During his time as an offensive coordinator and now as head coach of the San Francisco 49ers, Kyle Shanahan has been known for his innovative football mind, and for not being afraid to try something new or different (and for blowing a 28-3 lead in Super Bowl LI as the Falcons’ OC)..
What he is suggesting lately certainly isn’t anything new, but in terms of NFL offenses, it is different. Not unheard of by any stretch of the imagination, but what Shanahan has mentioned trying, a two-QB offense, does not often work well in professional football.
The two-quarterback system has worked, most notably in college football. Tim Tebow and Chris Leak for the Florida Gators during the 2006 season is the example most think of whenever this topic is broached. In that instance, Leak and Tebow led Urban Meyer’s Gators to a national championship.
When NFL teams have implemented any resemblance of a two-QB system in the past, the results haven’t been quite the same. There is a saying that gets thrown around whenever we see a situation like this. If you have two QBs, you don’t have one. Not always true in college, but seems to apply quite well in the NFL.
In New Orleans, Sean Payton trotted out a two-QB system last season, but that was more about resting and hopefully keeping Drew Brees healthy for a long run in the postseason. Neither materialized as Brees missed time due to injury, and the Saints were ousted in the divisional round by eventual champion Tampa Bay.
Apparently, Shanahan gives no hoots about any of this since it sounds like we will see the 49ers’ version of the two-QB system at some point this season with Jimmy Garoppolo and rookie Trey Lance splitting snaps.
“Trey’s going to play for us this year,” said Shanahan. “Situationally, he’s going to get plays. That doesn’t mean that he’s going to be the starter or anything, but he’s going to get plays and you’ve got to prepare him for that every way possible.”
Show me an NFL QB who doesn’t mind splitting time with his backup and I’ll show you a guy that won’t be a starter for long in the NFL. Again, the Brees situation last year was a little different. But I’m sure if you asked him about it off the record, he’d likely give the same answer as every other starting QB in the league.
By running this system Shanahan also runs the risk of potentially splitting the locker room. If Lance plays well and hits it out of the park, there will be a portion of the team pulling for him to become the full-time starter. Then Shanahan would have a full-blown QB controversy on his hands. I wouldn’t put it past him to secretly be in favor of this. Though, he would never admit to it publicly and rightfully so.
This could also be Shanahan’s way of pushing Garoppolo. It is well known that Jimmy G has had problems staying on the field going back to his days in New England. When healthy Garoppolo is a good QB that won’t throw away too many games. The key here is ‘when healthy’ and that isn’t too often lately.
When Garoppolo was healthy in 2019, leading the 49ers to a 13-3 record, the team ended up on the losing end of Super Bowl LIV against the Kansas City Chiefs. It isn’t that Jimmy cannot play, the issue is him being healthy enough to play an entire season again. Shanahan and the Niners obviously have doubts about this since they traded up in April’s draft to take Lance with the third-overall pick.
The plan is to replace Garoppolo entirely at some point, but the Niners should let him start until he loses the job or let the kid sit behind him and learn for at least his rookie year. Lance played in just one game during the 2020 season due to the coronavirus pandemic. Being able to allow him to sit and learn for as long as possible should be a luxury for Shanahan.
It really feels like Shanahan is itching to name this kid the full-time starter. That would not shock me coming from Shanahan. If he waits long enough, Jimmy G will likely stub a toe and be out for six weeks.
Lance’s time will surely come, though it doesn’t need to happen as part of a two QB system. Leave those shenanigans to college football, Mr. Shanahan.