Trey Lance will start at QB for San Francisco 49ers 'sooner than later,' coach Kyle Shanahan says

PALM BEACH, Fla. -- With the NFL season still roughly six months away, San Francisco 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan isn't ready to announce his starting quarterback. In fact, much like last season, he might never make a formal announcement.

But, if it wasn't already clear that Shanahan and the Niners intend to turn the keys over to Trey Lance, Shanahan left plenty of subtle and not-so-subtle clues during his Tuesday morning media session at the NFL owners meetings at the Breakers Hotel.

So far this offseason, the 49ers have been unable to trade incumbent quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, though not for a lack of effort. Shanahan reiterated what general manager John Lynch said Monday about Garoppolo's right shoulder surgery derailing potential trades.

That doesn't change the idea that the natural next step is for Lance to take over as he enters his second NFL season. All signs still point to the Niners hanging on to Garoppolo until he's healthy and then hoping that trade talks spark back up while Lance continues to develop.

"That's why we looked into trading Jimmy, because we obviously believe that Trey can be a starter and we're ready to do that," Shanahan said. "But if we can't upgrade our team in another way, we're not just going to get rid of a good quarterback because we have other quarterbacks on the roster. Quarterbacks are really hard to come by. Some teams don't have any at all, and the fact that we have three that we're happy with, that is a good thing.

"We brought Trey here to be that eventually, and I think that will be sooner than later, but when Jimmy gets his surgery and we can't upgrade our team by getting some good picks until people feel good about that [surgery], I'm all right with that. We're not just getting rid of him to get rid of him. Jimmy is a good player that we all really like as a person and as a teammate, and we're going to wait to see whatever helps the Niners the most."

On Monday, Lynch made it clear that the Niners don't intend to release Garoppolo and acknowledged the possibility that he could be on the roster in 2022, even at his current cap charge of nearly $27 million. On Tuesday, Shanahan said that he also sees a scenario in which Garoppolo would be around next season, though he hasn't yet reached the point where he's considered how a training camp might play out if Garoppolo was still on the team.

"I'm not the coach. I'm not the general manager. They have my authority to put the roster together as they see fit. If that's what it is, then as long as we're competing and we're winning football games, they have the ability to do what they think is best to help us win," 49ers CEO Jed York said Tuesday. "We've made trades and we've had guys that are making a lot of money who haven't been on the field. ... If we think it's the best decision to have two guys that we think are very, very capable of winning football games and giving us a chance to win the Super Bowl, there's no position it's more important than that in all of sports. So, if we're going to overinvest in something, I'd rather overinvest in the quarterback position than anything else."

Perhaps more important is whether keeping Garoppolo might serve as an impediment to Lance's development. That wasn't an issue last season, but it's something Shanahan is cognizant of given the circumstances.

"You've got to make sure that you're not hindering his development," Shanahan said. "Trey's working his tail off. He knows how I feel about him. He knows what our expectations are for him. And I think he's got a lot of respect for Jimmy. But the situation is clear. We were trying to make a move to add some draft picks ... and we were pretty close to it. And then Jimmy ended up getting the surgery, which changes things.

"I think Trey will understand all that. I haven't had to talk to him about it. But I think it makes sense for all these guys. Trey's not an insecure guy. I think the situation makes sense. There's nothing sneaky going on about it. And he's confident. He's going to come in and focus on playing football. And focus on beating out whoever he has to, whether it's [Garoppolo], whether it's Nate [Sudfeld]. He's going to come in and be the best he can be."

Because Garoppolo's shoulder is expected to prevent him from throwing until July, Lance will get the starter's reps with Nate Sudfeld serving as the backup in the offseason program no matter what happens with Garoppolo. If, as expected, Garoppolo is still on the roster at that time, Shanahan said he's expected to be with the team in the Bay Area after rehabbing in the Los Angeles area.

Another hint Shanahan left about the team's plan at quarterback? The amount of offseason communication he's had with Lance and Garoppolo. Shanahan noted that while things with Garoppolo are "good," he hasn't talked to the veteran quarterback much, noting he prefers to "get away" a little bit.

With Lance, Shanahan said, "Trey is a guy I talk to all the time," and then offered details on Lance's offseason so far and plans to continue working out in Southern California with Sudfeld and some other teammates before the offseason program begins in April.

"Trey is preparing hard for these nine OTA days," Shanahan said. "But that's kind of what you do on your own. And then when you come to play football, it's all right now it's time to practice. And hopefully you've done everything in the offseason that prepares you for this moment. Getting himself prepared for these nine practices and you go from there."