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Robert Edwards-USA TODAY Sports

Unpopular Opinion: Sam Darnold will edge out Trey Lance for 49ers backup QB spot

Chris Beno
Aug 21, 2023 at 12:30 PM--

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Before you come at me with torches and pitchforks, hear me out. 49ers QB Trey Lance played extremely well in the second preseason game against the Denver Broncos. Sam Darnold also played well but only had one scoring drive due to penalties. Neither player was great, but they weren't asked to be.

The question is what is Head Coach Kyle Shanahan looking for? What does he need to see from these guys to comfortably make that call on who will be the 49ers backup QB? Really it's all speculation, but Shanhan has historically been more infatuated with B-List QBs who will just run his system as opposed to going off script, or struggling to get in rhythm and be on time with throws. This is why I think Sam Darnold is edging out Trey Lance for the #2 job.

So far, Trey Lance has started slow in his first two preseason games. Lance seemed to be a tick late on his reads and made a few questionable throws.

But as Saturdays game went on, Lance began to settle in completing 12 of 18 pass attempts for 173 yards, 1 TD and 1INT. Top that that off with one of the more exciting ends to a preseason game that I can remember.

Trey eventually found his groove late in the 4th QTR, leading the 49ers downfield in the final minute of the game to set up the game winning field goal by rookie kicker Jake Moody. Once Lance found his rhythm he was a different QB.

Taking all emotions out of it, Trey is still unbelievably raw. We all know this and yes, he still has the bigger upside based on his physical attributes and cannon of an arm. How big of an upside? No one really knows because he gets injured every opportunity he gets. Injuries and the sudden emergence of Brock Purdy from the depths of the depth chart last year prevent the 49ers coaching staff from being able to give Trey another fair shot. If Brock Purdy never happened, then this is 100% Trey Lance's team. You can't take reps from the starting QB, especially one who is coming back from an injury like Brock Purdy is.

The last three offensive possessions the 49ers had on Saturday with Lance under center resulted in points. And for those who want to downplay his level of play because he was up against Denver's 2nd, 3rd, and possibly 4th-string defense, it really doesn't matter. Trey had to line up behind the 49ers 2nd, 3rd, and 4th string offensive line, while throwing to 2nd, 3rd and 4th string pass catches. Many of those guys probably won't make the practice squad let alone the 53-man roster; so it balances out. The throws and the reads still have to be made on time regardless of who is out there.

Which is my biggest criticism of Lance. He hesitates early on in games and is a tick too slow on his reads.

Darnold didn't exactly have the most eye-popping game. It certainly wasn't as exciting as Lance's. But he showed more poise early on in the pocket and got the ball out quick. What makes Darold's game on Saturday feel a little underwhelming is the fact that so many throws were called back due to penalties. Looking back at the game it's a little weird that Darnold was connecting on so many passes yet the scoreboard didn't reflect it. Those penalties were literally drive-killers for the 49ers.

Darnold finished the second preseason game 11 of 14 for 109 passing yards, 1 TD, and 1 INT. The lone INT came from a pass that went right through the hands of 49ers rookie WR Ronnie Bell.

Just in case you're a "follow-the-money" type of player when it comes to player movement and potential roster cuts, here's a quick summary of the top 3 QBs on the 49ers current roster.

Sam Darnold is on a one-year, $4.5 million deal with $3.5 million guaranteed per NBC Sports Bay Area. With incentives for playing time and playoffs, his contract maxes out at $11.5 million.

Lance signed a four-year rookie contract worth $34 million. This season Lance carries a base salary of $940,000 and a roster bonus of $2.8 million with $3.7 million guaranteed. Lance also carries a cap hit of $9.3 million and a dead cap value of $20 million.

It's hard to fathom that the 49ers would outright cut either player given the guarantees and potential dead cap money on their contracts. Also, given Brock Purdy's minimal $870,000 salary in 2023, carrying all 3 QBs is the most likely outcome. Especially since the 49ers ran out of QBs in the NFC Conference Championship game last year due to injuries. This team will carry 3 QBs.

The other potential outcome is trading one of the QBs before the trade deadline on October 31st. I don't see anyone trading for either Darnold or Lance... yet. But injuries happen and teams do get desperate. Looking at the current salaries Darnold would definitely be the easiest to move. Too many unknowns and risks to try and deal for Lance, especially with that cap hit, potential dead cap money and limited experience.

So why do I think Shanahan will keep Darnold as QB2? Simply because I think Shanahan values a known entity above an unknown potential risk. It's extremely evident when 49ers rookies are basically redshirted during their rookie year that Shanahan simply doesn't have the trust yet in those players. The only way rookies see the field on Shanahan's 49ers is if they have to play because of injuries. Another reason I believe Darnold will get the QB2 job is because Brock Purdy has only played in 8 games. With the Super Bowl window open for the 49ers I don't see Shanahan backing up a young QB with limited starts with a raw QB in Lance to come in and save the season.

There's nothing I want more than for Trey Lance to go above and beyond and become the franchise QB of the 49ers. I just don't think he's going to get that chance. And unfortunately for Trey, another year on the bench serves as a big disservice to him and his development. As bad as I want to see him shine in the red and gold, I just don't see where there's an opportunity to do so.
  • Chris Beno
  • Written by:
    Coming from Elk Grove, California I grew up a Bay Area sports fan. I've been cheering for the 49ers for as long as I can remember. In 2005 I joined the Army when I was 18 and got stationed at Fort Hood, Texas. I just kind of hung around here. I've always enjoyed writing and have typically focus on writing music. I am truly blessed to get to cover the 49ers, and have my articles published on the 49ers Webzone. I appreciate all of the Faithful that take the time to read the articles that myself and other contributors put out there. The 49ers have without a doubt the best fanbase, and best content creators around.
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.


  • Scott
    Every single year you wood worms come out of the walls making predictions on QB status's and every year you are wrong. Jimmy was traded 45 years ago according to you clowns. Go mow your lawn Beno! Let the Professionals actual do their work. You Grant and half the other BA sports media are Joke's.
    Aug 22, 2023 at 10:11 AM
  • Frank
    I tend to agree...while I like Trey, Darnold was definitely more decisive with his throws and showed a decent running ability. I feel Trey is still too tentative and that gets him and the offense in trouble.
    Aug 21, 2023 at 11:54 PM
  • SamIam
    What Dalegribble49 said. Trey did a great job in beating players who are future Fast-food employees and insurance salesmen. *slow clap* Sam had his scoring drive against much tougher Defenses (players who will still be NFL players). Sam is QB2. That's not even a question anymore. But I bet Kyle waits until after the final Preseason game to announce it.
    Aug 21, 2023 at 11:45 PM
  • Dalegribble49
    Saying Trey played extremely well is an exaggeration he improved on week one but that's not exactly saying much, I agree Darnold will be number 2 because he's clearly the better player at this point.
    Aug 21, 2023 at 4:52 PM

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