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Have the 49ers anointed Brock Purdy too soon?

Marc Adams
May 29, 2023 at 9:00 AM--

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As the sun rose over the horizon, fans of the San Francisco 49ers came from all over, with great anticipation, as General Manager, John Lynch, slowly trudged his way upon the hill, disappearing into the fog for just a moment, and reappearing with Kyle Shanahan, to proclaim Brock Purdy the heir to the 49ers' QB throne. (Cue the "Circle of Life" track!)

Alright, so it wasn't exactly like that. But the 49ers' brass has made it a point this offseason to ensure everyone knows Purdy is the team's starting quarterback, once he's healthy. And while it may have lacked the drama of a scene from The Lion King, the declaration was just as impactful. (You know, if we could have had Lynch look out over the kingdom, and then hold young Purdy up in front of the team's cheering fans…sorry, I'm a little overly dramatic, at times.)

Fans will argue over it, writers will write about it, and media members and content creators will discuss it. Who knows, maybe the players will even talk about it. One thing is for sure, the 49ers quarterback situation is always a hot topic.

The 49ers obviously believe Purdy gives them the best chance to win. That they would crown the second-year QB as "the leader in the clubhouse," after he sustained a serious injury to his throwing elbow, either says a lot about how they see Purdy or a lot about how they see his backups—Trey Lance and Sam Darnold.

Purdy was great last season for the 49ers, and was undefeated in every game, except for the last one, in which he was injured. The 49ers could have been back in the Super Bowl if he had not been injured.

I have plenty of respect for Purdy. And I believe in him. But I also have concerns that the 49ers may have anointed him too soon.

What are my concerns? I'm glad you asked. Here are my four concerns that the 49ers have been too quick to proclaim Purdy QB1:

1. They have a history of crowning starters too quickly.

After acquiring Garoppolo via trade on Halloween in 2017, the 49ers hoped they might have their new QB. Garoppolo responded by leading the team to a 5-0 record over the final five weeks of the season. The 49ers, now seemingly convinced they had their guy, made Garoppolo the highest-paid quarterback in NFL history that offseason.

After only five starts.

Count me as one of the ones who was all-in on Garoppolo. But I was a little concerned that they were paying him so much after so few starts. Can you really know he's the guy after only five games?

Fast forward three off-seasons. The 49ers now wanted a QB who was more dynamic. They had watched Buffalo Bills quarterback, Josh Allen, dismantle their defense in a 2020 game at Levi's Stadium. Shanahan wanted a signal-caller who could do similar things.

So the team traded their 2021 first-round pick, along with two others, for the third overall selection. And with that pick, drafted Lance.

In drafting Lance, they declared him as the future king. Everyone knew Lance needed time to develop. But less than a year after drafting him, the 49ers decided that after only 10 quarters of NFL game experience, Lance was ready to be crowned.

And now, after playing in less than nine games with the 49ers, Purdy has been anointed the new Emporer of Camelot.

So to recap: Garoppolo is chosen after five starts, Lance after two starts, and Purdy after eight.

Is eight games enough time to be certain?

2. They have a history of giving up on quarterbacks too soon.

The 49ers anointed Garoppolo after five starts but then began looking for his replacement only two years later.

Many will point to the NFC Championship Game in January 2020, as a sign that Shanahan had already given up on his QB. The week before, in a Divisional Round playoff game against the Minnesota Vikings, Garoppolo had thrown a bad interception. The game plan appeared to become more conservative after that.

Then in the NFC Championship Game against the Green Bay Packers, it looked even more so, with Garoppolo throwing the ball only eight times. Eight passes for the winning team, in a championship game is unheard of. But the 49ers did it.

People like to point to that and say Shanahan didn't trust Garoppolo to throw the ball even 10 times, in what was his biggest game as a head coach at that point. But they forget that Raheem Mostert rushed for 220 yards that day. They also fail to mention that Garoppolo threw the ball 31 times in Super Bowl LIV, two weeks later, when they probably should have run the ball more.

And while I don't believe the NFC Championship Game proves Shanahan lost faith in Garoppolo, it certainly began to look that way that offseason when they discussed the possibility of signing Tom Brady.

The next offseason, they flirted with Matthew Stafford, and Aaron Rodgers, and made the big trade to get Lance. For a guy they couldn't wait to sign to a massive contract, they soured on Garoppolo quickly, and couldn't wait to get rid of him.

And how about Lance? He's played less than 15 quarters as a pro, and it already looks like they've given up on him.

The 49ers will tell you they believe in Lance. But the signing of Darnold, and the fact that they declared Purdy QB1 when he still only had one arm, speaks volumes. Not to mention the many, many rumors from national media suggesting the 49ers no longer have faith in Lance, or that they plan to trade the third-year player.

Will they give up on Purdy after a few bad games, as well?

3. They have a history of injuries at the position.

Garoppolo suffered five injuries with the 49ers. He missed 35 games (out of 99) during his five full seasons due to injury (including the postseason). Two of those injuries were season-ending, and another (ankle in 2020) cost him the majority of the season. And now Garoppolo is missing OTAs for his new team, the Las Vegas Raiders, because of another surgery.

Lance has sustained three injuries in his two seasons with the 49ers. Again, he's started only four games. His first injury, the finger injury, apparently altered his mechanics enough that it affected his passes, even into last season. This is according to Shanahan.

Purdy started eight games and has already been injured twice. His first injury didn't cost him any games lost, but the second one might. If it had occurred during the season, it most certainly would have. At a minimum, it's cost him valuable off-season work.

Purdy isn't a big guy either. Will he be able to stay healthy?

4. They may be ignoring a certain running back's impact.

The offense was more productive under Purdy and scored more points after he grabbed hold of the reins. But, Purdy had one thing that Garoppolo didn't have for very long, and that Lance never had—Christian McCaffrey.

The star running back was signed mid-season and changed the San Francisco offense. Garoppolo played with McCaffrey for about four games (excluding the Kansas City game when McCaffrey had just arrived). Purdy had McCaffrey for eight games before sustaining his elbow injury. With McCaffrey, the 49ers scored over 30 points in eight out of 13 games (excluding Kansas City).

Garoppolo looked better with McCaffrey than he did without him. What would Lance have looked like? Would the 49ers' offense have become more dynamic?

The 49ers desperately need to find a franchise quarterback. Is it Purdy? It very well could be. It just may be too early to anoint him as such.
The opinions within this article are those of the writer and, while just as important, are not necessarily those of the site as a whole.


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