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.