The San Francisco 49ers have decided that quarterback Sam Darnold will be Brock Purdy’s backup, meaning 2020 third-overall pick Trey Lance has been relegated to the third spot on the depth chart less than a year after being the team’s starter.
There really is no precedent for this situation in NFL history. Sports analysts Bomani Jones and Nick Wright were highly critical of the Niners' management of Lance on the latest episode of What’s Wright.
Neither Wright nor Jones is confident Lance is ready to be a star in the NFL, but they remain confounded by how 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan and many other NFL fans and media are responding to the situation. To put it simply, they do not understand why everyone is so quickly willing to give up on a consensus top-10 prospect before he has turned 24 or made five starts in the NFL.
“I want to make this very clear, I am not arguing that Trey Lance is awesome,” Wright said. “I have no clue. I am stating the fact that the biggest quarterback busts ever, all got three times, four times, five times the opportunity to show whether or not they could play. Jamarcus Russell, Tim Couch, Ryan Leaf, Zach Wilson.”
“Trey Lance has started four games. One of them, by the way, he broke his leg three plays in. Another one was in a monsoon the week before. The San Francisco 49ers took a player who barely played D-2 college football, traded three first-round picks for him.
Then, after they got to an NFC Championship Game with their quarterback said, ‘You can’t play for us anymore. We’re locking you out of the building. Had Brock Purdy on the team. Said Trey Lance is our unquestioned Week 1 starter. He played a game in a monsoon, played three plays in another game broke his leg. And now, they have said, he is out, maybe not even the backup, and Brock Purdy, the final pick in the draft who we passed on seven times before drafting him, is our unquestioned starter.”
“The Black quarterback level of this is the lack of patience,” Jones said. “I don’t necessarily mean that from Shanahan, I mean that from fans. ‘Hey Lance stinks,’ You’ve seen him play like three games! Like I am amazed at how certain they are after seeing him play three games and how certain they are that Purdy is awesome after seeing a similar sample size to which you had before you said Jimmy Garoppolo was awesome before you ultimately understood Jimmy Garoppolo was simply Jimmy Garoppolo.”
“I don’t think this is a sunk cost fallacy... Once you decide we’re going to trade three first-round picks to go get this guy, you’re not saying, and we’re going to see how this works out. ‘We’re going to make this work! We’re going to show up every day! There’s going to be someone with Trey on the phone going through the playbook, whatever it is!’ And maybe they’re doing these things, but I’ve seen no investment from the team.”
The most appalling thing to Wright and Jones about the team’s handling of the quarterback depth chart, though, is the fact that Darnold even had a chance to usurp Lance on the depth chart. (NOTE: They recorded the podcast a day before it was confirmed that Darnold would be the quarterback two).
“You’re telling me that Sam Darnold still has a chance to get better, and Trey Lance does not,” Jones said. “And Sam Darnold, at his worst, who got all the opportunities, simply did not look like an NFL quarterback. But people are still willing to bet on the idea of Sam Darnold as the backup here than Trey Lance.”
Toward the end of the segment, Jones brought up Shanahan’s history with Robert Griffin III, the only other top quarterback prospect he has ever worked with and raised questions about his handling of young signal-callers.
“This is another big one... this will be the second time you had a top-three quarterback and broke him,” Jones said. “And we blamed it the last time on the other guy, Robert Griffin, we blamed it on injuries, everything else. But what was so wild about Griffin by the time you go to Year 3, and Shanahan was gone by then, but by the time you got to year three, he looked like he forgot how to do stuff he knew how to do before.”
Kyle Shanahan has undeniably had a successful tenure at the helm of the 49ers. With that said, it’s hard not to look at his management of the quarterback position as one of the few areas he has consistently mishandled.
Since Shanahan joined the 49ers, he chose to sign Brian Hoyer and Matt Barkley over re-signing Colin Kaepernick. Then chose not to pursue quarterbacks in the first round of a draft that included Patrick Mahomes and Deshaun Watson because Kirk Cousins was slated to be a free agent in a year.
Instead, they drafted defensive lineman Solomon Thomas in the first round and quarterback C.J. Beathard (who was viewed by most as a Day 3 prospect) in the third round.
Then, they traded for and extended Garoppolo. It’s worth pointing out that even after they acquired Jimmy G, they likely could have recouped the second-round pick they traded (and possibly more) the following offseason and still signed Cousins. Two seasons later, they decided to stick with Garoppolo over adding Tom Brady. Then, they traded three first-round picks and a third-round pick for Lance, passing on Justin Fields and Mac Jones (who they likely could have drafted with their original pick).
You can watch the full episode here (they begin talking about Lance at the 52:30 mark):