There are battles that we will always remember; Foreman vs. Ali, Hulk Hogan vs. Andre the Giant, Sega vs. Nintendo. Brock Purdy vs. Trey Lance may join that coveted group. The San Francisco 49ers quarterback situation has become one of the most fascinating developments for the team.
How? For starters, how many teams give up two first round picks to draft a quarterback, and then proceed to go to the NFC Championship game both of that quarterback’s first two years, without said quarterback starting more than two games?
Usually playoffs are a pipe dream and if the quarterback never plays, the team doesn’t win much, leading to the nuclear button getting pressed. The coaches and front office in on that decision get to hop in the unemployment line.
Not the 49ers. Somehow Trey Lance hasn’t been able to stay on the field. Neither did his back up. So with no other option in 2022, the 49ers have their last pick in the draft walk in as a rookie and look like a 10-year veteran. A rookie, mind you, that won two playoff games. His only loss of the season? The NFC Championship game where he was knocked out in the first quarter to an elbow injury. That of course is Brock Purdy.
Just knowing that alone would be enough to know who the front runner is for the 49ers quarterback job in 2023. Even the 49ers hinted that was the case. One problem: Purdy is still recovering from the aforementioned injury. General consensus was he’d be back by Week 1 in a best-case scenario. This of course led to speculation Trey Lance might just get a game or two to prove himself before Purdy takes over.
Then Kyle Shanahan drops this bomb at the Dwight Clark Legacy Series event:
“As long as there’s not a setback we think he [Purdy] will be there in training camp.”
Pending setbacks, Purdy will be at training camp. Well that’s a development. Shanahan went on to say Purdy is throwing towels but not real footballs, but still doing most of the drills the other QBs are doing. Purdy rising, he just might be ready to go for the bout. So what about Trey Lance? In the same appearance, Shanahan had this to say:
“I think Trey is the best that we’ve had him right now.And yeah we gotta get into OTAs and practice, but if you watch his feet and his timing and how and how he’s throwing the ball he’s in such a better place than he was last year at this time. I know he’s coming off a big injury but it’s because he was healthier this year. Even though last year it was a little injury with a hairline fracture on a pinky, but it healed the wrong way. And this year it’s a bad break on the ankle, but it healed right, like most of them do. And now I just see him in such a better place and we’ll present him some football and stuff when we get to OTAs and allow nine of them”
Let’s take Sam Darnold, the proverbial QB3 out of this equation (just to not complicate things). Trey Lance is the best they’ve had him. That may mean those “wobbly balls” everyone seemed to complain about or his release (something Shanahan has alluded may be fixed) might be a thing of the past.
So Brock Purdy v. Trey Lance is on. If all goes well I imagine them sharing reps and all sorts of “he did this, but HE did this”. On a team like the 49ers.
Should Purdy be ready to go, we won’t see Trey Lance simply coming in for a game or two at the start of the season so the 49ers can evaluate and maybe go back to Purdy. We will get to see Purdy vs Lance in 2023. Co-starring Sam Darnold. The QB battle of training camp. No, the century.
And it’s awesome.
This isn’t a battle for a team trying to find a starter and maybe get to .500. This is a team that has been in the NFC Championship two times in a row. Their hand picked, third overall drafted quarterback will go up against Mr. Irrelevant to have the opportunity to (hopefully) lead the 49ers to the Super Bowl and potentially put an end to this Quest for 6 campaign we’ve had since the Jim Harbaugh days.
If all things ended today, Purdy would have to be the front runner. We’ve seen more out of him. So much seen that many were disappointed he didn’t get offensive rookie of the year. He played—and won—eight games. He was that good. He won two playoff games. It took Dak Prescott of the Dallas Cowboys several years to get to two wins. Purdy did it in his first season. Meanwhile Trey Lance has the stronger arm and of course the second mortgage equivalent of draft picks behind him.
And then Sam Darnold. The dude who can throw really well.
If Lance is the guy, he should be able to beat out Purdy. If Lance, a player the 49ers drafted to be “The Guy” and their quarterback of the future, can’t win or handle the pressure of a quarterback competition in training camp, what makes anyone think he can handle the pressure of 3rd and 10 with 1:40 left in the Super Bowl?
And if Lance does win? What does it do for Purdy? Well it may benefit the 49ers in a couple years if they need to ship him off in a trade due to Lance’s success (provided they don’t go back to Purdy midseason). I have always argued Joe Montana had his best years with Steve Young on the sideline, perhaps the same can be said about Lance, or even Purdy for that matter with Lance as the backup.
We’ve seen the quarterback battles in the past, numerous times. We’ve never seen anything like this with the backgrounds of Lance and Purdy on a team so stacked like the 49ers. The only thing that comes close is that famous “We’ll have to select between Steve Young and Joe Montana” quote and subsequent controversy from Bill Walsh (The difference is the 49ers didn’t bet the farm to acquire Young). With our way of overanalyzing everything, we’ll be able to overreact a few times before camp begins.
Strap yourselves in, this is gonna be fun. How do you see this playing out?