How Trey Lance can become 49ers starter

San Francisco 49ers quarterback Trey Lance looks to pass against the Chicago Bears during the second half of an NFL football game Sunday, Sept. 11, 2022, in Chicago. The Bears won 19-10. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

The 49ers quarterback situation has been a hot topic during the NFL owners meeting in Phoenix.

John Lynch met with the media Monday. Tuesday morning it was Kyle Shanahan’s turn. Here are the key takeaways from the head coach.

Brock Purdy earned the 49ers starting quarterback job

“It would have been pretty easy if Brock was healthy. The way Brock played last year; he’d be the starter going into it. Trey had that position going into the year, we were really excited about that and think he would have had a hell of a year. He only got one and a half games and he went out, which opened an opportunity for Jimmy. Jimmy got hurt and opened it up for Brock. And Brock played eight games and won all of them and played at an extremely high level. We’re very excited to have that level of player at quarterback.”

Purdy took over the starting role in week 13 after Jimmy Garoppolo was lost to a broken foot. The rookie went on to win seven straight before suffering a torn UCL on the sixth play of the NFC championship game in Philadelphia.

Purdy completed 151 of 224 attempts for 1,877 yards, 16 touchdowns and just three interceptions. He added another two touchdowns with his legs.

Trey Lance will have an opportunity to regain the starting job

“Now, we believe Trey can be that. I think he would have done it last year if he had stayed healthy. The good thing for him is with Brock being hurt, he has an opportunity to try to regain that. It’s also why we brought in Sam Darnold. We can’t be set for sure on Brock because you never know how the injury will go. We think it will go well, we’re optimistic about it, but right now that’s on hold. And that opens up an opportunity for Trey and Sam to come in and show us what they have.

It’s going to be harder for him to do. Brock played in eight games. Trey had that job going into last season, and if he had played eight games like that, no one else would have been able to come in and beat him out. But with Brock being hurt, it does give him the chance. Now, I don’t know how Brock is going to come back or exactly when, so I don’t have the exact answer. Right now, because he is hurt, it’s nice to focus on Trey and Sam and see how they do in OTAs and leading into training camp.”

The way Purdy executed the offense in his eight starts set the bar for Lance. With Purdy out for the foreseeable future Lance will get plenty of opportunities to show what he can do as he makes his return.

What they liked about Sam Darnold

“Sam has as good of a skillset as there is — that’s why he went as the third pick in the draft. When you study his play, you can see it. He hasn’t always been in the best situations, which is tough for a quarterback. He has done some really good things in this league. Hasn’t won a ton of games but has been thrown in some situations where you’re going to keep both teams in the game because you have to sling that ball for your team to have a chance to win, so you don’t always have the best stats, but you see the ability. He always has had the ability since his first year in college when we started watching him. There’s no reason he can’t do it. Excited to get to know him as a person. I’ve always liked him as an athlete. I like how he throws. I like his athletic ability.”

Darnold has been with some bad teams and coaches during his career. There is a reason Adam Gase is out of the NFL and Joe Brady is no longer calling plays.

With San Francisco, Darnold will get to work with one of the premier play callers in the NFL and the best collection of talent he’s been around.

Darnold went 4-2 in 2022 for the Carolina over the final six weeks of the season. The style of offense the Panthers used, a lot of play action off the run along with using the quarterback as a piece of the running game fits with what the 49ers like to do.

Lance and Darnold will compete, in OTA’s

“I don’t know yet. I mean, I do know. I expect them both to get first-team reps. But I like to see them in Phase 1. Then we’ll get them on the field in Phase II. In OTA’s, I expect them both to get reps with the first team, but we’ll see how that goes.”

It’s important to note exactly what Kyle Shanahan said here. The competition and splitting of reps he mentions above is during the offseason OTA program, not training camp.

Trading Lance isn’t off the table

“I feel we’re in a very good situation at quarterback where we drafted a guy we really wanted, and we don’t feel any different about him now than we did three years ago when we took him. It’s just unfortunate that he hasn’t gotten to play. He was going to play last year, and I think people were going to be very impressed with him, but he got hurt. That opened opportunities, and now we have another guy who can play very well, we have Sam Darnold who can play, and I hope all three of these guys are with us, but we’ll listen to anything.”

It is unlikely any trade of Lance will take place prior to or around the draft.

The uncertainty around Brock Purdy’s recovery is the primary reason. San Francisco knows they need to insulate themselves at the position and trading Lance at this point weakens their depth at the most important position.

In addition to lack of depth, the salary cap needs to be accounted for.

A trade of Lance prior to June 1 would escalate his 2022 salary cap from $9.3 million to $11.082 million. For a team as tight against the cap as the 49ers, paying this for a player not on the team would seem to be a non-starter.

The more likely scenario for a Lance trade comes later in the offseason and includes a few conditions being hit.

Brock Purdy being fully healthy and returning is the first condition. Next, Sam Darnold needs to show he can operate the offense better than Lance. Finally, the 49ers would need to have a rookie who shows the traits they saw from Purdy during training camp last year.

If those three conditions are all met, the 49ers could possibly trade Lance.

Waiting until this time would also have a positive impact on the 49ers salary cap. A post-June 1 trade of Lance saves San Francisco $3.76 million against the cap. This is roughly the amount the team likes to set aside for in-season moves.

This article has 61 Comments

  1. If Lance looks good in the preseason and Purdy is healthy by game 1 but Darnold regresses back to the old Darnold do the 9ers keep Lance or do they trade him for a possible 1st round pick in 24?

    1. Great question.

      I think they hold on to Lance at that point and try to keep the rookie around on the practice squad.

      1. Very nice drop, Jack.
        The 49ers were enamored with Lance coming out of college. Aside from a freak ankle injury, I have a hard time believing that the team will look to move him anytime soon.

        Plus, as Coach remarked, we don’t know which Darnold will show up. Darnold could flash in a couple of games and then be a liability in the next few games.

        For my part, Darnold’s football trajectory reminds me a lot of Drew Bledsoe. Bledsoe would put together a few good games that gave the FO a sense of hope for better things to come, but it never happened.

        There’s no way that I would consider Darnold as a possible replacement over Lance in the immediate future. At least at the moment.

        1. KS said today that Purdy could miss 8 months and possibly wouldn’t be able to return until game 4.(worst case scenario)

          1. After being healthy, my concern re Purdy is on three levels.
            1. What will be his mental state.
            2. Will he be able to take more hits on the right side of his body.
            3. Will his throwing motion and arm strength suffer?

            Hopefully these possibilities don’t come into play, but it’s something that the 49ers will need to closely monitor going forward. It may take up to 3-5 (or more) games to get a good gauge of Purdy’s post surgery level play.

          2. But not the likely scenario. He should be fully healed at 3 months. That’s what the doctors say. If he is healed then it’s just a matter of gaining arm strength and that most likely is 2 to 3 months. Doctors have said that some people actually increase their arm strength during this rehab period. I would think that depends on the effort put in by the player.

            1. Felix,
              I hear you.

              All the general conditions provided by doctors are a medical timeline in these types of surgical procedures post surgery.

              But, we don’t know the full effectiveness of Purdy’s level of play until he gets some games under his belt.

              1. Felix,
                I think it has to do with there only being two such surgeries ever done on football players. There is a great deal unknown about the rehab after this injury/procedure.

        2. “There’s no way that I would consider Darnold as a possible replacement over Lance in the immediate future.”

          Spent time watching some Darnold film from 2022 in Carolina. There’s a number of similarities.

          1. Perhaps the team is hoping to get at least one 1st rounder out of the whole deal. If they are a little more certain with Darnold’s upside and progress over Lance, then the team might feel better about the prospect of trading TL.

            I sense that coaching staff may not be fully on board with Trey at this time. He broke his thumb and it apparently affected his throwing mechanics. He also can not seem to stay on the field because of injury which is one of the main reasons why the 49ers made such a move to get up in the top 3 of that years draft and replace JG

      2. Jack
        “and try to keep the rookie around on the practice squad.”
        * Except If the 9ers draft a rookie QB that comes close to looking like Purdy, the 9ers would likely lose him to another team if they try to put him on the PS. And should be a consideration, if they draft a QB in 2023.
        FOR EXAMPLE: Another late Rd draft pick, Houston QB Clayton Tune. Like Purdy, he’s a sleeper with a lot playing experience in college. Both put up good stats but aren’t highly rated.

        RE Lance: In a perfect world, the 9ers will give him a chance to showcase his talent in pre season games, before Purdy returns. If he shows the talent JL and KS drafted him for, he should be worth at least a 1st and 2nd Rd. draft pick in a trade after June 1st. I’m NOT saying the 9ers SHOULD DO THAT, just that it will give them a better return than trading him now.

        1. “RE Lance: In a perfect world, the 9ers will give him a chance to showcase his talent in pre season games, before Purdy returns.”

          I would expect this.

          1. “RE Lance: In a perfect world, the 9ers will give him a chance to showcase his talent in pre season games, before Purdy returns.”
            I would expect this.

            At the very least; hopefully TL will stay healthy

            1. Lance will get plenty of opportunity to improve and showcase his talent. Hopefully he does very well but Purdy will still be the starter once he’s back. The only scenario I see that could result in a trade for Lance this year is if both him and Darnold have very strong training camps. Not likely unless you also believe in the tooth fairy.

              1. I love what Purdy did last year, that was last year. I think we need to see Purdy over an entire season, especially knowing teams have film and will game plan to stop him. It’s one thing to play as Mr Irrelevant, another as Franchise QB.

            2. What health concerns do you have re Lance?
              His ankle was broken last season when a 300lbs defender fell on it.

              The odds of that taking place again are very slim.
              Is there a list of other injuries that has caused him to miss more then a few games?

              1. I think there is some concern from the 49ers on his ability to move still being what it was.

              2. Jack,
                There’s some people that have put an injury prone label on Lance that is a misnomer, imho. For anyone who is interested this site gives a breakdown of Trey Lance’s injuries and games missed.

                Date League Injury Details
                Feb 15, 2020 Non-NFL Knee Meniscus Trim Trey Lance used crutches following a medical procedure for a lower-body injury suffered in high school.
                Aug 29, 2021 NFL Hand Finger Fracture Lance suffered a finger injury during the preseason win against the Raiders. He was good for the 49ers’ season opener against the Lions.
                Oct 10, 2021 NFL Knee Strain Grade 1 Lance suffered a left knee sprain in the 49ers’ loss to the Arizona Cardinals. He missed one game.
                Sep 18, 2022 NFL Pedal Ankle Fracture Lance’s injury came on a zone-read run.
                Sep 18, 2022 NFL Pedal Ankle Dislocation Lance’s injury came on a zone-read run.”

                Aside from the freak ankle injury in 2022, Lance has been reliable.

  2. Jack
    The Atlantic published an article (on or around 03/22/2023) that stated the 9er salary cap was ~$6 Mil. And that was before the 9ers latest FA players signed. Assuming that’s true, doesn’t that means the 9ers will need to rework some player(s) contract to have the money and cap space to sign their draft picks?
    1) Do you know what the 9er salary cap situation is as of today (03/28/2023)?
    2) Have the 9ers reworked a player (CMC) contract for salary cap relief?

    1. I read that same article and it sounded like they would be okay thru training camp with the cap they have because of the way it’s calculated during the off-season. The real cap number doesn’t begin until the season starts if I remember correctly.

    2. 1) Yes. They currently have $4.354M in cap space. This does not include the contract for Matt Pryor who was signed yesterday.

      2.) Yes. They have re-done the contracts of Charvarius Ward and Fred Warner.

      They can sign their full 11-man draft class for $3.187M due to the Top-51 Rule. That total would go to $8.27M following roster cuts. They will restructure another deal or two, but there is no need to rush.

  3. I hope Lanced knows this is his last chance with the Niners. He must be mentally and physically prepared. I hope he starts and shows that we did not waste all of those picks for nothing.

    1. TL went from the team brass telling him that he is their heir apparent to be the new starter to an uncertain future. Now wondering if he even will be on the team that drafted him for so much. That’s a different kind of pressure.

  4. Sam Darnold is quite obviously the most physically talented QB on the roster. Darnold’s physical gifts are similar to Trey Lance’s talent but Darnold is a much more natural passer with a greater degree of accuracy. Purdy is the best gamer in the QB room who just knows the game and makes plays. If you could combine all 3 49er QBs you’d have Patrick Mahomes. Here’s to hoping Trey Lance isn’t Greg Cook.

    1. Yup. Greg Cook was one of the tragic stories of the NFL. Injuries to his throwing shoulder as a rookie derailed what could have been an incredible career. Thinking about the issues Andrew Luck experienced, I can’t decide if medical technology has improved at all in 50 years.

  5. Blah..Blah…Blah…this team is in the Super Bowl discussion again, and with the losses in free agency, there are needs that have to be addressed…I think that the 9ers have earmarked a player or two in this years draft, that they believe can step in and make an impact, and those players are most likely in the top 50 picks…Lynch said that the team is listening to any team inquiring about Lance’s availability…that being said, in spite of the sentiment coming out of local media regarding Lance’s psyche, his ‘treatment’ by the team, it’s a business with a bottom line..if the team feels that they can upgrade, and better the team by trading Lance, and maybe some draft choices with him, they’ll do it….

    1. The question re a possible Lance trade is what is a definitive return?
      What team is going to give up draft pick(s) for a virtually unknown player?

      I don’t see the 49ers getting their value back in a TL trade unless it’s a late 1st or an early high 2nd along with a mid 2nd rd pick.
      My sense is that the 49ers will give Lance the opportunity to show his talent before making any decision about his future.
      In this regard, I agree with “allie” that this is a make or break year for Trey.

      1. There’s no way they’ll get back, close to what they traded to get Lance…as far as any team giving up draft capital for an virtually unknown player..what’s the difference in giving up draft choices for Lance, who has some NFL experience, as opposed to trading draft choices to draft a college qb or other position player..or just drafting a college qb with your first round pick? It’s a crap shoot, either way..make or break for Lance? Maybe…I think for his benefit, he needs a fresh start somewhere else..after signing Donald, he has to be questioning where he fits in here..

        1. “There’s no way they’ll get back, close to what they traded to get Lance…as far as any team giving up draft capital for an virtually unknown player..”
          Good points, 55 Niner.

          I think that the Lance conversation boils down to the fact that nobody (team) at this juncture knows what Lance is capable of doing because he was out last season.

          I agree that we could garner draft picks that are somewhat unknown, but that amounts to an even trade off if we trade Lance in that scenario.

          The FO will make that decision whether I like it or not. But for my part, I would hope that they give Trey an opportunity to prove himself with some games under his belt before the possibility of moving on from him.
          I doubt that anyone at this point really knows what we have in Lance.

          1. I have to disagree to a point with you statement that ‘nobody (team) at this juncture knows what Lance is capable of..’…I think they do know, or have a pretty good idea..and because of that, they believe it’s time to move on…if that weren’t the case, they wouldn’t have signed Darnold, and resigned Sudfeld or someone similar, then draft a qb in the 5th or 6th round…they keep refreshing the point that they ‘like’ him..and they probably do like him…but they aren’t sold on him for their future

            1. 55,
              Yes, the 49ers have a better idea of who Lance is more than any other team. But, what are they basing a potential move on Trey on, his last two years (first year was a rookie) or what they saw him do in college?

              I would venture that the 49ers are still hopeful that they could tap into the player they saw in college.
              If the latter is the case, then I don’t think the 49ers move him, at least this season.
              As far as signing Darnold, the 49ers needed a veteran QB and of course they’re also hoping to tap into Darnold’s potential. But if, and until they do, trading Lance is premature, imho.

      1. AN
        , I think they are leaning quite heavily on Darnold (with KS’s development) being ready to be a good NFL starter. Other than his last 6 games I don’t see Darnold stepping in and winning right away but I believe KS/JL are listening closely to their new DC and Darnolds last HC as to whether Darnold is ready or not. I personally will not be totally confident in either Purdy or Darnold until I see them win for an entire season. imho

  6. Jack, as you said, if the team was to trade Lance, one of the conditions would be for Darnold to show he can operate the offense better than Lance…then what team would take Lance???

    1. ARg, this is a great question. I think there might be interest from Houston (Ryans), Miami (McDaniel), Minnesota and Green Bay. Doubt they’d get better than a 2nd for him, though.

      1. I don’t think they have any intention of trading him at this point. Now if he has a great training camp and Darold looks good also, then they might trade him but even then I kind of doubt it, but an injury to some teams QB1at that point might might bring a good offer.

        1. Felix, clue me in, please, because my mind is blanking right now. I do think that they’d want to keep him as a qb3 unless someone blew them away with an offer. But wouldn’t that mean they’d have to keep him on the roster?

        2. One reason for the 49ers to trade him is to clear cap room. Trading him for picks would clear 9 mill in cap room giving them space to make an in season trade for a RT possibly. Another scenario would be to Trade Lance for a RT. I wouldn’t have faith enough in Darnold to trade Lance but I wonder if TL/KS are listening to Wilks?

    1. George,
      I always want to any player on the 49ers do well and find success. My only concern with Darnold is that he has not been consistent in his young career.

      We can blame this on the bad teams and coaching, but at some point Darnold himself should receive some blame as well. He certainly has earned it.

      But, I do hope that he can find his niche with the 49ers, because that would raise his brand while also helping the 49ers win.
      I really liked him at USC, and I’m still waiting for him to translate that to the NFL.

  7. I don’t think you trade Lance until you’re absolutely sure in what you have in Purdy.
    Season #2 is a great gauge for surprising QBs. Defenses put together what they’ve learned and will target your QB’s weaknesses, and then we see if Purdy is capable of beating those adjustments as well. Something Kaepernick wasn’t able to overcome.

    1. There is no comparison between Purdy and Kaepernick. The later was a runner and a poor pocket passer. The adjustment was to stop his runs so he had to be a pocket passer which he wasn’t. What adjustment could teams make on Purdy?

      1. Excellent, excellent observation. With Purdy, it’s all going to come down to that arm of his and how well it recovers, readjusts from surgery. And we just won’t know the answer for some time. Of course, we all are hoping he does not become another Greg Cook referenced earlier here.

      2. Crowd the box and force him to throw consistently outside the numbers and down the field. It is what Dallas did to him.

        1. I don’t think that’s an adjustment for Purdy. Dallas has a strong front. Most teams couldn’t do that and if could, they would do that to all quarterbacks.

          1. There are plenty of QBs in the NFL who are very efficient outside the numbers and down the field. Purdy may be one of them but so far he hasn’t shown it. I think you will see teams loading the box taking away short over the middle shots forcing KS/Purdy to throw down the field an to the sidelines longer than 10 yards. All second year QBs face well thought out defensive game plans their second year. The good ones adjust back. We will see if Purdy is one of the good ones.

            1. Purdy throws where the play call and the scheme dictate. He doesn’t care where you or I think he should throw the ball. He only cares where Shanahan thinks he should. Loading the box usually refers to stopping the run game and it means putting more people on or close to the line. I don’t see how that hurts a passing game. In fact quite the contrary, especially for someone who is a quick decision maker. Any defensive game plans will be countered by Shanahan and it won’t change how quick and accurate Purdy is.

              1. Felix,
                “I don’t see how that hurts the passing game” You are correct loading the box usually refers to stopping the running game but it also can stop the short passing game by flooding the short passing lanes. You are also correct that Purdy just runs the plays that KS calls and if teams do take away the short middle passing lanes that KS will adjust by throwing passes outside the numbers and deeper routes but he hasn’t in the past 8 games so we don’t know whether Purdy can make those throws but I do wonder why he hasn’t called them very often before. Anyway we started this conversation with the question of will Ds adjust to Purdy and the answer is of course D coordinators are paid to make adjustments. imho

      3. In reference to what OC said above, I may sound like a broken record but Darnold can do that. He’s also elusive in the pocket, not as quick as Purdy but stronger in breaking arm tackles. And, like Purdy, he can keep plays alive on the run.

        It’s all in here, if you haven’t watched it:

  8. Jack
    IMO, here’s the long and the short of it! We can spend our time speculating on Purdy, Lance and Darnold, but until they prove they’re healthy and capable of winning games, it’s just SPECULATION by the fans and sports writers.
    Each one of the 3 QB’s will get a chance to show KS who should start, who will be the back up and the 3Rd QB. But that won’t happen until after the pre season is over and Purdy is healthy enough to show if he’s number one.

    IN THE MEAN TIME: The 9ers, will be drafting new players beginning April 27th thru 29th…..
    As a fan, now that free agency is ending, I’d like the blog to speculate (mock draft) on the players in the draft.

    Will you be posting your 9er mock draft and If so, when? Looking forward to seeing not only yours, but all of the
    others on the blog posting theirs….. Some friendly competition and bragging rights, on who gets the most 9er draft picks right!

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