San Francisco Chronicle - (Sunday)

All looking perfect with 49ers, for now

- ANN KILLION

Well done, 49ers.

For the moment.

But drafts aren’t about the moment. They’re about the future. And, as with all drafts, the excitement and promise of the 2021 draft is only meaningful if it is realized in two, three, five years. In the long view.

Have the 49ers, indeed, created the perfect situation? Found their quarterbac­k of the future in Trey Lance with a plan to allow him to learn under a veteran presence in Jimmy Garoppolo?

Can Kyle Shanahan do something he hasn’t yet done — develop a raw young quarterbac­k into a superstar?

Those are questions that can’t be answered this weekend, but only with the passage of time. If Lance becomes an

elite quarterbac­k, no one will remember the steep price paid to move up to ensure his selection. If he becomes a star, Shanahan’s reputation will become the stuff of NFL lore.

If Lance doesn’t become that kind of generation­al talent, but merely a serviceabl­e quarterbac­k, the moves of the past month will be questioned forever. History won’t be kind.

The 49ers have to walk a fine line between patience and urgency. Clearly, Shanahan is not the most patient of coaches. He and general manager John Lynch inquired about Tom Brady last year and about Aaron Rodgers last week. Those are queries with one thought in mind: win now.

But patience is required with a 20yearold draft pick. Think back 16 years to when Alex Smith was the same age. Now a wise (and retired) veteran, he has spoken of how difficult it was to handle the pressure of being the first overall pick, how he tried to please everyone. Lance, at first impression, seems extremely mature and grounded, and he will be in a far better situation than Smith was handed.

Lance became the headliner of this draft, by virtue of his stunning selection at No. 3 and because he was taken by a team that was in the Super Bowl just 15 months ago. The 49ers have to protect him from the burden of that pressure, and those expectatio­ns. It is quite likely that two rookie quarterbac­ks selected after him — Justin Fields and Mac Jones — will see significan­t playing time before Lance does. It is quite possible that Jones, in a perfect system with the Patriots, will look better and more polished than Lance in the early going. The 49ers have to try to insulate Lance from the chatter while keeping him on a fast trajectory.

This is where Garoppolo comes in. If he can be even close to as mature about tutoring and guiding Lance as Smith was with Patrick Mahomes in Kansas City, it will not only benefit the 49ers rookie but will benefit Garoppolo himself. A reputation as a savvy veteran presence combined with a winning starting record will make him attractive to other teams when that time comes.

Garoppolo hasn’t been pushed in his time with the 49ers. He was acquired in a trade to be the starter, succeeded as the starter and never felt pressure from anyone behind him. This will be different, and it could be a bonus for Garoppolo — he’s never been in this situation in his profession­al career.

Garoppolo, according to Lynch, reached out to Lance the night he was drafted. Lynch said, “That speaks to his class.” This isn’t a surprise. One of Garoppolo’s greatest strengths has been as a lockerroom presence; he is extremely popular with his teammates.

For now, the starting job seems to be his to lose, unless Lance’s arc is insanely fast. If the 49ers start out winning next season under Garoppolo, the predicamen­t of how to get Lance playing time will be a tough but welcome one.

And that brings us to the NFC West. Before there are more playoff runs and Super Bowls, there must be the ability to win the division, possibly the toughest in the league.

The 49ers were bottom feeders last year amid an injuryplag­ued season. Seattle won the division but lost to the Rams in the first round. The Rams went on to lose to Green Bay in the divisional round.

Much of the 49ers’ urgency to improve stemmed from looking at the actions of their NFC West rivals. The Rams are trying to win right now to capitalize on the prime of the Aaron Donald and have taken bold steps. They aren’t scheduled to have a firstround pick until 2024, having traded 2020 and 2021 picks for cornerback Jalen Ramsey and 2022 and 2023 for quarterbac­k Matthew Stafford, a move that jettisoned Jared Goff.

Arizona had a disappoint­ing season, starting 52 before finishing 88. But the Cardinals went big this offseason, adding J.J. Watt on defense. QB Kyler Murray was inconsiste­nt last season but is entering his third year and has started every game of his NFL career.

This could be his time.

Seattle may have the most flaws but is the reigning West champion. Russell Wilson remains the best quarterbac­k in the division but has been frustrated with poor protection and a lack of input into the offense. Whether the Seahawks have done enough to get better and satisfy Wilson remains to be seen.

And the 49ers? They should be healthy after being ravaged by injury. Their defense could regain excellence, with the return of Nick Bosa, the emergence of Fred Warner and a potentiall­y healthy Dee Ford. They held on to their Pro Bowl left tackle. Their allworld tight end is champing at the bit to get back on the field.

And they could have the ideal situation at quarterbac­k, with a savvy veteran mentoring a talented rookie.

It looks almost perfect for the 49ers. At least for the moment.

 ?? Terrell Lloyd / San Francisco 49ers ?? Niners firstround pick Trey Lance debuted Friday at team headquarte­rs in Santa Clara.
Terrell Lloyd / San Francisco 49ers Niners firstround pick Trey Lance debuted Friday at team headquarte­rs in Santa Clara.

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