The 49ers quarterback situation is, once again, murky.
Brock Purdy tore his ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) in the NFC Championship. Trey Lance is rehabbing and recovering from two surgeries related to a fractured fibula and ligament disruption in his ankle. Jimmy Garoppolo is an unrestricted free agent and has a field of teams with more cap space and more need at quarterback than the 49ers.
So, where do they stand? What are the expectations for Purdy and Lance?
Well, first off, Jimmy Garoppolo won’t be back. Asked if Garoppolo could return on Wednesday, Kyle Shanahan said:
“I don’t see any scenario of that.”
Alright then. It’s Brock Purdy and Trey Lance.
Both quarterbacks provided their own updates on Tuesday, with Shanahan and John Lynch providing their perspective on Wednesday.
Let’s start with Lance. He said he expects to be 100 percent for OTAs. His second surgery was, for all intents and purposes, minor; it removed a piece of hardware in his ankle which promoted the initial healing of the bone, but caused discomfort. That’s fairly common for the injury Lance suffered.
He said he’s three or three-and-a-half weeks out from being fully cleared to return to the field.
“I plan on being 100 percent far before OTAs,” Lance said. “I should be for sure, 100 percent before OTAs.
For now, that places Lance as the lone contracted quarterback who would be available for OTAs.
Shanahan provided a more detailed timeline of how they’ll work him back into action.
“Sounds like it’d be pretty close around phase one, phase two,” Shanahan said. “OTAs is the third phase, which I think is five weeks after phase one. So we’ll see in phase one. They’re saying right around that time, so hopefully we’ll be able to ease him in with drill work and things like that. Then by OTAs he’ll be able to go.”
Purdy’s timeline is far longer and more worrisome. The initial timeline posited by reports is a six-month return to full action. He would undergo a repair of the UCL, not Tommy John surgery, under that timeline.
The major difference is that Tommy John surgery typically occurs for pitchers because the tendons in their elbow deteriorate. The entire UCL has to be reconstructed, either with a ligament from elsewhere in the body or a cadaver.
In a repair, the ligament is in good condition, but snaps abruptly. That is the initial belief for Purdy.
Purdy said he’s getting a second opinion and looking at a multitude of options. Lynch acknowledged that, then all but confirmed he’ll undergo the same procedure as former 49ers quarterback Nick Mullens, who became the first quarterback in the NFL to have an internal brace installed in his elbow. That’s what Purdy’s likely looking at.
“It seems to be consistent that the right approach is that one takes about that six months,” Lynch said. “They’re continuing to work through that process but they seem encouraged by the prognosis.”
When the six-month timeline is mentioned, it’s not six months before Purdy can throw. It’s about three months before he can start a throwing program and rehab. Six months would be clearance for full action.
Shanahan said he was encouraged that at six months, Purdy would be “full go” for training camp.
Obviously that leaves the 49ers with just two quarterbacks on the roster, neither of whom are healthy right now.
That means additions will be required. But Shanahan was pretty adamant, at least at this point, that there won’t be “high profile” additions to the quarterback position.
Asked if he was “content” with the two quarterbacks they have, or if they’d look to make a substantial addition, he gave a terse, short response.
“No, we’re content enough,” Shanahan said.
He later continuing on the subject, saying:
I know we have two starters on our team right now that I believe we can win with. So when you have that situation, you’re not that eager to go looking around.
He acknowledged that signings, and/or draft picks will have to add to the quarterback position. There wasn’t much detail, but subtle indications point towards affordable signings, with an eye towards making use of two rookie contract quarterbacks.
“The best available that could fit into the structure of our team and salary cap and all that,” Shanahan said, regarding the profile of quarterback they’d be interested in.
For now, the 49ers are betting on Lance and Purdy to be healthy for next season, with Shanahan saying he hasn’t thought about a potential quarterback battle in camp.
Obviously those won’t be the only quarterbacks on the roster. But if Shanahan is to be taken at face value, his team will ride with those two and fill in the gaps around them.