While the Los Angeles Rams deal with significant questions surrounding the future of Matthew Stafford and the quarterback position, perhaps the biggest unknown amongst NFC West signal callers is who will be under center for the San Francisco 49ers in 2023.
John Lynch and Kyle Shanahan leveraged future first round picks in 2022 and 2023 for the opportunity to select Trey Lance with the third overall selection in 2021. Part of the reason San Francisco felt compelled to move up in the draft for a young signal caller was because of the lengthy injury history and frequent unavailability of Jimmy Garoppolo, but two years later Lance has appeared in just eight games and attempted only 102 passes. While he has all the athleticism and talent in the world, Lance is still as enigmatic as they come and there is no telling which direction his career is headed.
Brock Purdy provides a stark juxtaposition to the pure project in Lance—he’s already shown he can be a productive driver of the Shanahan offense, taking what the scheme opens up but also by creating off-schedule in a way Garoppolo never could. While the team hopes for the best for Lance, all Purdy did was produce results. His impressive 7-1 record as a starter, his lone loss was the NFC championship game against the Philadelphia Eagles where he left early due to a significant UCL injury, shows a team with one of the most talented rosters in the league can count on him to steer the ship in the right direction without much hand holding. The ceiling for Purdy is likely far lower than the final product Lance could become, but he’s a safe, reliable option for a team looking to compete right now.
And the recent signing of veteran Sam Darnold is also intriguing. A former top three draft selection who has played on bad teams with poor supporting casts on the New York Jets and Carolina Panthers has never had the benefit of a coach like Shanahan. If Purdy, the last pick taken in the 2022 NFL Draft, can shine in this offensive scheme and with playmakers like Deebo Samuel, Brandon Aiyuk, and George Kittle at his disposal, think of what someone with Darnold’s athletic profile could accomplish. It’s a low risk, high reward signing that could pay dividends if Lance and Purdy do not recover from their injuries in full.
Who will get the starting nod in 2023?
At the NFL owners meetings in Arizona this week, both Lynch and Shanahan suggested that the starting gig for next season is Purdy’s to lose. Assuming the second-year quarterback heals timely from his UCL injury and with Darnold’s veteran presence in the fold, the team could also consider trading away Lance—the quarterback they acquired by leveraging multiple future first round picks for the opportunity to select him.
There’s plenty of time for things to change before the start of the upcoming season, but these developments aren’t too surprising based on the way Purdy managed the offense when healthy.
#49ers GM John Lynch with biggest endorsement of QB Brock Purdy as starter yet: "I think Brock has earned the right with the way he played that he’s probably the leader in the clubhouse at that...if we were to line up, he’d probably take that first snap."— Nick Wagoner (@nwagoner) March 27, 2023
On whether it's possible the #49ers would trade Trey Lance, GM John Lynch said: "We listen to anything but we like Trey on our team. We’re very excited about the way he’s progressing, about his opportunity. I think he’s chomping at the bit to get back out there."— Nick Wagoner (@nwagoner) March 27, 2023