A post from January began circulating again on Twitter yeesterday and it really crystalized why I don't share the 49ers' certainty when it comes to naming Brock Purdy the Niners' next franchise quarterback.
Kyle Shanahan is freakin' wizard. He's better at making things easy for a quarterback than almost any play-caller in the league. As a result, it's very hard to tell whether a quarterback's production is due to his skill as a player, or to the superiority of the system.
How, then, can the 49ers be so "convicted," as John Lynch loves to say, about Purdy's future as the guy in San Francisco? Especially after just eight games?
As you might suspect, I have a theory.
Kyle Shanahan is simply looking for "good enough" at quarterback. Kyle has the utmost confidence in himself and his play-calling. In his mind, all he needs is a quarterback that's tall enough to ride the bumper cars. Shanahan will do the rest.
It explains almost all of the bizarre quarterback decisions the organization has made throughout his tenure. How could Shanahan not scout Deshaun Watson and Patrick Mahomes in 2017? Well, the 49ers were planning on signing Kirk Cousins in free agency, and Kyle knew Cousins was good enough from their time together in Washington. There wasn't any fear of missing out on a generational quarterback because Kyle Shanahan doesn't think he needs a generational quarterback to win a Super Bowl.
When Brian Hoyer and company weren't meeting the Shanahan Standard in 2017, Jimmy Garoppolo fell into the 49ers' lap. We all know how that season ended. Garoppolo was good enough forfFive straight wins, and later signed a contract that made him the highest paid player in NFL history.
After the Super Bowl in 2019, Tom Brady came calling. The greatest quarterback in the history of the league wanted to play for the 49ers, and the 49ers said no. Kyle didn't need to gamble on a then 43 year old Brady, because Jimmy Garoppolo had shown he was good enough by getting the team minutes away from a Super Bowl championship.
After an injury-plagued 2020 season, the Niners had seen enough. Garoppolo's play and injury problems shrunk him below Kyle Shanahan's minimum threshold for success. Something had to be done. Hence, the scramble to trade for Matthew Stafford that offseason.
When that fell through, the 49ers pivoted to the draft. They wanted one of the top three available quarterbacks, so they traded up with the Miami Dolphins. Remember, though, that they didn't trade up for a specific player, they traded up for a specific spot. They didn't care which quarterback they got, because whoever they got at three would be good enough.
Enter Trey Lance. He came out of the gates on fire. Matt Maiocco said Trey looked like the best rookie quarterback he had ever seen. A broken finger in the preseason derailed that trajectory, possibly forever. Shanahan sacrificed Lance's development and inserted Garoppolo into the starting lineup. Jimmy probably wouldn't go the whole season without getting injured, but at least he'd be good enough while he was in there, right? In the meantime, Lance could be training-wheels'd into games in specific packages so he'd be good enough when he inevitably took over. Unfortunately for Kyle the team's veterans allegedly didn't like that, and asked Shanahan to stop using the Trey Lance package because it undermined Garoppolo (At least, that's the worst kept secret among the team's beat writers. Funny how he's never been asked about that publicly, isn't it?). That was the end of that.
After another injury-plagued season, the 49ers were done with Garoppolo and ready to turn the team over to Trey Lance. When Team Jimmy delayed shoulder surgery to scuttle an offseason trade and Trey didn't inspire enough confidence he'd meet the Shanahan Standard, Kyle panicked and brought Jimmy G. back from the scrap heap. Lance was still the starter, but the Jimmy GQ parachute was there, just in case.
When Garoppolo stepped in after Lance got hurt, the offense scored around 17 points per game in his four starts. That wasn't good enough, but the Niners were seemingly out of quarterback options. What did they do? Traded four draft picks to the Carolina Panthers for Christian McCaffrey, who immediately jump-started the offense and never slowed down.
All of that brings us where we currently stand in 2023 and back to the picture at the top of the post. Kyle dialed it up for Brock, and Purdy largely did what he needed to do. The Shanahan Standard was met. Apparently the team's only issue with their new starter was that he deviated from Kyle's plan too often at the end of the season. The fact that Purdy is 23 years old and on the cheapest possible quarterback contract in the NFL and you've got the sweetest of cherries on top of the good enough sundae.
Kyle Shanahan's 49ers are great at a lot of things. They've found diamonds in the rough of the NFL Draft and squeezed juice out of veteran free agents that no one else could wring out of them. They've elevated their play in the playoffs and made multiple conference title games. They've replaced quality coaches throughout the staff over and over again. Until they figure out how to handle the most important position in sports, however, they themselves will ultimately fail to be good enough to win a Super Bowl.