The 49ers should have taken note of the good progress of Bears quarterback Justin Fields, which means Trey Lance has to start now, not later.
San Francisco 49ers rookie Trey Lance remains the last of the NFL first-round quarterbacks not to start in 2021.
For a while, the No. 3 overall pick was joined by Chicago Bear strategist Justin champs, a player many thought head coach Kyle Shanahan might have picked after the Niners’ aggressive trade last spring.
But Fields, whom San Francisco beat in Week 8 despite a big effort from the rookie, continues to show serious development. And while Fields is only a 2-5 record as a starter, his trajectory from an unrefined rookie to a quality passer during this span is not hard to follow.
Especially after dazzling in Week 9 against the Pittsburgh Steelers the Monday night football.
Granted, Fields and the Bears ultimately lost the prime-time bout 29-27. But after Chicago fell behind early, the No. 12 overall pick was nonetheless responsible for what seemed like an epic comeback.
Fields finished the game 17 of 29 for 291 yards, a touchdown on an interception while rushing for 45 yards and securing an 89.9 passer rating.
Against one of the strongest defenses in the NFL, on the road and in the bright lights of Monday night. His efforts weren’t indicative of a rookie, either, as Fields frequently made large throws on the field and didn’t rely solely on the short, high percentage throws that many young rookies would attempt to make.
The Jacksonville Jaguars and New York Jets were forced to make commitments to their two rookies, Trevor Lawrence and Zach Wilson, respectively, from the start. The New England Patriots have finally decided Mac Jones should be their starting quarterback out of training camp.
Now Fields is proving the Bears why they made the right decision to trade and have him too, and his field play is starting to pay off.
So, what about the Niners? Why is Lance still on the bench behind the starter, Jimmy garoppolo, without even getting the handful of shots and games San Francisco offered earlier this season?
Justin Fields a case study on why the 49ers need to pitch Trey Lance now
Chicago, now at 3-6, has one more loss than the 3-5 49ers after Week 9. The Bears have fully admitted that they are not in playoff contention at this point because the Green Packers Bay run away with the division. In the case of the Niners, the Los Angeles Cardinals and Rams are on the run with NFC West.
And even if Chicago and San Francisco make a playoff push, at least the Bears are committed to the future by giving Fields the experience he needs now.
At first Fields didn’t look good, it’s true. Much like Lance looked completely raw and unpolished in his only start to the season, Week 5 against the Cardinals when Garoppolo came out with a calf injury. But that hands-on field time has opened the door for Fields to make those improvements, capitalize on experience, and become the kind of rookie quarterback who can face one of the league’s best defenses in Pittsburgh on prime time.
Lance, meanwhile, hasn’t taken a snapshot since that game in Arizona a few weeks ago.
Granted, there is a small argument that Lance would gain more from growing behind Garoppolo first. As head coach Kyle Shanahan has often said when asked why Lance doesn’t play a lot, not all field experience is good experience.
Still, with the 49ers moving further and further away from the playoff discussion, the need to follow a Bears-like route with Fields should apply to the Niners with Lance as well.
49ers can’t use Jimmy Garoppolo as an excuse not to pitch Trey Lance
Fields had to pass veteran quarterback Andy Dalton. Lance has yet to take over Garoppolo.
Despite everything Shanahan has said about Garoppolo as a de facto starter, it doesn’t change the fact that Jimmy G is a lame duck. He knows it, the team knows it, the fans know it and the rest of the league knows it. Lance is the future, hands down.
Read More: Rating Trey Lance’s First NFL Start With The 49ers
Granted, if the Niners were legitimately competing for a deep playoff push and potential Super Bowl spot, and Garoppolo was leading that and playing well, then it would be reasonable to keep Lance on the sidelines. But all of these factors should be true. Yes, Garoppolo has played well the past two weeks, but San Francisco has gone 1-1 in those games. The team is no longer a Super Bowl contender, and the odds of even making the playoffs seem grim at best.
Once that threshold is reached, 2022 becomes more important than 2021. The Bears have realized that, putting Fields in the role of starter to continue his development.
The 49ers need to realize it now too, whether that means putting a bench or giving up Garoppolo altogether. It is not the future.
Lance is. Start it up.