The San Francisco 49ers are on the verge of finalizing their trade to move up for Trey Lance in 2021 as the worst move in draft history. According to reports from multiple sources, including Ian Rapoport, Tom Pelissero, and several people who cover the 49ers, head coach Kyle Shanahan is going to name Sam Darnold as the backup to Brock Purdy and that San Francisco will “explore options” with Lance.
According to Eric Branch of the San Francisco Chronicle and Nick Wagoner of ESPN, that does include the trade market and/or moving on from Lance in any shape or form.
#49ers are indeed rolling with Sam Darnold as the backup to Brock Purdy to open the season, They'll explore options with Trey Lance, source confirms. Which doesn't guarantee he either stays or goes but depends on what type of interest there might be elsewhere.— Nick Wagoner (@nwagoner) August 23, 2023
NFL Network 1st.
A little more than two years ago, while Jimmy Garoppolo was still under contract and when the 49ers held the 12th overall pick, general manager John Lynch oversaw a trade to move up to three over a month before the first round to guarantee that San Francisco would get the third-best quarterback prospect in the draft.
The 49ers handed the Miami Dolphins pick 12, plus first and third round picks in 2022, and their first round pick in 2023.
Let’s talk about all the mistakes that John Lynch, cited by many others as “one of the best GMs in football”, made with that one decision:
They were settling for third
Too impatient to wait and see which quarterbacks would actually be available (although we knew that it wouldn’t be Trevor Lawrence and we were almost certain it wouldn’t be Zach Wilson) and too scared that another team would jump them first, the 49ers gave up more draft capital to get a fictional quarterback than what the L.A. Rams gave up for Matthew Stafford two months earlier.
Sometimes the third quarterback in a draft class is Justin Herbert or Deshaun Watson. Usually he isn’t. And every single time, he’s still the third-best quarterback prospect of the class, with maybe a few exceptions.
It would be more understandable if the 49ers gave up two first round picks to exchange their own first round pick in order to move up to the number one spot in the draft, but Lynch did this for the third pick.
For weeks, people were speculating that it could be Justin Fields, Mac Jones, or Lance, with no clear indication until Fields was eliminated as a possibility at least a week before the draft. But this only further proves that the trade up made little sense; it would have made more sense if this was a class that clearly had three great QBs and only three great QBs.
Instead, it had Lawrence alone at the top, Wilson alone at number two, and then three guys that nobody was 100% sure about and all came with significant red flags.
They could have had Fields or Jones (or Lance) for little or no trade
If San Francisco had stayed at 12, they could have definitely got Mac Jones without trading. They either could have gotten Fields without trading or only made a small jump up. (Fields went 11th and the Bears traded up for him at a smaller cost.) And there’s even a chance that nobody would have picked Trey Lance, especially because...
Trey Lance is one of the most shocking top-10 picks in history
He was entirely a projection, basically like picking a quarterback without ever needing to see him play football. Which was almost the case. He played one season and one game of football at North Dakota State. At this point, he’s thrown less than 500 passes in the last six years.
The 49ers screwed up their pick in one of the best non-QB classes in history
Micah Parsons ended up being the 12th pick in the 2021 draft, now the favorite for many to win Defensive Player of the Year. If San Francisco still wanted to trade up, these are the players who went after Lance: Kyle Pitts, Ja’Marr Chase, Jaylen Waddle, Penei Sewell, Jaycee Horn, Patrick Surtain II, DeVonta Smith, and Fields. The players who went after Parsons were Rashawn Slater, Alijah Vera-Tucker, and Mac Jones. There was also edge rusher Jaelan Phillips at pick 18 and tackle Christian Darrisaw at pick 23.
It could be argued that the 49ers might have won one of the last two Super Bowls if they had picked certain players out of that group. Parsons next to Fred Warner and Nick Bosa? Unstoppable. He was right there the entire time.
They missed out on first round picks in 2022 and 2023
Stating the obvious, but the 49ers ended up losing picks 29 and 102 in 2022, and then pick 29 in 2023. Imagine if right now the 49ers had Parsons, Jalen Pitre, Dameon Pierce, and Nolan Smith.
Trey Lance isn’t cheap!
Teams want rookie quarterbacks because of cost savings, but Lance has only been a net negative and a significant one at that: The 49ers paid him the standard fully-guaranteed four-year, $34.1 million contract for the third overall pick in 2021 draft.
He has a cap hit of $9.3 million this year to be the third-string QB, which is only a hair less than Geno Smith to start for the Seahawks, and because of how their contracts are structured it is actually more than Aaron Rodgers, Derek Carr, and Jalen Hurts.
The 49ers still have to pay Lance in 2023 and 2024, even if they cut him.
Think about this too: If the 49ers had that $9 million of cap space, would Nick Bosa be holding out right now? Or would San Francisco felt more comfortable that they can give him what he wants?
The 49ers could have had Matthew Stafford or Tom Brady probably
San Francisco could have had Brady in 2020, but they passed and he won a Super Bowl with the Bucs. They likely could have worked a trade for Matthew Stafford in 2021, but they lost or bowed out of that bidding war and Stafford won the Super Bowl with the Rams.
This is reminiscent of when the 49ers could have drafted Patrick Mahomes or Watson in 2017, but instead Kyle Shanahan and John Lynch had their eyes on either Kirk Cousins or Jimmy Garoppolo. They eventually traded for Garoppolo and gave him a huge contract after only five starts. It turns out he’s injury prone...I guess you can’t really judge a QB off of five starts.
Yes, the 49ers sound happy with Brock Purdy...but can you judge a guy off of eight games and do we really know yet that Purdy isn’t injury prone?
The 49ers still aren’t sure what they have at QB
As I wrote last week, the 49ers QB situation seems in disarray; training camp reports can only be trusted so much, but really nobody is reporting that Purdy looks accurate or that he hasn’t thrown a ton of interceptions and dropped interceptions in practices and joint practices. Nobody other than Shanahan, who prior to working with Matt Ryan in 2015-2016, was most closely associated with quarterbacks Robert Griffin III and Johnny Manziel, has really said that Purdy looks great.
Any talk that Sam Darnold has simply played too great for Lance to be the backup should be disregarded. People said stuff like that about Darnold coming out of college, they said it when the Jets hired Adam Gase, they said it when he was traded to the Panthers, they said it when he became the Panthers starter at the end of last season. This is just what people do with Darnold. And because Purdy hasn’t been that great, you would actually have to believe that if Darnold was playing phenomenally in camp that he would be competing to start, at least until Purdy showed that he was fully “back”.
So despite using three first round picks and a third round pick and $34 million on Trey Lance, the 49ers are still starting the cheapest quarterback on their roster and a bust from the 2018 draft who teams have given up on not once (Jets trade), not twice (Panthers get Baker Mayfield), but three times (Panthers don’t bring him back) in the last two years.
When people talk about Zach Wilson’s failures as an NFL quarterback through two seasons, they focus on the player and why it’s his fault. When people talk about Lance, they focus on the lack of opportunities and awful situation that he was drafted into. If you’re going to do that, then that’s fine, do that, but why are we stopping there? Lance didn’t draft himself.
At some point will anyone point to John Lynch, Kyle Shanahan, and their poor fit together on the San Francisco 49ers that led to a move that should be called the worst in NFL Draft history?
Somebody call Mike Ditka and let him know he’s off the hook. Time to crown a new king.