The San Francisco 49ers signaled that an end to the Jimmy Garoppolo era is coming soon. But if you ask the team's owner, it might not be as close as you'd think.
Jed York spoke Wednesday about the 49ers' plan for rookie quarterback Trey Lance, and in a sports world in which pressure to produce has never been higher, York went in the opposite direction. He delivered a public message of patience, aided by the fact San Francisco still has Garoppolo available to continue as the team's starter for the immediate future.
"We've talked about this internally," York said on NBS Sports Bay Area's 49ers Talk podcast. "If we're in a situation where Jimmy goes out and takes us to a Super Bowl again and has an MVP-caliber season, and does it again, there are worse dilemmas to be in. And Jimmy certainly has the ability to do that.
"Knowing it's the most important position in sports, and it's great to have a guy that you do believe in and has gotten you to a Super Bowl. So you don't have to put the weight of the world on a rookie, whoever it was we were going to choose. And now that we know Trey is here, you don't have to put the weight of the world on that kid's shoulders. And he can grow into that position."
The thought of Garoppolo playing at an MVP level might seem absurd at this point, but York is likely just throwing out the absolute best-case scenario for his team -- which, conveniently, also would allow the 49ers to keep the training wheels on Lance.
Plan A, then, is to ride with Garoppolo until Lance surpasses him in ability and potential. There's no telling at this point when that moment will come, but judging by its deal to send three first-rounders to Miami in order to move up to No. 3 overall, San Francisco believes it is inevitable.
It's also financially friendly. Garoppolo is currently under a lucrative contract typical of those deemed to be the future at the position, but it expires after next season. San Francisco can also exit via an escape hatch and incur minimal financial penalty totaling $2.8 million in 2021, or $1.4 million in 2022.
The architects of Garoppolo's contract deserve a raise. Lance, though, won't see a significant pay bump until the fifth and final year of his rookie deal, which at this point isn't set in stone but is available via the option that comes with every first-rounder's rookie deal.
That same rookie deal will pay Lance substantially less over the first four years of his career than Garoppolo has made in 2019-2020 and will make in 2021-2022. The eventual succession will not only give San Francisco a long-term answer at the position (provided Lance proves he's worthy of the job), but also provide significant financial flexibility -- "even if he doesn't play for two years, we still have an extra $100 million," as York put it -- to improve elsewhere and make annual runs at a Lombardi Trophy.
Essentially, the 49ers are trying to win now and for the next decade. They're acting accordingly with calculated moves and financial prudence. Giving Lance a long runway simply fits into that approach.
"If he doesn't play until he's 23, but he's got a 15-plus year career ..." York said of Lance. "There were rumors about a guy, and obviously Kyle talked about trading for Aaron. How long did Aaron sit? Two or three years before he played? And, again, I want to make sure that we do everything we can to make sure that position is the best it can possibly be in the NFL."
San Francisco doesn't have an MVP, but it does have a guy once seen as a franchise quarterback in Garoppolo, and another with the potential to be even better in Lance. There's no rush, because they're in the same quarterbacks room. The 49ers don't need a rookie to save what's already a well-run organization.
They just need to stay healthy, starting with Garoppolo. And as his contract tells us, they're likely a maximum of two years from handing the reigns to Lance. It's perfectly fine for them to take their time.
"If he's the best player, then he would play," York said of Lance. "And if he's not ready to do it, yet, we're not going to put that on his shoulders and whether that's Trey or whether that's anybody else, we want to make sure there's competition throughout the team."