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Mailbag: Do NFC West Teams Want Trey Lance or Jimmy Garoppolo to Start for 49ers in 2021?

Which QB do opponents want to see under center in San Francisco? Plus, an update on the Russell Wilson–Seahawks feud, a potential relegation system, tired Daniel Jones narratives and more.

Despite my concerns that I would have to teach my mom how to create a Twitter account to generate reader mail, all of you showed up for my fill-in mailbag while Albert Breer is out this week. Thank you for the thought-provoking questions (and also to the friends who sent questions via group chat, just in case)! There were so many I couldn’t get to all of them, but there will be plenty of other opportunities, including on the MMQB Monday Morning Podcast with Gary Gramling, Conor Orr and me.

From ndetherock (@EllertNick): Do the other teams in the NFC West want Trey Lance or Jimmy Garoppolo to start?

The longer Jimmy Garoppolo starts, the longer Trey Lance needs to get ready, and that’s certainly the scenario NFC West foes are hoping for. But I have a hunch we’ll see Lance sooner than expected. A lot has been made about Lance’s needing time to make the jump from his 17 starts at North Dakota State to the NFL, and keeping Garoppolo gives the 49ers that flexibility not to force Lance into the lineup. But another North Dakota State QB was also expected to sit his rookie year, and Carson Wentz ended up being the Week 1 starter for the Eagles in 2016. The sooner Lance plays in San Francisco, the sooner it means that he is ready (barring other circumstances, such as an injury opening the door), and so are the new possibilities his versatile abilities can unlock in Kyle Shanahan’s offense.

49ers rookie quarterback Trey Lance attempts a pass in minicamp; Incumbent Niners QB Jimmy Garoppolo exits the field prior to kickoff

From Neil Dutton (@ndutton13): How likely is it that the NFL combine moves from Indy? Do you think it will happen?

Neil, great to hear from you! Unfortunately, the combine is the latest event the NFL intends to turn into a traveling road show. The league recently told its 32 teams that, starting in 2023, there will be a bidding process to host the annual scouting showcase, similar to the Super Bowl and the draft. This move has been dreaded (but expected) by NFL coaches and talent evaluators, who value routine, efficiency and known commodities, all of which Indianapolis has provided since 1987. Much of the scouting work done in Indy could be replicated in other cities, but the biggest draws of the current setup will be harder to copy. You can get pretty much anywhere you need to go in Indy, including the hospital and airport, in at most a 15-minute drive and often within walking distance. That wouldn't be true in, say, Los Angeles. Even Lucas Oil Stadium was designed with combine convenience in mind, as detailed by Indianapolis Monthly, with “extra meeting space that could be transformed into quasi hospital rooms and fiber-optic data lines connecting the stadium directly to IU Health for real-time medical evaluation.” But as we know in the U.S. and in the NFL, money reigns supreme. That was why combine drills were moved to prime-time TV slots in 2019, despite protestations from pretty much every party but the NFL execs and owners, and it’s why the event is destined to leave Indy for greener pa$ture$.

From Brian Porras (@bporras1): Am I the only one who’s tired of the “Daniel Jones has no more excuses” narrative? With all of the issues he had to deal with in 2020 (he was the leading rusher until the Seattle game), isn’t this the lazy perspective?

Brian, you have come to the right place. The short-lived Weak-Side Podcast was self-branded as a pro-Dimes podcast, largely centered on the hosts’ correct pre-2019 draft assessment that Jones would be the second QB taken. That said, while I don’t ascribe to the “no more excuses” framing for a QB with only 26 starts, I do think this is the year when Jones needs to show the Giants who he is as a QB. After going after the top free-agent WR on the market (Kenny Golladay) and then also drafting a WR in the first round (Kadarius Toney), the Giants are hoping for the kind of third-year jump Josh Allen made after the Bills added Stefon Diggs—or, at the least, somewhere in that direction.

From Lew Blaustein (@GreenSportsBlog): The Jets will be running a zone-blocking scheme that emphasizes lateral movement by the O-linemen. Is the massive Mekhi Becton suited to this approach? If not, what adjustments can they make to take advantage of his massive talents, assuming he can stay on the field?

First of all, a note to other readers to check out Lew’s always insightful Green Sports Blog. As for your question, Becton came from a wide-zone scheme at Louisville, where he excelled. And while the 40-yard dash is often seen as having limited practical application for offensive linemen, in Becton’s case, his time of 5.1 seconds at 6' 7", 360-plus pounds demonstrated to teams his elite athleticism. The bigger question, I think, is your last point—his being able to stay on the field. Becton missed two full games and significant time in four other games last season, and was sidelined this spring with a foot injury. His size can be an asset, but he also must regulate his weight so that he can keep his mobility and be healthy enough to play.

russell wilson

From Chris Leeper (@RoseBug_22): Do you think the Russell Wilson–Seattle feud is fixed, or did they just press pause until next offseason?

Chris, always a pleasure. It wasn’t a mistake that Wilson aired his frustrations this offseason more directly and publicly than he had before, and while he and the team are forging ahead together for the 2021 season, as Wilson himself told reporters during OTAs, “Anytime in sports, obviously things can change.” This is far from a pithy statement I am about to make, but how things go this season will be critical in determining what course Wilson will decide to take next offseason. It’s been eight long years since he and the Seahawks won a Super Bowl together, and while the team has been to the playoffs in all but one of the seasons since, they’ve spent much of that time trying to reclaim their identity. If they can do that this year—how things go with new OC Shane Waldron will be key—then perhaps Wilson will decide that his best chance at a championship is staying put (at least through 2023, when his current contract is up). If not, he may fast-forward his way out of town.

From Bills, Illini, Stocks, (camera), (TV) and a good story (@DadIllini): The official numbers for career sacks taken are Brett Favre at 525, Tom Brady at 521 and Ben Roethlisberger at 516. Who owns the record at end of 2021?

First, DadIllini, my dad is an Illinois graduate. Second, this is a really good question. This stat is, of course, a reflection of a QB’s longevity. But it’s also a measuring stick of what’s required to have a starting QB career that can be measured in decades. Most of us can’t fathom what it would feel like to be sacked once, let alone 500 times, and that’s not even counting all of the other hits a QB takes. Back to the question at hand, I’m going with Brady. This may sound counterintuitive, given the fact that the Steelers lost four starters on the offensive line this offseason. But the Steelers drafted Najee Harris in the first round to be able to lean on their run game, and my answer is based on projecting Brady both to pass more and to play more offensive snaps than Roethlisberger in 2021.

From Kevin (@Kevin747747): Hi Jenny. What is the reason why the NFL still does not allow all players on the 53-man to dress on game days? Why do the owners allow it, considering those inactive on game day are still getting paid for that game?

Kevin, you have been a longtime reader, for which I am ever grateful! As usual, a very thoughtful question. My understanding is the inactives list was created in the name of competitive balance, so that both teams in a game will field the same number of healthy and available players, while allowing those with short-term injuries to sit out. But coaches, including Pete Carroll and Dan Quinn, have in the past advocated for more players to be available on game day, with player health and player development in mind. The 2020 CBA between the NFL and the players union expanded the game day active roster to 47 players (or 48, if eight are offensive linemen) and also allows for up to two additional players to be elevated to the practice squad for games. This increased the available pool of players who can play on game day, but any further changes would have to be bargained over.

From Daniel Trugman (@dtrugman2): What do you think of the idea of having a promotion/relegation system in the NFL? It could allow for expansion to more cities (48 teams???), discourage tanking, boost overall revenues, provide a built-in and high-stakes minor league system …

Forty-eight teams! Daniel, I love your imagination. (The MMQB once brainstormed some great expansion team names.) The answer yet again starts with money. In the NFL’s eyes, there aren’t 48 (or even 33) cities right now that could viably sustain an NFL team—this is why the focus over the last two decades has been to relocate teams to more lucrative markets, rather than add new ones. And no owner would entertain splitting the current 32 teams into multiple tiers because the loss of revenue as a result of relegation would be too great. From the player perspective, it’s also a no-go. With how short and dangerous careers are, NFL players would never agree to a structure in which they have the potential to play valuable years of their career stuck in the second tier. Moreover, I’m not sure the current system needs to be fixed. Sure, there are some dud games every week, but always remember that the 2020 Jets won two (2) games.

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