All signs have been pointing toward the Trey Lance era beginning in San Francisco, but questions will loom as long as Jimmy Garoppolo remains on the 49ers’ roster.
Star tight end George Kittle spoke on the 49ers’ most intriguing storyline heading into the 2022 season, and broke down the two quarterbacks when asked who’d he prefer.
“That’s the million-dollar question, isn’t it?” Kittle told reporters on Friday, via Pro Football Talk. “That’s one reason I’m glad I’m not the head coach of the 49ers. That’s all on coach (Kyle) Shanahan. I’ll give you both ways. Jimmy G, awesome in the huddle, great leader, directs guys. People go to attention when he’s talking. He’s got a quick release, he knows the offense. Like I said, been to two NFC Championship games, knows what he’s doing. Trey Lance can run, extend plays, does all the play-action stuff incredible, could throw the ball 70 yards. I don’t know. It’s a toss-up for me.”
The 49ers have appeared in the NFC Championship Game in two of the past three years with Garoppolo at the helm, reaching Super Bowl LIV in the 2019 season. San Francisco saw and took the opportunity to get Lance with the No. 3 overall pick in the 2022 NFL Draft by giving up a hefty amount of future draft capital.
It’s been made clear what the future holds for San Francisco at the QB position, but Kittle says Garoppolo has taken it all in stride despite an awkward situation that could easily become dysfunctional.
“I mean, everybody can see it,” Kittle said. “When you trade three first-round draft picks for a quarterback, it kind of has a writing on the wall, doesn’t it? Jimmy did nothing but be a professional every single day. He didn’t complain about it one time. He wasn’t in a corner talking crap about the situation. He showed up every day as the starting quarterback of the San Francisco 49ers. He went out there and practiced every day. He worked hard every single day. He set good examples for all the young guys, for all of us, and he motivated everybody. I don’t know if there’s a better professional in the NFL than Jimmy Garoppolo with how he dealt with that situation. I think he made everyone around him better that year. … Hey, you’re dealing with something that no one else here is dealing with and you’re being incredible about it. I can deal with any of my stuff and move on and just go play football. It was great. The way he handled it was great for us. I wouldn’t wish that upon anybody else but, hey, he did a lot with it and he played at a high level.”
Garoppolo’s offseason shoulder surgery has seemingly complicated any would-be trade, which has been a cooperative effort following the 2021 season. 49ers general manager John Lynch recently said the team doesn’t plan to cut the 30-year-old QB if no trade materializes. Should Garoppolo remain on the team as training camp begins this summer, Kittle doesn’t see it becoming a distraction in the locker room.
“I mean we’re kind of used to it at this point,” Kittle said. “I mean, Jimmy G’s been under scrutiny since after the 2018 season where he tore his ACL. That whole season was like, ‘Oh, is Jimmy G the guy?’ Then he comes back, takes us to a Super Bowl, then we lose and then the next offseason is, ‘Oh, is Jimmy G the guy?’ We had another injury, 2020. It was a tough year for the Niners and then we came back and go to another NFC Championship game. We’ve been through this. It is what it is. I don’t think it’s really much of a distraction. I mean, I can’t tell being in the building. I see the guys show up every single day, go run routes, we lift weights, go to meetings, and it’s not really even a topic of conversation. We’re all here just trying to get better and whether that’s Jimmy G, whether it’s Trey Lance, whether it’s Nate Sudfeld, or our Mr. Irrelevant, Brock Purdy. Whoever is slinging that rock hopefully will just throw it to me more than anybody else.”
Kittle, who was promoting the second annual Tight End University on Friday, spoke plenty about Lance’s “insane ceiling” this offseason and the 22-year-old is scheduled to be at this year’s summit. While his argument for either QB leading the team this season is compelling, Kittle made it clear that he’s perfectly fine with whoever is throwing him the football in 2022.
“As long as they’re throwing me the football, it is what it is,” Kittle said. “Football is a competitive sport. If there’s not competition, if you’re not fighting for your starting job every single day, then you’re not going to get any better. It was nice to see those two push each other all year. I think Trey learned a lot from Jimmy. If Trey is the starter and if there’s growing pains, hey, so be it. I think we have good enough players around him to help him succeed from Trent Williams, to [Brandon] Aiyuk, to hopefully Deebo [Samuel], to me, our run game. I think we have plenty of players around him to help him succeed.”
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