Hours after the San Francisco 49ers traded up to select North Dakota State quarterback Trey Lance in the 2021 NFL Draft, head coach Kyle Shanahan warned fans not to get too excited about the dual-threat weapon. The offensive mastermind wanted everyone to remember that Jimmy Garoppolo, not Lance, remained the team’s starting quarterback.
Don’t expect Shanahan to change his mind anytime soon. When Garoppolo has been healthy, he’s played the bulk of the 49ers’ offensive snaps and has won four of his last five starts. With the 49ers reportedly expected to bring the two-time Super Bowl champion back in 2022, that understandably creates questions about what lies ahead for Lance, at least in San Francisco.
Could the next step be a trade? The 49ers won’t want anyone to even think about such a move just yet, but we’re going to do it anyway. Although Lance isn’t playing much right now (he’s only taken the field for five snaps since Week 5), the reigning No. 3 overall pick would certainly warrant interest on the trade market.
For this list, we are not going to put together trade packages. Instead, we are only going to focus on quarterback-needy teams that should call the 49ers and at least try exploring a potential deal. Also, we are only including organizations who, as of publication, have uncertain quarterback situations ahead of the 2022 season. We will not include teams like the Buffalo Bills or Kansas City Chiefs who already have a franchise quarterback in place.
Based on consideration of the aforementioned prerequisites, the best teams in question stack up as follows:
4. Cleveland Browns
The Browns are one of only two teams on this list which, in theory, already have a legitimate financial commitment to a quarterback in 2022. Cleveland picked up Baker Mayfield’s fifth-year option earlier this year, a move that guaranteed him $18.8 million in salary for next season. We apologize to the parents of current Browns players for the reminder.
Although Mayfield deserves praise for battling through numerous injuries, he’s also had bouts of immaturity this fall, especially with the long-suffering Browns fanbase. If Cleveland decides a divorce is the best move, then the Browns would be best served by bringing a veteran quarterback, someone like Aaron Rodgers or Russell Wilson, to the altar if possible.
As of now, we’re skeptical about Lance’s chances of succeeding in Cleveland. However, our pessimism shouldn’t scare the Browns away, at least not yet.
3. Washington Football Team
Taylor Heinicke has done everything in his power of late to prove he should return as Washington’s starting quarterback in 2022, and he could very well earn that role. However, Lance’s prowess as a dual-threat quarterback could appeal to head coach Ron Rivera, who thrived with Cam Newton — one of the greatest mobile quarterbacks in modern NFL history — when the two were in Carolina from 2011-19.
We’ll leave Washington on here for now. However, suppose Heinicke continues his strong play of late and even helps Washington sneak into the postseason. In that case, Rivera might not need to invest so heavily in a young quarterback next spring, after all.
2. Houston Texans
As dangerous as assuming is, let’s operate under the belief that Deshaun Watson will not be the Texans’ starting quarterback in 2022. Tyrod Taylor is a bridge option and Davis Mills, a rookie from Stanford, played inconsistently across his first seven games. Barring anything unexpected in the coming weeks, the Texans will likely be searching for a new quarterback next spring.
Although we said we wouldn’t focus on trade packages, we do need to remind you that Houston is on track to have nine selections in the 2022 NFL Draft. The football world is free to run on draft picks if it so chooses.
1. Atlanta Falcons
After an impressive first few weeks, Ryan has looked more like the 36-year-old quarterback he is … at least until he turns 37 next May. The Falcons opted not to select a quarterback in the 2021 draft and instead focused on rebuilding the defense. Perhaps the next step is calling the 49ers and seeing what the team wants in return for Lance, whose dual-threat abilities perfectly fit head coach Arthur Smith’s ideal offensive scheme.
Smith served as the Tennessee Titans’ offensive coordinator from 2019-20 and helped revive Ryan Tannehill’s career in a system that relied heavily on rushing and play-action passes. Considering what Tannehill did in his two seasons with Smith, can you only imagine what Lance and tight end Kyle Pitts can do together?
We can, and we’ll speak the idea into existence. If Lance isn’t starting for the 49ers in 2022, he’ll be on the Atlanta Falcons.