As the old saying goes, if you have two quarterbacks, you really have none. But what about three quarterbacks?
It looked like the Niners, after years of uncertainty at the quarterback position, had finally found the one, stumbling upon Rookie of the Year candidate Brock Purdy. However, with Purdy undergoing elbow surgery later this month, the 49ers could turn back to first-round pick Trey Lance, who himself is recovering from a torn ACL. With their title window threatening to shut at any moment, this issue is one that requires a sense of urgency, and who better to weigh in on the Niners’ quarterback conundrum than four-time Super Bowl champion Joe Montana?
While coach Kyle Shanahan has said the team doesn’t plan to re-sign Jimmy Garoppolo this offseason, Montana thinks they should reconsider, arguing that Garoppolo, for all his flaws, has proven to be a consistent winner.
“Who’s won the most games for you? I don’t know how you get rid of Jimmy. He fits that system a little bit better right now than Trey, I think. Trey runs a little bit different offensive style than Jimmy does. Jimmy’s a pocket guy. Trey, he can play in the pocket but he’s more of a run-pass-option kind of a player,” the Hall-of-Famer told Rich Eisen while making the rounds on Radio Row. “You have a Super Bowl team. How do you get rid of a guy who got you to a Super Bowl already, until you know the other kid is ready?”
Despite initial skepticism, Montana has been a vocal supporter of Garoppolo throughout his Niners tenure, including this past season, when the veteran won seven of 10 starts, contributing 16 touchdowns (15 passing, one rushing) and just four interceptions over that span. Though Montana concedes that Purdy remains the 49ers’ best option when healthy, the nature of his injury, suffering a complete UCL (ulnar collateral ligament) tear in his right elbow, gives him pause, wondering how effective he’ll be following major reconstructive surgery.
“Purdy got the job because everybody was hurt. I don’t think that was expected of him. But I think they realized that he can play. He knows that system. He understands he’s got playmakers. He doesn’t have to try to make a play with his feet unless he’s flushed out of the pocket. He can make plays if he has to, but look at the weapons he’s got on offense. It’s crazy,” said Montana, the Niners’ all-time leader in virtually every passing category including yards (35,124), completions (2,929) and touchdowns (244). “If [Purdy] was healthy, he’d probably be the guy. But he has an injury to his throwing elbow with a ligament. The medical world has advanced a lot. Rehab is done a lot different, gotten better. How soon he’ll be back is unclear.”
Despite where the Niners drafted him (third overall), Lance was always thought of as a project, a raw but undeniably talented player with elite athletic traits. Injuries have thrown a wrench in his development, a setback the 22-year-old could ill-afford after an abbreviated college career that spanned all of 19 games, none against FBS opponents. “Trey may be closer to being ready, but he’s lost a lot of time because he’s been hurt. Jimmy’s been hurt too, but he’s come back and played well,” said Montana. “I don’t hang out down there. I don’t talk to those guys. That’s just kind of how I look at it.”
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