The San Francisco 49ers finally finished paying off the expensive bill it cost to move up in the 2021 NFL Draft. Just a few months after giving the Miami Dolphins its third and final first-round pick to trade up for the raw passer Trey Lance, Kyle Shanahan is reportedly ready to move on. In his place is Brock Purdy, a seventh-rounder who attempted 170 passes in his rookie season thanks to Lance’s injury. Lance attempted only 102 passes, 13 fewer than Desmond Ridder, who is still an unknown commodity at this point.
Things move very fast in the NFL. They move even faster if you were a highly drafted offensive weapon under Kyle Shanahan.
For Lance’s part, he just turned 23 a few months back. He started only one full year, 2019, as COVID shortened his 2020 season to one game. He started two games in his rookie year and two more in his sophomore year. That is an absolutely absurd five starts since the end of the 2019 season. His lack of playing time really points out two things: (1) Lance was known to be a raw project who would need time to develop, and (2) just how little of a chance Lance had to earn a roster spot.
For the first part, every scouting report pointed out that Lance was raw. Very raw. He didn’t have the experience. He didn’t have the knowledge with a pro style offense. Teams needed the patience to develop him.
Lance didn’t get that. He played sparingly in his rookie year, had a season-ending injury in his sophomore year, and that may be a wrap.
The issue isn’t just with Lance. The quarterback who went immediately before him, Zach Wilson, was benched in his sophomore season and has no realistic shot at starting with Aaron Rodgers now in New York. Funnily enough, Rodgers rode the bench for three years behind Brett Favre before he got the starting job.
Teams seem to be looking for quarterbacks to make an immediate impact. Once turbulence hits, the team calls for an emergency landing. Once of the biggest busts in NFL history, JaMarcus Russell, got three seasons and 680 attempts even while the coaching staff knew he wasn’t watching film. Patience paid off with other quarterbacks, as top passers like Patrick Mahomes, Jalen Hurts and Lamar Jackson had (to varying levels), rookie years with plenty of time on the bench followed by ramped up offensive game plans to let them get their feet under them. Kirk Cousins has had surprising staying power in the league, perhaps because expectations were limited as he was a backup quarterback early. Cousins developed from a mid-round pick into a consistent starter.
Should the Falcons be able to learn a lesson here? The team should have already learned one. Look at Matt Ryan’s usage early on: He averaged just over 27 dropbacks per game in his rookie season behind Michael Turner’s dominant run game. He completed a mere 61% of his passes. That lower effectiveness in today’s NFL could get you benched. With some patience, some increasingly aggressive offensive schemes, and further roster improvements, Ryan proved he was a franchise quarterback during an unforgettable 2012 season.
Short of underperforming Marcus Mariota’s disastrous 2022 season, Ridder needs ample opportunity to adjust to the pro game and develop as a passer. Quarterback is unquestionably the league’s toughest position to learn. Further, few quarterbacks can come in and turn things around quickly. Matt Rhule with the Carolina Panthers failed to have patience at quarterback, trading for Sam Darnold one offseason, then Baker Mayfield the next. It didn’t work and Rhule got fired... only to get an obscene amount of money to return to college.
Back to Atlanta, the Falcons need a better plan than starting its fourth quarterback in so many years. Whether some growing pains or an injury (to either Ridder or an important part of the offense) and Ridder’s opportunity could be over in the flip of a switch. Especially if the coach and general manager start feeling their seats heating up.
The duo have preached patience in back-to-back seasons where a keystone player was traded away with no good replacement. The two will need to have continued patience to avoid doing a very modern NFL thing — give up on a quarterback before he turns 25.