San Francisco 49ers legend Jerry Rice praised quarterback Trey Lance, saying the "sky's the limit" for the 2021 first-round pick, and warned the franchise against a potential timeshare with incumbent starter Jimmy Garoppolo if he's not traded.
Rice told the NFL Network's MJ Acosta-Ruiz on Thursday the team's coaching staff must make a decision before the start of the regular season and stick with it.
"I don't know what the Niners are going to do with Jimmy G and Trey Lance. I know one thing: We don't want that carousel of back-and-forth during the season," Rice said. "I think you have to name someone as the starter, you have to go with that individual and then you build around that quarterback."
Lance, the third overall selection in last year's draft, played a limited role behind Garoppolo as a rookie but showed promise.
He completed 57.7 percent of his throws (41-of-71) for 603 yards with five touchdowns and two interceptions across six appearances (two starts). He added 168 rushing yards and one score on the ground.
The expectation was Garoppolo would get traded during the offseason to pave the way for the 22-year-old Minnesota native to become the unquestioned leader of the offense.
So far that hasn't happened. Garoppolo underwent shoulder surgery in March, and there's a limited number of potential suitors remaining, with most NFL teams having solidified their quarterback depth charts for the 2022 campaign.
In April, Niners general manager John Lynch confirmed the team would keep the 30-year-old Eastern Illinois product if the right offer didn't come along despite his $26.95 million cap hit for 2022 and the potential for him to become an unrestricted free agent next offseason.
"Guys like that don't fall out of trees," Lynch told reporters. "He's a good player at a position where they're hard to find. And so, you certainly don't just give guys like that away and we can, I guess foot the bill, if you want to describe it as that. And so, we'll be patient with that one."
Garoppolo tossed 20 touchdowns and 12 interceptions during the 2021 regular season and helped guide the 49ers to an appearance in the NFC Championship Game.
While Garoppolo's a battle-tested veteran who brings stability, Lance could provide a unique game-breaking element to the San Francisco offense if the coaching staff feels he's ready to start.
Rice told Acosta-Ruiz he filmed a commercial with Lance, who won the Jerry Rice Award as the top freshman in FCS college football in 2019, and came away impressed with his skill set.
"It didn't take me long to be on the same page with him, he's got that rocket arm, but he's also got that mobility and that vision where he can extend plays and throw the ball downfield," Rice said. "So I'm sure with repetitions on the field, the players really just building around him, he's going to have a successful year this year."
The ideal situation for the Niners would be Lance taking firm control of the offense throughout training camp and never looking back for the next decade.
If that doesn't happen and Jimmy G remains on the roster, head coach Kyle Shanahan and Co. may face a dilemma as they prepare to take on the Chicago Bears in their season opener on Sept. 11.