San Francisco 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo said Tuesday he expects his partnership with rookie signal-caller Trey Lance to grow naturally in a similar fashion to his time as Tom Brady's protege with the New England Patriots.
Garoppolo discussed Lance, the No. 3 overall pick in last week's 2021 NFL draft, for the first time publicly during an appearance on ESPN Radio's Keyshawn, Will & Zubin:
"It's kind of coming full circle. You go through this NFL career and you start as a young guy coming in. Tom kind of showed me the ropes. The competition between us was awesome. It really made me grow as a rookie and as a young player. So, that's kind of what me and Trey, we'll mold our relationship into that. But it will happen naturally. It's one of those things you can't force anything. Just let it come as it may."
The 29-year-old Illinois native was a second-round pick of the Patriots in 2014. He was viewed as a potential heir apparent to Brady, but the seemingly ageless future Hall of Famer continued to play at an elite level, leading the Pats to trade his backup to San Francisco in October 2017.
There were rumors about Garoppolo making his a potential return to New England this offseason with Brady having moved on to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and winning his seventh Super Bowl title, but the Pats re-signed Cam Newton and drafted Alabama's Mac Jones with the 15th overall pick, so that reunion is now unlikely.
Instead, Garoppolo now faces a potential challenge from Lance for the 49ers' starting job, but he said on Keyshawn, JWill & Zubin that it won't prevent him from trying to help the prized prospect:
"I try to use my own personal experiences and just what I went through, what helped me, what challenged me as a young player. I'm going to use those tools that helped me and try to help Trey out. It's hard to come into this league, I know how it was coming from an FCS school to the NFL. It's a bit of an adjustment, the speed, whatever you want to call it, it's just different. So, whatever I can do to help him, I'll be more than happy."
Niners head coach Kyle Shanahan said Thursday it'll be "very hard" for Lance to take over the starting job right away, but he didn't completely rule it out.
"It's going to be very hard for a rookie to come in and beat Jimmy Garoppolo out. He's a very good player," Shanahan said. "That's why I like the situation that we are in. Now, we'll see where Trey's at. We'll see how he does at OTAs. I love that we're getting those. ... But Jimmy's our quarterback right now."
Garoppolo hasn't played terribly with the 49ers, posting a 98.1 passer rating across 31 games, but he's failed to become the game-changer teams want leading their offense. He's thrown only 46 touchdowns (1.48 per game), while last year's NFL leader, Aaron Rodgers, averaged three TDs per contest (48 in 16) and several other quarterbacks were over two per game.
Lance is a more high-upside, dual-threat option. He provides a similar feel to Josh Allen coming out of Wyoming in 2018. Although he isn't a finished product, he has the potential to become one of the NFL's best with some time and coaching, as Allen did for the Buffalo Bills last season while finishing second in MVP voting.
The Bills threw Allen, the No. 7 pick three years ago, right in the fire with 12 appearances as a rookie. The Niners appear poised to take a more conservative route with Lance unless he plays so well in training camp and the preseason that they don't have another option but to start him Week 1.
Garoppolo remains the favorite to open the regular season as the Niners' starter, particularly because the team is only two years removed from a Super Bowl appearance and will enter the 2021 season with high expectations. But if he falters or the team doesn't keep pace in the standings, it could switch to Lance quickly.
It would qualify as a surprise if the rookie doesn't make at least some appearances this year.