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Whitlock: Will Max Kellerman and the woke sports media sabotage the 49ers’ two-QB experiment?

Op-ed
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The woke capital of the world could be home to the most interesting innovation in professional football … as long as critical racism theory doesn't ruin it.

San Francisco 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan is pondering playing two quarterbacks this season, veteran Jimmy Garoppolo and rookie Trey Lance. Shanahan unveiled the potential two-QB wrinkle in his team's final exhibition game against the Raiders. It worked to near perfection. The 49ers won in a romp, 34-10. Garoppolo and Lance combined to lead touchdown drives. Both quarterbacks rushed for TDs.

More importantly, neither quarterback seems to have a problem with sharing the position.

"We had two successful drives with it, scored on both of them," Garoppolo said after the game. "That's tough for defenses to handle. Whatever is best for the team, I'm here for it."

Lance added: "It's fun. I trust Coach Shanahan and I know Jimmy does and our whole team and locker room does. He's going to find ways to get the guys that need the ball the ball and do whatever it takes to win games."

The QB position in professional football is controlled by a cliche: "If you have two quarterbacks, you don't have one."

That cliche drives decision-making at quarterback. Every team starts every season on the hunt for its franchise quarterback, its version of Tom Brady, Patrick Mahomes, or Aaron Rodgers. Most teams fail to find their franchise guy. They end up with Jared Goff, Carson Wentz, or Teddy Bridgewater.

Quarterbacks are so central to team leadership that coaches are reluctant to unleash a mixed message within locker-room chemistry. Better to let Goff stand as a single leadership voice in the locker room than risk a divided message coming from a second quarterback. It's quite possibly an antiquated leadership model in an era when players take their cues from social media apps and brand managers about virtually everything. There are a million voices inside a locker room. Players check Twitter and Instagram at halftime.

What Shanahan is considering is long overdue. He's watched Saints head coach Sean Payton toy with the concept the last two or three seasons. For four to six snaps each game, the Saints spelled franchise quarterback Drew Brees with backup Taysom Hill. It worked. Hill is a terrific runner and a mediocre passer. It did not seem to break Brees' rhythm.

Trey Lance is an exceptional runner with far more upside as a passer than Hill. Garoppolo, of course, is the prototypical pocket passer. Four years ago, the 49ers traded a second-round pick to acquire Jimmy G from the Patriots. This past off-season, San Francisco traded up to select Lance with the number-three overall pick.

The 49ers have more invested in Lance than Garoppolo. It makes sense for the squad to explore how to get an immediate return on investment in Lance.

There's one factor that could potentially ruin Shanahan's much-needed experiment — an illogical discussion of race and racism forced by ESPN, Fox Sports, and Twitter.

Garoppolo is white. Lance is half black.

The never-ending search for Twitter-friendly content will cause sports talkers to needlessly inject race into the discussion. It's already started. ESPN's Max Kellerman got things rolling Monday morning with a chess analogy.

"I'm not saying it can't work," Kellerman blared. "You can innovate, but this ain't the way it's always been done. And I think you take a risk innovating, not if you're in a position where you don't have the horses, right? You've got to do something. You've got to have an asymmetrical kind of strategy. Like, if you play chess, and you're the black pieces, which always goes second. Go figure, right? If you just do the theoretically strongest move every time, you're always a step behind the white pieces who start first, you've got to do something asymmetrical. You've got to do something to throw off the balance."

Get it? Trey Lance is the black piece. Garoppolo starts the game, giving him an unfair advantage. Kellerman is doing the groundwork to frame the 49ers' QB strategy in racial terms, in ways that will increase his social media traction.

The 49ers are trying to win games. They have a roster capable of competing for a Super Bowl. Shanahan is taking an innovative approach to maxing out the QB position. It's not a racial conflict. Race has nothing to do with Shanahan's decision-making. He wants to win right now. Playing both quarterbacks could give the 49ers a shot at equaling the QB play in Tampa, Green Bay, and Seattle.

Playing two QBs is San Fran's theoretically strongest move.

Playing the race card is Kellerman's.
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