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Mailbag: When Is It Trey Lance Time for the 49ers?

Plus, assessing a Garoppolo trade, potential Rodgers landing spots for 2022, Najee Harris’s role as a rookie, Jamal Adams’s contract, and more!

MINNEAPOLIS — I’m headed out to Vikings practice, but not before getting to all your mail. Thanks for the great response this week; I can tell you guys are ready to roll with camps opening coast-to-coast.

From Getty (@ItzGetty): Trey Lance starts week______?

Getty, I’ll say Week 1 … of 2022. And that’s betting on the Niners, more than it is any one quarterback over another. If San Francisco can stay healthy, I believe that roster is among the best in football. Jimmy Garoppolo, in this scenario, plays behind Trent Williams, Alex Mack and Mike McGlinchey, and alongside one of the NFL’s best run games with a shot to throw to George Kittle, Brandon Aiyuk and Deebo Samuel.

The Niners should be good, and they don’t need Garoppolo to be Superman to get there. Which I believe will allow Kyle Shanahan to follow the instincts that prompted him to sit Garoppolo (who had three-and-a-half seasons in Bill Belichick’s program under his belt) for a month after trading for him in 2017—and let the new guy learn to truly command his system before asking him to run it.

So I see the Niners at around 12–5, and Garoppolo (again, if healthy) being the triggerman for the duration. That result, in the end, would be good for everyone. Good for the Niners, because they’d be back contending after a nightmarish 2020. Good for Garoppolo, because he’d be playing well and reestablishing his value with other teams ahead of being dealt in early 2022. And good for Lance, because he’d get a real developmental period after having played in only one football game over the last 19 months.

From Constant Season (@ConstantSeason): Best landing spots for Jimmy G should there be a situation that the Niners are comfortable trading him during the season? Thanks!

O.K., so Constant, it’d take a lot to get there, but I’ll indulge this scenario. While Shanahan said Tuesday that Garoppolo will take all the reps with the first team, and Lance all the reps with the second team in camp, he allowed himself a little wiggle room during the spring.

“I definitely see it as Jimmy is the starter,” he said then. “But if Trey is ready to compete, I have no problem with it. I don't sit there and say, 'Hey, we're not playing a rookie quarterback. We have to rest him the first year.' … I don't really make any decisions like that until I actually have an opinion on it. And that'll take to how I see him in camp. If he comes in and he's playing at a high level and we think he gives us the best chance to win, we wouldn't hesitate to do that.”

Let’s say Lance blows the lid off things the next three weeks, and then there comes a point early in the year when Garoppolo gets nicked, Lance goes in, and takes the job for then. What would be next? Well, the trouble here is at that point Garoppolo’s $24.1 million base salary would be fully guaranteed and there are very few teams that’d be able to take on that number.

The wilder idea out there is Lance wins the job outright, and the Niners then ask Garoppolo to take a paycut, or try to get him to take one to accommodate a trade to a place where he could play. But where would that be? To me, looking at the quarterbacking landscape, the only place that’d make sense would be New England, if Cam Newton’s a mess and Mac Jones isn’t ready. Or a team that’s had a bad injury (and I won’t predict where that will happen).

So, again, the most likely scenario here, to me, is that Garoppolo is the Niners starter in 2021, and playing elsewhere in ’22.

From bobbyg84_ (@bobbyg84_): Did the Steelers get a good one in Najee?

Bobby, the phrase I kept hearing on Harris was “as advertised.” When you see him in person, his size really jumps out at you—he’s a legitimate 230 pounds, with a build that reminds me a little bit of Eddie George’s back in the day. And it’s really clear how refined he is as a receiver for a rookie tailback. At one point during Sunday’s practice, he ran a wheel route, and leapt over a defender 30 yards downfield to haul the ball in.

I thought it was notable, too, to hear him referenced when I asked Ben Roethlisberger about how involved he was working with the youth of the offense around him.

“I’ve always invested in the guys, I’ve always been a guy that loves to communicate with them, wants to be there for them, answer any questions they may have,” he says. “We’re a veteran team, obviously our line is younger, our back is younger. They keep guys away from me. We also have some pretty special talent on the outside that can do some pretty special things.”

Tucked in there, you hear Roethlisberger refer to Harris as “our back”, which felt to me like an acknowledgment not only that the first-round pick is going to play a role, but that he’s trending towards being the lead guy. And part of that, as I see it, is how those veterans have seen Harris go to work.

I mentioned this in my camp takeaways on Twitter, and I’ll repeat it here: Harris was always working in the two days I was there. At any free moment, he was back with position coach Eddie Faulkner working on his hands, his blocking … whatever. It’s interesting, too, because someone told me it was something Harris started with right away, because COVID restrictions made it so Harris was the only back at rookie minicamp back in June.

This is just me, but I’d buy stock in Harris (and also Steelers second-round tight end Pat Freiermuth, while we’re there).

From Alex (@alexmercier58): Make or break for Daniel Jones this year? Has all the weapons with Saquon coming back, oline is somewhat respectable, defense has potential to be great

Alex, yes, it is. And maybe not so much because of what’s around him as much as it is the crossroads he’s about to hit in his career.

Here’s a fact we’ve trotted out in analyzing the situations of Josh Allen, Lamar Jackson and Baker Mayfield that applies here, too: Between 2013 and ’17, 12 quarterbacks were drafted in the first round. Four got market-setting extensions, and all four of those came after the QB’s third year. Of the remaining eight, only Blake Bortles got a second contract from his team. Five others got their fifth-year options declined and didn’t make it past Year 4.

History is shouting at us here that teams make hard decisions on their first-round quarterbacks after three years, and that’s even moreso the case now that those fifth-year options are fully guaranteed at execution. So it will be decision time for the Giants on Daniel Jones after this year, a point at which they’ll either double-down on their investment or, perhaps, go big-game hunting (Russell Wilson? Aaron Rodgers?) in early 2022.

And that brings us to all the enhancements around him this year: Kenny Golladay, Kadarius Toney, John Ross, Kyle Rudolph, a healthy Saquon Barkley, and a young line with another year under its belt—which to me only should work to give the team more clarity on Jones and make for an easier decision after the season ends. One thing that I think is worth realizing here, too, is that the bar is higher at quarterback now than it’s ever been (the Rams shipping Jared Goff out for Matthew Stafford is proof). So Jones has to play well.

From Walt Walkowski (@WaltWalkowski): Which teams are already trying to get themselves in a place to be bidders for A. Rodgers next year?

Walt, first of all, I think the Packers have an opportunity here to hang on to Rodgers, with six months ahead to repair relationships and build with more urgency. I actually think the acquisition of Randall Cobb is a step in that direction—it’s a move that’ll take mortgaging Rodgers’s deal, but it’ll make Green Bay better in the short-term, and it’s the kind of to-hell-with-2023 type of move that the Bucs have made routine in building around Tom Brady.

But if you’re saying that he’s definitely on the trade market next winter, here are a few teams that make sense …

Broncos: Assuming neither Drew Lock nor Teddy Bridgewater light the world on fire between now and the holidays, Denver’s going to be in the market for a quarterback in 2022, and they’ve got a roster that really isn’t that far off from where the Broncos were going in 2012 when they signed Peyton Manning.

Raiders: Derek Carr will be in a contract year in 2022, and Vegas was right there with the Broncos and Niners on Rodgers’s wish list a few months back. And Jon Gruden has never shied from working with veteran quarterbacks.

Dolphins: Miami will have more information on Tua Tagovailoa after this season. Maybe they’ll be all-in on him. Maybe there will be more doubt. Either way, it’s a good bet, based on what Brian Flores and Chris Grier have built, that there will be a strong roster around the Dolphins’ quarterback in 2022. And Miami has two first-rounders in ’23 to deal with.

Panthers: Owner David Tepper is fairly obsessed with getting the quarterback position right, so Sam Darnold’s time to prove himself will be limited. I think Darnold can make it happen. But if that doesn’t happen, the door here would be open.

Patriots: Bill Belichick turns 70 next year, and the Patriots would have a promising young quarterback to put on the table. So … likely? No. But I’ve learned not to rule anything out with Belichick.

I think you could also make a case for Washington here as an improving team that might be attractive to Rodgers, and the Browns, Cardinals and Giants could be in the market if their young quarterbacks take steps back. You get the picture. Lots of teams would probably be interested, provided Rodgers maintains his accustomed level of play this year.

From Jacob Turner (@Jacobcturner16): Any predictions on trends for the league this year on style of play? In the past we had the RPO, wildcat, etc.

Greg Roman alluded to this in how the Ravens plan to diversify their offense in 2021, and I think it’s an interesting thing to look at—Baltimore’s going to use Lamar Jackson under center more (he was in shotgun for a staggering 96% of his snaps in 2020). Could that happen more across the league? I think it could.

Now, there’s a reason why things have shifted so dramatically over the last decade. It was just 2007 when the Patriots became the first team in NFL history to go majority shotgun over an entire season. The quarterback has a cleaner view of the field, isn’t turning his back to the defense to do anything, and can get the ball out quicker. On the flip side, playing from under center allows for far more diversity in the run game, gives the runner momentum and, accordingly, makes defending play-action more difficult on the defense.

Then there’s this: Defenses in 2021 are less accustomed to seeing under-center heavy teams. So maybe that would be the next zag to look for with teams zigging.

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From Steve Miller (@sminreno_steve): Why haven’t the Seahawks signed the Jamal Adams extension yet?? Also, where do you think KJ Wright ends up??

Steve, two reasons, really. Number one, it’s been well-known for some time that Adams would be looking for top dollar, like most players in his position—and it was part of why the Jets were O.K. with facilitating his trade request. Two, when teams trade high-end draft capital for star players without doing an extension as part of the transaction, the leverage swings pretty hard in the direction of the player. Jalen Ramsey’s contract is evidence of that. Laremy Tunsil’s contract is evidence of that.

So if you ask me why Adams hasn’t done a new deal, it’s because the hardest deals to do are ones where everyone knows the market for a position is about to be reset. I believe that’s the case on this one.

(I wish I had information for you on K.J. Wright right now. I don’t.)

From GMR69 (@d7817fb03dd144a): Why doesn't the WFT go all in on Deshaun? With a franchise QB on a moderate deal I would like our playoff and championship chances.

GMR, well, I think it makes sense on the field. But given what the franchise has been accused of off the field over the last year, my feeling is Washington would need full clarity on the legal situation before pursuing Watson. And even then, it might be a tough sell.

From kenny estrada (@therealkennyest): Breer don’t tell me you think the Raiders are going to worse than last season. That’s seems to be the national media consensus.

Kenny, I’m not as down on the Raiders as some—that team has contended deep into the season only to collapse down the stretch the last two years. And while that’s not the result anyone’s looking for, it at least signifies that the roster isn’t miles away from contending. Derek Carr has played well. The skill talent is good. Despite some draft misses, there are some promising pieces on defense, and Gus Bradley should get them playing fast.

That brings us to the unit that I believe will be the swing factor between, say, 7–10 and 10–7, and it’s indeed the one that’s obvious to anyone who follows the team. The offensive line will be relying on third-year center Andre James (who the Raiders love) and rookie right tackle Alex Leatherwood to maintain the sort of production they’ve gotten out of that unit the last few years.

If those guys deliver, I think the Raiders will be in the mix in a very competitive AFC West.

From Tom Marshall (@aredzonauk): Have the Chiefs done enough to protect Patrick Mahomes in 2021?

Tom, I can’t imagine a team doing more to shore up a single unit than the Chiefs have done along their offensive line, in signing Joe Thuney, Kyle Long and Austin Blythe, trading for Orlando Brown Jr. and drafting Creed Humphrey. Thuney is a Top 5 guard in the league, Brown’s a very solid tackle (though he has to prove he can play on the left side in a more conventional offense), Long’s been awesome when healthy, and there’s ample reason to believe that the Humphrey will be a really good Day 1 starter for the Chiefs.

Here’s the thing, though—there’s no position group in the sport where cohesion and communication is more important than it is along the offensive line. This amount of turnover generally needs some time to take. Which, I think, makes Chiefs line coach Andy Heck, who’s coached the position for 17 seasons and played it in the NFL, one of the more important position coaches in all of football this year.

If Heck gets results in a hurry, this could be a really good group. But I wouldn’t undersell the challenge in bringing some many new guys together at once at that particular spot.

From Matt Ramas (@matt_ramas): Of the teams you'll be visiting, which one(s) do you find the most interesting?

The Chargers are fascinating to me. Justin Herbert is capable of taking the same sort of sophomore step that we saw from guys like Carson Wentz, Mahomes, and Jackson, and the offensive line additions of Rashawn Slater and Corey Linsley should go a long way towards getting him there. And on defense, Joey Bosa, Kenneth Murray and Derwin James can form the core of a really solid unit.

I also am buying on Brandon Staley. You saw how quickly he got results across town with the Rams, building around a few key players. I think he can do it again with Los Angeles’s other franchise.

From Charles L. Freeman (@charleslfreemn): What’s your expectations for the Chargers? Thanks.

Charles, expectations can be a tricky word. But based on what I just said, I think the baseline should be a winning record, with potential to get to 11 or 12 wins in a really tough division, if things break the right way.

From chris lewis (@lewchr): What are your thoughts on Joe Douglas’s job performance so far? He seems to have turned the jets roster over, had multiple high picks this year and next, picked his coach and quarterback, and has the salary cap in good shape.

Chris, obviously a lot is contingent on draft picks hitting, but I can say that I like his approach to renovating the roster inside-out. Over two full offseasons, he’s added Mekhi Becton, Ali Vera-Tucker and Morgan Moses to the offensive front, and Carl Lawson, Vinny Curry and Sheldon Rankins to a defensive front that has a still-young Quinnen Williams as its anchor. That’s sound team-building that’ll stabilize the franchise, if the players pan out.

I also love the fact that the Jets invested in giving Zach Wilson the best shot possible in the draft, by coming back and plucking Vera-Tucker, Elijah Moore and Michael Carter with their next three picks. I know Douglas and the brass felt some guilt in not giving Sam Darnold the best shot at developing, and it feels like they’re determined to not let that happen here, from all the additions right down to how new coach Robert Saleh has continued to say it’s the team’s job to lift a young Wilson up, not the other way around.

And you’re right. The cap is in good shape. The Jets have two first-rounders and two second-rounders next year. There are still holes (corner’s a big one, and they probably use a true No. 1 edge rusher), of course. But there are resources now to take care of them over time, and a lot of progress in other places.

From JT Barczak (@jtbarczak): Assuming Justin Fields shows he’s ready to play, is there any reason to believe Bears would win more games with Andy Dalton than Fields?

Sure, J.T., I think the reason is that when you start a rookie quarterback, you’re signing up for riding out the bumps with that quarterback. Notwithstanding how the Dolphins did it last year, in most cases, once the rookie first-rounder is in there, he’s in there for good, and so his development becomes a priority for the team—you’re managing around that through the season.

That’s fine if you’re rebuilding like the Jaguars and Jets. The Bears aren’t. They’ve made the playoffs two times in three years. They’re Top 10 in the NFL in wins over that time. They’ve got a core of players (Khalil Mack, Eddie Jackson, Allen Robinson, etc.) that are in the primes of their career. Those guys aren’t worried about what’s best for the franchise two or three years from now. They want to win now.

So Fields—like Mac Jones in New England and Trey Lance in San Francisco—has to show more than promise. He has to show that he can be the best quarterback for the other 10 guys in the huddle right now. That means doing things he did at Ohio State. It also means being able to command an offense that Dalton’s already proficient in.

The early signs are good. We’ll see where it goes. I agree the upside on Fields is enormous. But this is about more than that.

From . (@rodmushypork): Do the podcast

From Aj (@ajtronzano): Any update on a podcast.

I very much appreciate you guys reaching out every week on this. I promise that we’re working on it.

From odell (@odellfur13): Does pineapple belong on pizza?

Is it weird that I’m indifferent? I like pineapple on its own. I wouldn’t order it on a pizza. But I’m not offended if it’s on there with some ham.

From Brad Sohn (@BradSohn): Will you actually come to Miami or am I going to have drive up to Broward to have a beer?

My friends are pretty demanding, huh?

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