— Ruan Super Bowl LVI Champs (@StaffordtoOBJ) February 18, 2022
McVay and Los Angeles traded two first round choices, a third round pick, and Goff for a veteran quarterback headed into his 13th year in the league. There was no defensive scheme that Matthew Stafford was ill-prepared for. While McVay is adept at putting his offense in stellar situations, Stafford could make him seem right even when he wasn’t perfect.
The 49ers elected for a more long-term approach, one that involved keeping Garoppolo but grooming his replacement. It cost the 49ers similar draft capital (two 1’s and a 3) to draft Trey Lance with the third overall selection in 2021, but fast forward a year later and it’s still uncertain how effective of an NFL player he will be. With minimal playing time last season, Lance is still raw. Shanahan will lean heavily on the running game to put the second-year signal caller in favorable situations; however, it’s difficult to count on the 49ers as a contending team in 2022.
Awesome design, Trey Lance with a bad ball to Kittle, had Deebo wide open crossing the middle pic.twitter.com/YvQPtZLfRh— Bobby Shouse (@B_Shousejr) March 13, 2022
And the 49ers should have been able to cash in on the asset they have in Garoppolo, but he still remains heavily compensated and on the roster while the rest of the quarterback dominoes around the league continue to fall into place.
Deshaun Watson chose the Browns. The Colts acquired Matt Ryan. The Saints re-signed Jameis Winston. Marcus Mariota is still a free agent, though he seems headed for a reunion with Arthur Smith in Atlanta.
So why didn't the Colts go after Jimmy G?— Dianna Russini (@diannaESPN) March 21, 2022
Form what I was told, there were concerns over the shoulder injury. Not so much the medical side of it but the idea of missing time in the offseason with a new team. This was a red flag.
In theory this would leave just two places and two trade partners for the 49ers and Garoppolo - the Carolina Panthers and the Seattle Seahawks. The problem with one of these two options, of course, is that San Francisco may be hesitant to send their former quarterback to a division rival - where he would have two chances a year to potentially prove them wrong.
If the 49ers are only negotiating with a single bidder, it’s difficult to foresee them receiving any trade compensation close to what they had in mind a year ago. Garoppolo isn’t going to turn around a bad team, but he can still be a transitional quarterback for a team with a roster ready to compete. But the way things have fallen around the league suggest that Jimmy G’s value is diminished, and the 49ers failed to strike while the iron was hot.
San Francisco has fumbled their management of the quarterback position over the last 12 calendar months. The 49ers currently find themselves with two starting quarterbacks on their roster - one a complete unknown commodity and the other with rapidly collapsing trade value. When compared to the Rams who recently won the Super Bowl and extended Stafford for another chance at a championship, it’s starting to seem that Los Angeles made the smarter move a year ago.
Should the 49ers have foregone another season of Garoppolo to acquire assets a year earlier, and forged Lance by fire in the process? Would San Francisco had been better off trading the same assets instead for a veteran signal caller? If the 49ers had acquired Matthew Stafford, would they be the world champs rather than McVay’s Rams?
Where these two teams diverged after the 2020 season will be a historic comparison and case study for the NFL moving forward, but for now it seems the San Francisco 49ers have mismanaged the quarterback position.