The biggest mistake made by the 49ers this year came long before the team ever took the field.
As the team gets set to return to practice after having last week off, one of the biggest questions they need to answer is how to get their offense together.
After a solid start in the opening game of the season in Detroit, the 49ers’ offense has looked disjointed and out of sync. Over a four-game stretch which includes the current three-game losing streak, San Francisco has managed only 19 points per game.
Analysts have pointed to poor offensive line play, losing Raheem Mostert for the season, a lack of playmakers at wide receiver, and so on.
While all of those are valid, the biggest issue facing the 49ers this season has been the handling of the quarterback position.
Jed York, Kyle Shanahan, and John Lynch decided to swap draft picks in 2021 and trading away two future first-round picks and a third-round pick with the Miami Dolphins to obtain the third pick in the draft while also keeping Jimmy Garoppolo.
From a football standpoint, this makes complete sense. Garoppolo is a veteran who knows the system, and when healthy has been extremely successful during his time in San Francisco. Having him start would give the team the best chance of winning games this season while the rookie sits and gets acclimated to life in the NFL.
From a relationship standpoint, this was a major miscalculation.
The 49ers had just focused on bringing back their own players in free agency. Many of the veterans the team re-signed had a winning history with Jimmy Garoppolo, and a number of others on the team had never won in San Francisco with a different quarterback.
Players like Mike McGlinchey, Kyle Juszczyk and George Kittle had found their greatest success with Garoppolo leading them. Each would pour out their feelings for Garoppolo when asked about who their leader would be going into this season.
As soon as the team drafted Trey Lance, the question became how quickly he would be replacing Garoppolo.
The 49ers organization tried to get out in front of the discussions, restating their position that Garoppolo would be the starting quarterback and Lance would sit and learn. Despite this, the situation between Garoppolo and Lance dominated the talk all offseason and throughout training camp.
Although the players would deflect questions about the quarterback situation and tow the company line, it’s likely there were a number of conversations between players during their time away from the media. It’s only human to expect this.
Those who have been banging the drum for Lance to start from the beginning have done the rookie a disservice because it was clear throughout training camp that he needed some time to adjust to the NFL game, but let’s not forget it was the 49ers who set this situation up.
When a team decides to use three future picks for a new quarterback, the expectation is that this is the player that will lead them forward. Those who won with Garoppolo continue to be in his corner. Those who are new to the team seem to be behind Lance.
There have been whispers of the locker room breaking into pro-Garoppolo or pro-Lance factions. If the locker room is indeed splintering due to the uncertainty at the most important position on the team, it could have repercussions for years to come.
The effects of the quarterback situation have already been shown on the field.
Jimmy Garoppolo and Trey Lance are vastly different players with different skill sets. During training camp, Kyle Shanahan mentioned how there were plays the team was installing that only Lance would run.
This meant that while the focus was on preparing the team for Garoppolo, they were simultaneously trying to focus on plays that would only be a small portion of the overall plan.
Coaches only have so much time on the field or in meetings with players. Creating two separate plans shortens the time on task for each, and this has shown through the product the 49ers have put on the field so far this season.
The 49ers need to decide what their goal is. Do they want to go all in to challenge for a playoff spot this season by focusing on Jimmy Garoppolo, or do they want to use this season to build for 2022 and beyond by focusing on Trey Lance?
To this point, they have tried to do both and failed.