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49ers’ QB drama: Team shopping Trey Lance, fumbles news

Marc Adams
Aug 24, 2023 at 9:10 AM--

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Where were you on Wednesday when the news dropped? First, Tom Pelissero and Ian Rapoport put the word out that Sam Darnold had been named the 49ers' backup quarterback and that the team was considering all options, including trading Trey Lance. Shortly after, 49ers beat writers began reporting that Lance was not at practice.

If the 49ers do indeed move on from Lance, the 2021 number-three overall draft pick, it would be a colossal blunder and one of the worst trades in team history—if not the worst. And that's saying a lot, considering the 49ers once traded their second and third-round picks in 1978, first and fourth-round picks in 1979, and a 1980 second-rounder to acquire an aging O.J. Simpson. That 1979 first-rounder would become the number-one overall pick. Simpson rushed for only 1,053 in two seasons in San Francisco.

And of course, there was the 1992 trade that went the other way and cost the 49ers at least two more Super Bowls, when the 49ers traded Charles Haley to the Dallas Cowboys.

That the trade for Lance may be listed among those terrible trades says all we need to know. Nick Wright went on with "The Herd w/Colin Cowherd," and had some strong words for how the 49ers have handled the Trey Lance saga, saying, "The process for the San Francisco 49ers over the last three years regarding Trey Lance has been the most unprofessional I've ever seen in pro sports."

It's hard to argue with the fact that the 49ers have muffed this punt, but I'm not sure it's the most unprofessional handling of a process ever. After all, the Cleveland Browns did trade for Deshaun Watson last year. But the 49ers have fumbled the entire Trey Lance experience. Here are some of their biggest mistakes throughout this saga:

Spending too much on a project

The 49ers used three 1st-round draft picks on Lance, plus a third-rounder. That is a ton of draft capital to give up, especially for a player that needed a lot of development. Typically, you only see teams giving up this much when they are not a good team and are looking to rebuild by drafting a franchise QB.

But the 49ers weren't a bad team. They had been in the Super Bowl following the 2019 season, and still had a lot of great players. But Kyle Shanahan was ready to move on from starter Jimmy Garoppolo, so they made the move up to number three, in order to draft a franchise quarterback.

They just happened to pick the one they needed to be most patient with and were unable to provide that patience.

Passing on future stars

In moving up and drafting Lance, the 49ers passed on some very talented players who could have potentially helped them win a Super Bowl already. Remember, they had a 10-point lead in the 4th quarter of the 2021 NFC Championship Game, in Lance's rookie season.

Some of the players they could have drafted in 2021 include Ja'Marr Chase, Jaylen Waddle, Patrick Surtain II, and Micah Parsons, just to name a few. Or they could have stayed put and drafted Justin Fields. Had they done so, they would have still had first-round picks in 2022 and 2023.

Imagine Chase with Deebo Samuel and Brandon Aiyuk. Or even better, imagine Parsons lined up on the other side of Nick Bosa. There were also some offensive tackles and cornerbacks they could have drafted.

It's one thing to pay a hefty price for a player, but to pay that price for a player who never plays, while passing on future stars, is an entirely different issue.

Not giving Lance enough opportunities

In Lance's rookie season, Shanahan started off doing something smart, something Bill Walsh had done with Joe Montana early on. He put Lance in the game in certain spots where he could use Lance's mobility and talent to get him some experience, as well as give the 49ers offense a little spark. And it was working. In those situations early in the season, when Lance came in, good things happened.

But according to rumors, some of the veteran players didn't like it. They thought it was disrespectful to Garoppolo, and wanted the coach to stop doing it. So Shanahan listened and stopped using Lance in those situations. As a result, the rookie only played when Garoppolo was injured. It wasn't exactly the best scenario in which a young quarterback could learn.

Lance entered his second season having played only 10 quarters, which was not a lot, especially considering he didn't play much in college. After playing in a stormy game in Chicago, Lance was injured early in the second game of the 2022 season and missed the rest of the year.

So if the 49ers are moving on from Lance, they are doing so in record time. Nick Wagoner, of ESPN, said, "If the 49ers do trade Trey Lance and he doesn't play in a regular season game again for them, he will have played in 8 games with the team. That would mean he played the fewest games by a top-5 pick for the franchise he debuted with in the common draft era (since 1967)." Stunning!

Shopping Lance all offseason

About an hour after the news broke on Wednesday, Dianna Russini reported, "While the 49ers are exploring trade possibilities for Trey Lance, the front office has been shopping him for much of the offseason, according to a league source. The team never received a significant trade offer."

An hour after that, Russini tweeted, "While the Trey Lance market may be quiet for now, this past spring the 49ers and Vikings had serious conversations about a trade for Lance, but talks fell apart, according to league sources."

This makes sense, and I've wondered for months now, why Darnold would have come to the 49ers, thinking he could potentially end up being the 3rd-string QB. And why would Brandon Allen sign with the 49ers, after spending time as Joe Burrow's backup in Cincinnati, in order to be the 4th-string QB? The answer? They wouldn't. I was suspicious of this, but never thought the 49ers would trade Lance. But now it all makes sense. Shanahan (or John Lynch or someone) must have told them Lance wouldn't be here long.

I know it's a business, but this seems dirty. Shanahan treated Garoppolo like trash. And now he's done it to Lance.

I will add that this morning, on KNBR radio, Lynch reacted to Russini's report, saying, "That's not accurate. If I responded to every report, I'd have no time in my day, but that is not accurate."

Not telling the team the news

Shanahan told the media (the day before) that he would make a decision on the backup quarterback position before the Pittsburgh game, but changed his mind and went ahead and made the QB2 decision, then informed Lance (and probably Darnold) of his decision. But he didn't tell the rest of the team. After practice, the players still didn't seem to know what was going on. Fred Warner met with the media and was asked about it. He said, "I'm not even sure. It was just weird seeing three guys out there. I didn't know where Trey was."

Warner is a team captain and the leader of the defense. How can you not tell him what's going on? If Shanahan was willing to abide by players' wishes to not put Lance in as a rookie, why wasn't he willing to tell them about why Lance was not at practice? Lynch said on KNBR this morning, "Never did we think all that would get out."

It's short-sighted to think that something this big wouldn't get out. This is why they should have told the players before practice, so they didn't have to hear about it later from reporters, on social media, or through texts, etc.

"I mean, honestly, I don't know much about the situation," Warner explained. "Complete honesty. I came out to practice, I saw there were only three quarterbacks out there. Trey's not out there. So, I'm trying to ask around to see what's going on, and there's not a clear answer right now.

"Obviously, love Trey. I don't know what's going on with him right now or what's going to be next, but, yeah, we just got to keep preparing, get ready."

It just seems wrong that the players, or at least the captains, weren't told. I was hoping those reports were incorrect, but after Warner met with the media, I knew it was true. The Lynch confirmed it this morning.

Not meeting with the media after practice

The biggest fumbling of the announcement centers around the players not being told. But a close second is the fact that neither Shanahan nor Lynch met with the media after practice. Warner did. Javon Hargrave did. But no head coach. No general manager. I find this puzzling. They are normally pretty upfront about things, but this is out of character.

Sure, Shanahan went on KNBR yesterday, and Lynch this morning, but that's not the same as meeting with the beat reporters and answering their questions.

In the end, we still don't know what's going to happen with Trey Lance. Maybe he'll be traded. Maybe he'll stay with the team. Lynch did say that Lance is in the building and will be practicing today (Thursday). Maybe Brock Purdy and Sam Darnold both go down with an injury, or just flop, and Lance gets his chance.

It's safe to say that unless that happens, and Lance becomes the 49ers' franchise QB, the 49ers have made a mess of this entire situation. And if Lance is traded, becomes a star, and Purdy fizzles out, Lynch and Shanahan may not survive this.
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