A year ago, Trey Lance was on the precipice of being the San Francisco 49ers’ new starting quarterback. Now, Lance’s future with the team is in doubt after the team named Sam Darnold as the team’s No. 2 quarterback behind Brock Purdy.
Lance wasn’t present at practice Wednesday, which was the head coach Kyle Shanahan’s idea after he had to tell his young quarterback the difficult news that morning. Shanahan said to “take the day off, get away” and felt it was the best thing for Lance, via ESPN.
Lance was the 49ers’ third quarterback to play in the team’s second preseason game against the Broncos. He threw an interception on his first possession under center but finished the game with 173 yards and a touchdown (along with his pick) on 12 of 18 passing. Darnold played the majority of the first half of that game and went 11 of 14 for 109 yards with a touchdown and an interception. Purdy, who recently returned from elbow surgery, started the game for the 49ers.
The third overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft, Lance started for the 49ers’ preseason opener against the Raiders. He threw for 112 yards and a touchdown (on 10 of 15 passing) and was sacked four times. Darnold played after him and went 5 of 8 for 84 yards.
Lance’s preseason numbers are largely better than Darnold’s. While his completion percentage (66.7) was lower than Darnold’s (72.7), Lance threw one more touchdown pass and had a higher passer rating (101.2 to 95.5).
“We gave [Lance] a big chance to win that 2-spot this year … it was a very tough fight, but in the long run, Sam ended up winning it,” Shanahan said Wednesday, via The Athletic. He pointed to various injuries (finger and ankle) as the main reasons for his lack of development. Lance is still expected to see some action in Friday’s preseason finale, according to ESPN.
The decision to elevate Donald while possibly shopping Lance may be more of a business decision for the 49ers. With Darnold proving that he is a capable backup, the 49ers may have figured that they can probably get more value by trading Lance, who is still just 23 years old.
Lance, who suffered an injury after just two starts last season, started four games during his first two years with the 49ers, with mixed results. The 49ers went 2-2 in those games with Lance completing just 55% of his passes with five touchdowns and three picks. But Lance was essentially thrown into the fire last year when Jimmy Garoppolo went down with a season-ending injury.
Plenty of teams could use a quality backup, so the 49ers should expect significant interest in a possible trade for Lance. What the 49ers are looking to get for him, however, could determine whether or not Lance is traded away quickly, or at all.
What is known is that Darnold has supplanted Lance on the 49ers’ depth chart. The third overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft, Darnold has had a roller coaster career. He started on subpar teams with the Jets to start his career before spending the past two seasons as a spot-starter in Carolina. He went 4-2 as the Panthers’ starting quarterback last season while throwing more than twice as many touchdown passes (7) than interceptions (3).