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49ers QB room: Who stays, who goes?

For the second season in a row, we’re asking who backs up Trey Lance before the season kicks off

NFL: AUG 25 Preseason - 49ers at Texans Photo by Leslie Plaza Johnson/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

It’s been a couple of seasons since the 49ers traded for Trey Lance. Since then, they’ve elected to bring Jimmy Garoppolo back. Twice. The first time felt like mismanagement from the front office’s side. This last season, the Niners didn’t have much of a choice.

If we’re using hindsight, bringing back Jimmy the first time looked brilliant as the team made the NFC Championship. But rostering Garoppolo one final time proved to backfire, as he suffered yet another costly injury.

San Francisco found a gem in the seventh round at quarterback. Brock Purdy played well enough to make you think twice about giving Lance another shot. In fact, if Purdy’s UCL was intact this offseason, there would be no debate.

It’s not, which means it’s another offseason that’ll involve questions surrounding the 49ers QB position.

Is a veteran necessary as a backup?

We went over five potential backup quarterbacks for Lance and Purdy earlier in the week. After the season, Kyle Shanahan said he’s comfortable going into the season with those two.

There are endless veteran options out there. Let’s use one we haven’t discussed as an example. Would Ryan Tannehill come to San Francisco on a minimum contract, knowing it’d take two injuries for him to see the field?

Furthermore, now that another Kubiak is on staff, Brian Griese has another year of familiarity with both quarterbacks, and Lance and Purdy having more experience themselves should benefit the quarterback room.

Making sure you have a QB2 that knows the offense and can step in on a whim to keep your offense afloat is necessary. Spending a few extra million on a third-string quarterback isn’t. And yes, I realize how outlandish that sounds when you consider how the 49ers season just ended.

Now, the 49ers must be 100 percent certain Purdy will recover. Signing a quarterback this offseason is inevitable, but a “big” name isn’t.

No QB controversy, after all

Training camp was setting up to be a show where Purdy had to outlast the No. 3 overall pick. The content would have written itself, as would the stories leading up to August.

Mike Tanier of Football Outsiders included the perceived competition in his top 10 offseason nonsense column. Check out this blurb:

5. Brock Purdy/Trey Lance Nonsense

This ain’t your daddy’s quarterback controversy. It’s a plucky white underdog who just wins against a black dual threat who is starting to look like an ultra-talented enigma. Wait: this is EXACTLY your daddy’s quarterback controversy!

Only the 49ers could build a quarterback controversy out of Diet Mac Jones and the football equivalent of a cryptid yet barely crack the nonsense top five. That’s because the rest of the 49ers are so good that either Spunky McWinnersauce or The Speculative Man will probably end up beating the Cowboys in a 2023 playoff game, spreading this offseason’s nonsense across other years and teams like a whopping signing bonus.

Still, the 49ers quarterback drama will rank high on the malarky scale because anyone claiming to know if Purdy or Lance is any good is lying. Purdy threw flair passes to Pro Bowlers against teams whose coaches were benching quarterbacks for cost-cutting reasons or booking tramp-steamer passage to Bora Bora. Lance’s scouting report is based on NDSU-versus-Nicholls State cutups from four years ago that draftniks skimmed three years ago. We might as well argue about how many angels Deebo Samuel could juke out on the head of a pin.

Oh, and if Lance, Purdy, and Stetson Bennett all get knocked out of games as the 49ers limp to the playoffs in 2023 while Kyle Shanahan orders backup tight ends to block Pro Bowl edge rushers, we’ll all get to hear about how some other team got lucky.

We were in for six months of that. Calling Purdy “diet Mac Jones” sells his abilities short. One quarterback had been in the NFL for nearly two years, while the other came in cold. Purdy’s athleticism and ability to avoid sacks dwarfs Jones, and every other quarterback in the NFL that didn’t win a Super Bowl ring this season:

If we can’t give credit for avoiding sacks and keeping your offense on schedule, then we’re doing it wrong.

What to expect from Purdy/Lance

The data points aren’t there for Lance. He’s played 263 snaps in two seasons. Purdy played 533 this past year. So, it’s understandable as to why many have cooled on the former North Dakota St. product.

Lance is another player whose sack avoidance will pay dividends. He’ll only get more confident and comfortable in the pocket the more he plays.

I can’t get out of my head how Jalen Hurts played in the Super Bowl, as that’s a carbon copy of who Lance could become by season’s end. A player that can scramble for first downs when the play isn’t there, but that’s when the initial play isn’t there. Lance is a pocket quarterback who has the athleticism to run.

Albert Breer of the MMQB shared how the 49ers think about Lance heading into 2023:

Lance is well liked and works his tail off. he’s not as skilled a runner as the Niners had hoped, but he’s a big, strong athlete. The question really is whether he can improve as a passer — he’s not that natural of a thrower of the ball. But Jalen Hurts wasn’t, either, and he developed, so it can happen. And if Lance, through his work with his personal coaches, comes back a different quarterback in the spring and lights up OTAs, then I think the Niners would be thrilled.

Remember, while the plan for now might be to go with Purdy, getting more out of the quarterback you traded three first-round picks for wouldn’t exactly be a bad result for any of the football decision-makers in Santa Clara. So stay tuned. This could get interesting.

That reads like countless words critiquing Lance, and comes off as the 49ers wanting more out of him. It’s reasonable and fair to expect your quarterback to continue to improve. When Breer says, “come back a different quarterback,” his wording reads as if the Niners aren’t happy with Lance.

I don’t believe that’s the case, and if it were, they’d do something about it this offseason. Shanahan runs one of the most QB-friendly offenses. Adapting his play-calling for Lance, much like he did with Purdy, will do wonders. It’s simple: run what you ran for Brock for Trey.