It wouldn’t be a 49ers offseason without discussion over the quarterback position.
While San Francisco has a handful of questions about its quarterbacks, the group is fairly established right now. Brock Purdy, Trey Lance and Sam Darnold comprise a unit that will cost just a bit more than $14 million this season.
Darnold, the newcomer, is somehow the most established in the group at age 25 after five up-and-down seasons with the New York Jets and Carolina Panthers in which he started 55 games.
Purdy, 23, has played roughly eight full games, and is recovering from an internal brace elbow repair surgery on March 10. He could be available in training camp or after the start of the season (more on that below).
Trey Lance, meanwhile, should be ready for OTAs after undergoing two surgeries — one major surgery on September 19 and one common, but relatively minor surgery to remove internal hardware in his foot on December 31 — to fix a fibula fracture and ligament disruption.
Where does that leave the 49ers? At the NFL’s owners meetings on Monday, general manager John Lynch offered his thoughts on the hierarchy — where Lance, the former No. 3 overall pick, might have the most unclear future of any of them.
First, Lynch discussed Purdy’s timeline. That is, he said there isn’t yet a timeline.
According to Dr. Keith Meister, who performed the surgery, Purdy is working on range of motion, but won’t have another real update until 12 weeks after the surgery. That would be June 2. So for now, there’s no serious projections on his timetable.
That said, Lynch said the “hope is he’s ready to go for training camp.”
When Purdy is ready, though, Lynch confirmed what most suspected. Purdy, if healthy, is the starter.
“I think Brock has earned the right with the way he played that he’s probably the leader in the clubhouse at that,” Lynch said. “I’ll let Kyle make those kinds of decisions, but I know when we talk I think Brock’s probably earned that right to be the guy if we were to line up, he can probably take that first snap.”
He also expanded on that belief in Purdy.
Despite his performance, there have been eyebrow raises and questions at the fact that the 49ers are bought in on Purdy. His limited arm talent and elbow surgery are a major component in that.
Lynch said that what the 49ers saw from him last season, especially as it pertains to processing, was enough to give them belief that he can and will be a long-term performer for them at quarterback.
“Just the way he played, the way he processed, the way he led was very impressive,” Lynch said. “Not just that he did it, the way he did it, I think gave a lot of confidence to everybody in our building. And he earned that… He has left us all with a lot of confidence that he’s a real guy.”
That, of course, begs questions about Lance’s standing.
The 49ers have long stated that Lance “needs to play.” In two years, he’s played in just eight games, starting half of those.
He’s now going to have to battle Sam Darnold to be the No. 2 in the pecking order, which would possibly, if not likely mean starting the season until Purdy is fully healthy. Lynch intimated that the 49ers aren’t that worried about what they gave up for Lance; they won’t subscribe to the sunk-cost fallacy of playing him just because they paid a lot to get him.
“We’ve always said we don’t care where you were drafted, if you were drafted, and that’s always been our stance. That’s what we believe in,” Lynch said. “We’re still very excited about Trey, but I think the way Brock played, he probably has earned that right to be the guy. But it’s certainly a competition. We’ll always have that.”
As far as a trade of Trey Lance goes, Lynch didn’t shut the door all that firmly. There wasn’t a suggestion a trade could happen, but he didn’t pour cold water on the notion by mentioning that the 49ers are happy with him “right now.”
“We like Trey, right, on our team right now,” Lynch said. “We always joke, Kyle and I, we’d trade each other if someone gave us a good enough deal. So we listen to anything but we like Trey on our team and we’re very excited about the way he’s progressing about his opportunity. I think he’s chomping at the bit to get out there and get back under center and be healthy again.”
The 49ers would save $3.76 million this season and $5.31 million next season if they traded Trey Lance after June 1. An acquiring team would only have to cover his $940,000 base salary $2,820,478 roster bonus this year and $1,055,000 base salary and $4,255,717 roster bonus next year.
As far as Sam Darnold goes, Lynch expressed some palpable excitement.
He hearkened back to 2018, the year Darnold was selected No. 3 and the 49ers went with Mike McGlinchey No. 9 overall (Lynch praised McGlinchey at length at the start of the presser).
Lynch said Darnold will also compete for the starting job and pointed to a level of talent and mutual interest that brought both sides together for a one-year, $4.5 million deal.
“In Carolina, the way they were playing him, it seemed like he kind of broke through a little bit,” Lynch said. “They were running the football, doing a lot of play action off the run, a lot of things that we like to do and we’ve always felt that Sam back to when we were studying him coming out of USC, was a good fit for what we do offensively.”
Darnold concurred, with Lynch saying he sought out what the 49ers could offer.
“Sam said it. He was craving our structure, our stability, the opportunity to play for Brian Griese, the opportunity to play for Kyle,” Lynch said. “I mean I think these guys here, when you’re a quarterback with the Niners, the head coach is in a lot of those quarterback meetings day in and day out. And so that was that was really appealing to Sam and his play, his ability was really appealing to us.”
So as it stands now, the 49ers will have Brock Purdy, if healthy, as their starter. Outside of that, Lynch didn’t confirm the pecking order for Lance or Darnold.
It sounds like it’s going to be an open competition for those two, with the potential for one of theme to start this season for the 49ers depending on Purdy’s timetable.
Given San Francisco’s recent history, it’s not an outrageous bet to expect to see each of the three take the field at some point this season.