Predicting how the 49ers quarterback position will shake out

The 49ers return nearly the entire starting lineup from a roster which was one step away from reaching the Super Bowl last season.

However, San Francisco has a huge question mark hanging over it. Who will be the starting quarterback?

Last week during the owners meeting Kyle Shanahan stated the obvious, “It would have been pretty easy if Brock (Purdy) was healthy.”

Purdy took over the starting role in week 13 after Jimmy Garoppolo was lost to a broken foot. The rookie led the 49ers to a win over Miami and proceeded to win his first seven starts before suffering a torn UCL on the sixth play of the NFC championship game in Philadelphia.

From the Miami game forward Purdy completed 151 of 224 attempts for 1,877 yards, 16 touchdowns and just three interceptions. He added another two touchdowns with his legs. His level of play was the highest of any 49ers quarterback during Kyle Shanahan’s time with the team.

Purdy underwent UCL surgery March 10, and the 49ers are unsure about his timetable to return.

“We’ll see in three months (June 2) if he can be ready for camp,” said Shanahan. “If not, it might be Week 1. I’m hearing at the latest Week 4. That’s just an estimation. We’ll see what happens.”

With Purdy out for the early portion of summer workouts, Trey Lance and Sam Darnold will face off. The quarterback competition could stretch into training camp if Purdy’s return is stretched out as Shanahan suggested could happen.

Who wins a competition between Lance and Darnold?

What makes a Lance versus Darnold competition so fascinating is the similarities which exist between the two.

Watching the two play, there are plenty of highlight reel plays you can point toward to show the potential each possesses. Lance and Darnold have both shown the ability to make plays with their legs and hit the throws Kyle Shanahan requires from his quarterbacks. Age also does not favor one over the other, both are under 26.

A slight edge goes to Lance. The 49ers used three first round picks to acquire the former North Dakota State quarterback.

For Darnold to win the competition he can’t be at the same level as Lance. He needs to show that he is better. If he is able to consistently showcase the talent which led to him also being selected third overall Darnold can beat out Lance.

The 49ers OTA and mini camp practices are going to be must watch events.

Will the 49ers trade Trey Lance?

Trey Lance will not be traded during the draft. The uncertainty around Brock Purdy’s recovery being the primary reason.

San Francisco knows they need to insulate themselves and trading Lance without being sure about the status of Brock Purdy 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 late in training camp or around the trade deadline.

Any trade of Lance would require Brock Purdy to be back fully healthy, Sam Darnold showing he can operate the offense as good or better as Lance, and the rookie they draft, or sign, shows the traits they saw from Purdy during training camp last year.

Waiting 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.

Who will be the 49ers starting quarterback week one?

Brock Purdy.

The data on quarterbacks returning from UCL injuries is sparse compared to their baseball counterparts.

Nick Mullens is the only case of the internal brace procedure being performed on an NFL quarterback. The former 49ers signal caller was cleared approximately five months after his surgery in 2021.

During their comments at the owners meeting, both John Lynch and Kyle Shanahan left the door open for a return during training camp.

Purdy is young, and the procedure was done by one of the best in the business. If he is cleared and back on the practice field by August 11, Purdy will have approximately one month to prepare for the season.

This article has 39 Comments

  1. I have a feeling that KS/JL are leaning heavily on Steve Wilks when it comes to their evaluation of Sam Darnold. Darnold had his best 6 game run with Carolina at the end of last season. I think he has convinced them that Darnold is a solid choice as a backup and could be a solid starter. This makes them more comfortable to trade Lance.
    Jack your explanation regarding Lance’s effect on the salary cap makes sense. As long as Purdy’s rehab goes as planned I see the 9ers making Lance available after the start of the season. If the RT position remains a problem into the season I could see them trading Lance for a OT. If the OT play is solid then I see them trading Lance for draft picks. imho

    1. A wounded Purdy whose strength of arm and motion are in question, the disappointing Lance for whom the Niners lack confidence, a disappointing Darnold? Time to rescue the season and go get Aaron or Cousins.

      1. Allie,
        Watching the lack of progress in negotiations between the Jets and the Packers tells me the Packers are playing hardball. With the 9ers not having a 1st or 2nd and how much Rodgers will cost on the cap it looks like the 49ers would have to trade talent. Who are you willing to give up? Bosa and next years 1st and 2nd? Deebo and Kittle? Aiyuk and Warner?

        1. yikes! No….
          But maybe Cousins? I agree with Jack that the window won’t always be open. Maybe 2 more years or so? Cousins makes us competitive and he and Kyle are close. Can we really count on a dominant defense to slide by?

  2. If Jake Brendel, and Spencer Burford, and a Mike McGlinchey downgrade are playing on the 49er O-line the most likely scenario for the 49er QB position is Trey Lance starts the year and gets injured on a QB Dive play. Then Sam Darnold plays a few games and reinjures that shoulder, then Brock Purdy plays a few games and suffers some kind of injury. Then the 49ers finish the year with a street FA QB. So my prediction is Trey Lance starts the year and Jeff Driskel finishes the year.

      1. QBs who started games for the 49ers:

        2022 – Lance, Garoppolo, Purdy
        2021- Garoppolo, Lance
        2020 – Garoppolo, Mullens, Beathard
        2019 – Garoppolo
        2018 – Garoppolo, Mullens, Beathard
        2017 – Hoyer, Beathard, Garoppolo

        In 6 years of Kyle Shanahan, he has only had 1 year where a QB started all 16 games. In 4 of the years , at least 3 QBs started games due to injury. I stand by what I said. Kyle Shanahan puts little to no value on QB health. Brendel, Burford, and the McGlinchey downgrade is proof of that fact. Don’t really care if you want to accept that or not. It’s a fact.

    1. Hey 1.6, What a negative take. Why even bother watching . Go follow a super stable team like the Raiders!

      1. Hate it all you want but he is right. The Yorks could swallow their pride and sign Colin Kaepernick and finally have a REAL QB again but we all know they won’t. They could sign Lamar Jackson but they won’t. They would rather be a loser franchise with a loser coach and a bunch more losers at QB.

        Ninermd and myself will be attending the home opener but ONLY because we will be celebrating our anniversary that month. But that is the only game we will go to and even that is too much money for Jed’s pockets. Hopefully Lance hasn’t injured himself by then because he is the only QB on this team worth watching!

  3. Jack. you’re leaving out the fact that Lance is recovering from an injury too.
    Combine that with his lack of playing experience, Darnold seems like a shoe-in.
    I think it is Trey that needs to prove that he’s better than Darnold.
    Trey has started about 35 games in 5 years…..

      1. Counting Lance’s college win record, his overall record (also NFL) is very impressive.
        We’ll see if Lance can become the player that the 49ers envisioned this season.

  4. I agree that Purdy most likely will be able to start the season. As for trading Lance I just don’t see it happening anytime soon and most likely, not this year. I just think that the odds are low that both Darold beats out Lance and that a low round draft pick will be considered good enough to make the 53 or as Jack puts it, shows the traits that Purdy demonstrated last year. However, I hope and believe this will all be highly entertaining and I look forward to hearing Jacks reporting on this situation as we go forward.

    1. If Darnold beats out Lance in TC, it’s still incumbent for the 49ers (imho) to keep Trey.
      Until Darnold can show a stretch of consistency in his play, without being benched at some point during the season, keeping Lance is a no-brainer.

      If SD can continue the nice stretch of games he had at Carolina last season, it might give hope that’s he’s finally turnrd the corner.
      But, no one can make that claim right now.

      1. There seems to be two factions. 1. Those who are convinced Lance is the second coming and 2. Those that can’t wait to trade him. Strange.

        1. Felix,
          I don’t see anyone giving Lance the “second coming “ vibe.
          People are just giving their own opinion re Trey, and that’s what sports blog’s are for.

          My personal view is that we know more about Darnold than we do about Lance. My biggest concern with SD is that he has had more trending down moments than up. In a word, “inconsistent.”

          Imho, rather than trading Lance, he should be given every opportunity to compete for either the starter job until Purdy returns or the #2 QB after Brock takes the wheel (just a little play on the “second coming” term you used, 😇).
          But that’s just my opinion.

          1. Agree with AES. He is prudent and wise on this matter. Niners are disappointed with LANCE and they have a hard time concealing it. But they must keep him given all the circumstances Jack points out.

          2. Felix,
            My reason for wanting to trade Lance is he has value. Trading a player with low value is going to bring back low value. I believe the 49ers may have 3 decent QBs right now and the need for 3 decent QBs is lower than the need for a solid RT or 2nd pass rusher. You can’t trade Purdy, injury. You cant trade Darnold we already know how much the league values him so you are left with Lance who I believe has value.

            1. OC, what value does Trey have? So far he’s accomplished nothing in the NFL except get injured. If you see his value as having been a #3 pick so is Darold and what’s he worth?
              Kyle believes they have a solid RT but they will draft one as well as an edge.

              1. Felix,
                I don’t possess the inside info to know what Lance’s current value to other teams may be. I am basing my opinion on those of writer’s, bloggers and media types who may have some inside info also JL and KS believed he was worth a 1st round pick and i don’t believe that the little experience he has had has proven them wrong. As to KS believing that he has a solid RT we won’t know if thats true until the draft. I think it is more lkely that if the 9ers moved up it would be for a pass rush specialist. My point is that I am not one of those fans who thinks TL is a bust, I think he may have more value as trade bait although more likely after Sept. 1

          3. AES, yes sports blogs are for giving opinions which is exactly what I did. Hope you are okay with that.

  5. I don’t see Trey Lance getting traded this year. Maybe next year if he doesn’t impress and Purdy and Darnold look capable of holding down the position.

    I would be very surprised if Trey Lance isn’t taking all this in and lights a fire. Trey Lance has all the talent necessary to turn heads at the QB position .

    A lot of if ands or buts (speculation), about Lance, Darnold & possibly Purdy, being the number one QB!
    Fact: Come August 25th (last preseason game), I expect we’ll know who the starter against Washington will be! Until then, lets enjoy enjoy Lance and Darnold competing to see who starts the first game of the season…..
    I expect JL & KS will be conservative easing BP back in as the starter, likely the 2nd or maybe 3rd game of the regular season against the Steelers or Arizona……LETS PLAY SOME 9ER FOOTBALL!

    1. Unlikely but at 40, he is far better than Purdy or Lance. Having him play his final year would electrify the fans. He wanted to play for the Niners coming out of UC. Such a horrible drafting error not to have grabbed him.

      1. Allie,
        It wouldn’t be for 1 year he has a 4 year contract. From what I heard yesterday the first two years are doable cap wise. Where it would kill the 9ers is in the last 2 years or if they cut him the guaranteed all moves up. It would be a cap disaster in the long run and on top of that he didn’t look all that good this past season. imho

        1. all good points. He is on a slow decline. Disagreeable person but still effective and mostly accurate.

      2. @ Allie; Probably much better for Aaron Rogers that it all worked out the way it did going to the Packers instead. If the Niner’s had taken AR wonder if McCarthy would have stuck around as OC.. . Things might have worked out differently with Nolan.

  7. I talked to Jason Hurley of about trading Lance prior to June 1st, he says the cap hit is 1.55 million. A trade after the draft is very unlikely. The NFL has six post-draft quarterback trades in three years and all of them were for a fifth-round pick or later. A Lance trade is before the draft or 2024. Unlikely yes, but it is possible if they value Darnold highly and want to get something for Trey while they still can. His trade value falls off a cliff after the draft.

  8. Per Matt Barrows,
    “A common denominator among the three is that they’re good at kickoffs, with Carlson’s workout kicks landing as far as 9 yards into the end zone. The 49ers, meanwhile, struggled with kickoffs over the past two seasons.”

    Glad to see that the 49er are giving this area some serious attention.
    Michigan’s former Kicker Moody (regarded as the top kicker in the draft) also worked out with the team.

    1. agree with AES. We tried to slide by with inferior KO specialists. We did better last year but still gave up too many return yards overall.

  9. Lynch likes drafting Senior Bowl attendees that also had a 30 visit.
    Is there a list of verified 49ers 30-visits yet?

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