Captain decision is clearest sign yet that Trey Lance is already on thin ice

On Thursday, 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan announced the team’s six captains for 2022. If there had been a seventh, it would have been quarterback Trey Lance.

Shanahan’s explanation for cutting off the captains at six was unconvincing. He initially stumbled, identifying receiver Deebo Samuel as a captain before pointing out that Samuel finished eighth in the voting, behind Lance.

“I just didn’t want to put seven on there,” Shanahan said. “Deebo was eight, that’s why I mentioned his name on accident. We just wanted to go with six. They don’t allow eight to the coin toss, I don’t believe.”

If they don’t allow eight for the coin toss, they probably don’t allow seven. And the 49ers had seven captains in 2020 and 2021.

The omission of Lance makes it much easier for the 49ers to shift to Jimmy Garoppolo, if Lance struggles. The fact that Shanahan arbitrarily chose to limit the number of captains to six when he had seven for two straight years amplifies that point.

Not all quarterbacks are natural and immediate leaders. Those that aren’t sometimes need a boost. And while Shanahan declared at the outset of camp that the 49ers are now Lance’s team, the sudden about-face on Garoppolo undermines the notion that Lance is firmly in control. The best and easiest way to counter that perception would be to make Lance a captain.

So, yes, Lance is on thin ice. He needs to perform. He needs to run the offense the way that Shanahan wants it to be run. If he doesn’t, Shanahan won’t hesitate to bench him. And the absence of a C on his jersey will make a move from Lance to Garoppolo far less awkward than it otherwise would be.