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49ers Mailbag: What happens if Sam Darnold beats out Trey Lance? Which rookie will play the most in 2023? Which question stumped us?

Marc Adams
May 31, 2023 at 9:25 AM--

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What happens if Sam Darnold beats out Trey Lance? We're answering this question and others in this week's edition of the 49ers Webzone Mailbag.

It's week two of OTAs, and the 49ers will have a session open to the media on Wednesday. It may even be happening as you're reading this. And Brock Purdy is believed to start throwing a ball this week (though probably not a regular football).

But for now, ignore those reports, and let's jump into our latest mailbag and answer your questions.

Who's starting on Opening Day at FS? - Chris W.

The 49ers re-signed veteran free safety Tashaun Gipson to a one-year deal and drafted Penn State safety Ji'Ayir Brown back in April. Brown is the future starting free safety. That future is most likely to begin in 2024 unless Gipson gets hurt this season. Or maybe Gipson shows that he's lost a step or two over the past year, and Brown overtakes him this season.

But for opening day—it's Gipson, barring injury.

If Sam Darnold beats Trey Lance in this off-season QB competition, do the 49ers push to trade Lance? - William B.

For months, I've stood by my belief that the 49ers will not trade Trey Lance. I just find it hard to believe that they would give up so quickly on a player with that much talent, and in whom you invested so much drafted capital. But I'm starting to see that the 49ers don't always do what I think they will do. I wrote earlier this week about how Kyle Shanahan seems to give up on his QBs too quickly. So there's that, as well.

I still don't think they'll trade Lance this offseason. But I also won't be stunned if they do.

My preference would be to keep Lance, regardless. This team suffers a lot of injuries at the QB position. Last season, the number four quarterback got the chance to play, and had there been a QB5, he would've played, too.

Then again, if Lance can't beat out Sam Darnold, maybe he's not worth holding on to.

Who starts at QB Week 1 if:

  1. All 3 QBs are good and ready to go?
  2. Purdy's not ready yet, and Trey has a poor preseason?
  3. Purdy's just about ready, but Trey's looking good, giving Shanny to justify/rationalize starting Trey? - Chris W.

1. The 49ers have already told us Purdy is the starter once he's healthy. I think Lance would have to turn water into wine or do something else to wow them in training camp and preseason to win the starting job right now.

2. If Lance has a poor training camp and preseason, and Sam Darnold looks great, I wouldn't put it past Shanahan to start Darnold until Purdy is ready. Multiple people have said that Shanahan has loved Darnold for years.

3. I think Lance would start in this scenario, but again, he'd have to convince Shanahan that he's a better option than Purdy. That's going to take more than one week.

Keep in mind that what goes on in the joint practices, with other teams, is a lot more important than the preseason games. What the QBs show in those practices will go a long way in deciding who starts week one. But if I'm putting money on it, it's a healthy Purdy, or Lance, if Purdy isn't healthy.

Which one of the 2023 49ers draft picks do you expect to get the most playing time early in the season? - Jeffrey W.

The obvious answer is Jake Moody, the kicker. As Matt Maiocco, of NBC Sports Bay Area, put it, Moody will impact the 49ers' success (one way or another) more than any rookie this season.

But I'm sure you're wondering which rookie (that's not a kicker) will play the most. Keep an eye on Brown and Darrell Luter, Jr. Not only might they see Special Team's snaps, but if there's an injury, they will see a lot more playing time. Plus, their defensive coordinator, Steve Wilks, likes them and probably had a hand in selecting them.

Also, watch out for what happens with Dee Winters and Jalen Graham. Winters should be the favorite of the two, but Graham has reportedly looked better so far in rookie minicamp and OTAs. I would guess both are behind Marcelino McCrary-Ball, though.

The interesting thing will be what the team does with Brayden Willis. Will he be a tight end, a fullback, or both?

If the Raiders end up voiding that Jimmy G contract because of his injury, will that affect the comp pick formula, given that right now (I think) Jimmy and Hargrave cancel each other out? Will the Niners lose a comp pick? - Missing Link

This is a great question. In fact, it's so good, I had to ask for some help. I reached out to Maiocco. Here's what he had to say:

"First off, I'm not an expert when it comes to projecting comp picks, but I'm still certain that if Jimmy Garoppolo does not play a down for the Raiders and never receives a penny from them, the 49ers would get nothing in return. From the NFL, the comp pick formula takes into account a player's average salary per year, snap count and postseason awards. So no money + no snaps + no postseason awards . . . well, you get the picture."

There are others who are saying the opposite of what Maiocco said. And Matt even said he's not an expert on NFL comp picks. Chris Wilson, one of our writers, spoke with two different guys from They both said the 49ers would still receive a comp pick for Garoppolo if he was released. But if you look at the compensatory picks chart on, Garoppolo isn't even listed there.

It's no wonder that Maiocco isn't an expert and that I am having trouble finding an answer. It's confusing and complicated. And the NFL doesn't always make all the rules easy to discover.

So to answer the question, I don't fully know what will happen if Garoppolo's contract gets voided. Missing Link has stumped us. I doubt he'll be the last to do so.

Who's starting on Opening Day at nickelback? - Chris W.

Isaiah Oliver is "the leader in the clubhouse." And I don't expect that will change. Wilks said the 49ers needed to find a good nickel corner and signed one of the best out there. So that tells me the team is really high on him. Plus, Wilks knows defensive backs, which is why I listen to him when he speaks about them.

Oliver had a good OTA session last week when the media was present, using his long arms to break up some passes. That's especially impressive during this part of the off-season where defensive backs really can't put their hands on a receiver. OTAs and Minicamps are typically more advantageous for the offense, particularly the passing game. So it's nice to hear that Oliver stood out.

What do you make of the Seahawks' offseason moves? Are they legit competitors for the NFC West crown? - Bill M.

Yes, the Seattle Seahawks are making me nervous, and they are a legitimate contender for the NFC West. They were good last season. They should be even better this season, especially in the secondary.

But it's the seasons to come (beyond 2023) that have me the most concerned. They're building a really talented, young roster that has a chance to be contenders for a while.

Let's hope Geno Smith reverts back to his old ways.

That's all we have for this mailbag session. Now, everyone get back to scouring Twitter for nuggets from OTAs.
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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