During the 2021 NFL season, a strong case could be made that the San Francisco 49ers were the stiffest competition for the eventual Super Bowl champion Los Angeles Rams. Jimmy Garoppolo and company took their division rivals the distance in the NFC Championship Game but fell short and went home empty-handed.
The franchise's future seemed bright, with Trey Lance waiting in the wings to become the leader under center while the team was intent on moving Garoppolo. Unfortunately, things went the rails quickly for the 49ers once the offseason got underway with Garoppolo undergoing shoulder surgery, halting all trade talks, and star running back/wide receiver Deebo Samuel requesting a trade due to being unhappy with his contract.
This was a disaster in more ways than one. Firstly, the team was determined to move Garoppolo and hand the keys to the unproven Lance, while arguably their team's best all-around player wanted out after having a breakout season as the offense's focal point.
The 49ers can't trade Garoppolo because of his uncertain health, and the one player they don't want to trade wants out. It is hard to think of a worse scenario for a team in a championship window, but San Francisco faced it throughout most of the offseason, and now things are starting to settle.
After it seemed as though Samuel was determined to play for another team, the 49ers were somehow able to get him back to the table to talk about a contract extension. Eventually, the two sides agreed to a three-year deal worth $73.5 million.
With Samuel now in the fold for the foreseeable future, the focus turns to the quarterback position. Head coach Kyle Shanahan has already said it is Lance's team moving forward, meaning it'll only be a matter of time before Garoppolo is traded or watching from the bench in San Francisco next season.
The fact that Samuel is in the fold and the team knows that Lance is the face of the franchise moving forward means this team can focus on the upcoming season rather than the endless what-ifs scenarios. That probably isn't a good thing for the rest of the NFC West, which will arguably be the best division in football once again in 2022.
The Rams will be a force to be reckoned with once again, with Matthew Stafford leading the charge on offense, Aaron Donald returning and no more questions about Sean McVay's future. In addition, the Arizona Cardinals were able to secure Kyler Murray's long-term future, which should be huge for the franchise. The Seattle Seahawks, however, are on the verge of a rebuilding process after trading Russell Wilson to the Denver Broncos.
Even though the Seahawks won't be an opponent the rest of the division worries about, the NFC West is still stacked, with the 49ers and Rams vying for the top spot. Of course, it could easily go both ways, considering the talent level on both sides of the football for each team, but it will be a battle between these two heavyweights in what has turned into a real rivalry.