By all accounts, no matter where the information is coming from, the 49ers appear set on Brock Purdy being the best option at quarterback. The only reason we’re entertaining the idea of a pair of former No. 3 overall picks is due to Purdy’s injury timetable being up in the air.
According to Sports Illustrated’s Albert Breer, the Niners are all in on Mr. Irrelevant:
One takeaway from the meetings for me—the Niners really believe in Brock Purdy.
I’m not going to sit here and say that they think they have a Brady-type story with last year’s seventh-round pick, but I do believe the 49ers’ brass thinks Purdy’s capable of giving them the highest level of quarterback play they’ve had since Kyle Shanahan arrived in 2017.
That doesn’t mean he’s there yet, of course. But that they’re hanging his name first on the depth chart, and are willing to do it, even with his medical situation, is very much indicative of where they stand. And with what’s ahead, it makes sense for them to just allow for the situation with the other two quarterbacks in house, Trey Lance and Sam Darnold, to play out.
The Niners are working with a six-to-eight-month return-to-play timetable on Purdy, with the idea being that the timeline should be more concrete two to three months post-op (Purdy’s surgery was March 10). That means by the summer break, San Francisco should know if it’s getting Purdy back for opening day, at some point midseason or somewhere in between.
What the Niners know for certain now is that the on-field reps through spring will go to Lance and Darnold. They’re hoping Lance will turn a corner, but, with the roster they have, and the presence of Purdy, they can no longer sacrifice in-season reps to facilitate his development—as they’d planned last year. Meanwhile, there’s some hope that Darnold, seen as a strong system fit, could turn a corner. As a rookie, Darnold played for Mike Shanahan protégé Jeremy Bates and had his best year in a scheme built to make the QB play fast.
Either way, one of those guys will really have to come on to move the Niners off Purdy, which should be taken as good news by the fan base.
The 49ers don’t have to do anything. If Lance is the prospect they believed him to be in 2021, then he’ll make this the most difficult decision Kyle Shanahan has ever had to make. And there’s a path to success for Darnold, but an easier, clearer one for Trey.
As Breer said, this is all pending Purdy’s status. If Lance goes through the summer getting the majority of first-team reps, only for Brock to be cleared in time for Week 1, the focus shifts back to the quarterback who helped the team make the NFC Championship.
Lance not only needs to stay healthy, but he must show Shanahan that he’s capable of reaching his potential — the same potential that led the 49ers to trade up and select Trey a few short years ago.
Darnold feels like the ultimate hedge. If, for whatever reason, Lance doesn’t excel, you have a quality QB3 who has had success in the NFL and is still relatively young. The resources and tools are there for Darnold to be productive with the 49ers. But in an ideal world, it’s either Lance or Purdy.