The Precise Value of Trey Lance to the 49ers

The San Francisco 49ers have yet to sign Trey Lance. But once they do, he will provide them with the best commodity in the NFL -- a young quarterback on a cheap contract.
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For all of NFL History, no team has ever won the Super Bowl with a player making more than 12 percent of the salary cap. Except for teams with Tom Brady, who has done it twice -- in 2020 and 2018.

There are many reasons the 49ers have decided to (eventually) move on from Jimmy Garoppolo, and this is one of them. Given Jimmy’s $27 million cap number being 13.5 percent of the salary cap in 2021, financially it will be improbable for the 49ers to succeed with him.

Enter Trey Lance, who hasn’t signed with the 49ers yet, but will sign an approximate 4-year, $36 million contract accounting for just under 5 percent of the team’s salary cap. This is all because of the 2011 collective bargaining agreement.

In 2011, the NFL made a fundamental change to how incoming rookies are payed that would dramatically raise their value.

In 2011, the NFL and NFLPA implemented the rookie wage scale. Prior to this invention, teams would openly negotiate with rookies for contracts as if they were free agents and the team had exclusive rights.

The last example of this is the 2010 draft with Rams quarterback Sam Bradford, who straight out of Oklahoma signed a 6-year, $78 million contract (annual average of $13 million). For comparison, 2020 No. 1 pick Joe Burrow received a 4-year, $36 million (annual average of $9 million) with a 5th-year team option that the franchise has control over.

The NFL has minimized the risk of drafting a rookie signal caller. The unintended consequence is that any team with a young quarterback playing well on a rookie scale contract can build a true contender around him.

In last season’s divisional round, four of the eight teams had starting quarterbacks on the rookie scale -- the Browns, Bills, Chiefs and Ravens. They thrive because of the cheap quarterback. Those teams relied on the quarterbacks to play at a certain level while also building some of the best rosters in the NFL.

Out of those examples, the Chiefs were the only team with an initial roster better than what Lance is walking into. If healthy, the 49ers have one of the better rosters in the league independent of the quarterback.

Because of that, Lance will be set up for success better than most rookies who have been paid on the rookie wage scale. He also has the extra advantage of being paired with one of the best play callers in the entire league, Kyle Shanahan.

Last time Shanahan was with a highly-picked rookie quarterback was 2012 with Robert Griffin III when Shanahan was the offensive coordinator and his dad was the head coach of the Washington Football Team.

In his rookie season, the Football Team would go on to have a 10-6 record with Griffin setting the all-time rookie record for passer rating (102.4) and touchdown to interception ratio (4:1).

While the rest of his career would be derailed by injuries, this lone season proved Shanahan's ability to have early success with a rookie quarterback.

The 49ers will be questioned about the Lance pick until he is proven successful, but one thing fans cannot question is the move to a new quarterback. Fans were waiting on the team to cut Garoppolo all offseason and there had to be a change.

While drafting a signal caller is risky, the reward of a young cheap elite quarterback is too enticing. You have to give the franchise credit for taking a big swing and a risk, something Shanahan never truly has done at the position.