It turns out the San Francisco 49ers knew quarterback Brock Purdy might start all the way back in training camp. Nope, not in 2023. Back during the 2022 training camp, Purdy’s rookie season.
49ers owner and CEO Jed York met with the media on Thursday, and as one might expect, the topic of Brock Purdy came up. York was quick to tell an amusing story of how Shanahan thought Purdy may have been the best quarterback on the roster—in a year that Trey Lance was planned to be the unquestioned starter.
“Coach came up to us after practice and said, “Hey, we gotta talk.”
“That’s generally not a good thing when your coach tells you you’ve got to talk.
“I’m like, “Alright, what’s up?”
“And he’s like, “I think our third-string quarterback is our best quarterback.”
‘“Ok, What does that mean?”
‘“Obviously, we’ve invested in Trey, and Trey is doing a good job. We’re going to do everything we can; we’re not going to change it. We’re not going to change the chart—the depth chart—I think Brock will end up being our quarterback at some point.”
“He didn’t force it. You had two injuries, and that’s how Brock ended up playing. He’s always honest. One thing owners don’t love to hear when they’ve invested money and/or draft picks or both into people, that the last pic in the draft is the guy that we think is the best. That’s generally not great news.
“But he’s honest. He let it play out the right way. You know Brock, I think; ironically, his first game was against the Chiefs; he had some mop-up time. I think he threw one ball into the stands. I may or may not have had some sarcastic comments for Kyle postgame.
“When Brock took over last year, I think we had a calm about us, but there was a sense of “nothing catches you by surprise. You might not love everything Kyle tells you. But he’s always open and honest, especially in the moment. He’s been very clear about that with me. “
There is no way that conversation is not awkward and uncomfortable. You are just over a year removed from getting the owner to back you in one of the riskiest gambles in NFL history, trading two future No. 1 draft picks.
A gamble that required owner approval to execute. Now it’s your project’s first year starting, and some quarterback you drafted with your last pick walked in and demonstrated he might be the best?
One thing missing from the above exchange is someone saying, “Uh-oh.”
To be fair, everyone knew Lance was raw and a project. He was not drafted on what he was but what his ceiling entailed. He absolutely needed to play more football, and that was the plan for 2022.
This conversation doesn’t say Purdy was predicted to be better than Lance and the future, nor that Lance was no good. At the time, the kid who played 40+ starts and threw exponentially more passes just looked better than their raw prospect and may be stepping in at some point. Brock Purdy may have looked the best, but Tom Brady looked the best in his second season, and the Patriots went with Drew Bledsoe to start.
There’s a better thing to take from the above, and that’s how York handles the football side of the business. Many criticized him for not getting out of the way and letting the football minds run the football things. A meddling owner has been known to force starters on a coach before. Mainly when so much was mortgaged to get the player on the team in the first place.
York isn’t meddling here. Shanahan went to him immediately to tell him the situation and then went back to running his team. That’s all that’s needed. York could have forced Shanahan to keep Lance and make it work since they gave up so much for the quarterback. Kind of a “Hey, you wanted him, you’re stuck with him,” but you saw Lance get traded to the Dallas Cowboys once it was clear he couldn’t be the backup in San Francisco.
York is letting his football people make the decisions. He’s grown a lot since butting heads with Jim Harbaugh and listening to Trent Baalke suggest Jim Tomsula as a head coach.