The San Francisco 49ers made a shocking move on Wednesday when they traded their 2021 No. 3 overall draft pick, quarterback Trey Lance, to the Dallas Cowboys for a fourth-round pick. The trade ended Lance’s disappointing tenure with the 49ers, which lasted only two-plus years and four starts.
Lance failed to live up to expectations
The 49ers had high hopes for Lance when they traded three first-round picks to move up from No. 12 to No. 3 in the 2021 NFL Draft. They selected the North Dakota State quarterback, who had only played one full season of college football, over other prospects such as Justin Fields and Mac Jones.
However, Lance struggled to adjust to the NFL level and never established himself as the franchise quarterback the 49ers envisioned. He battled injuries, inconsistency and poor decision-making throughout his brief career in San Francisco. He completed only 54.7 percent of his passes for 1,021 yards, six touchdowns and nine interceptions. He also ran for 198 yards and two touchdowns on 32 carries.
Lance started four games for the 49ers, but lost three of them. His only win came against the Detroit Lions in Week 1 of the 2022 season, when he threw for 248 yards and two touchdowns with one interception. He also suffered a shoulder injury in that game, which sidelined him for four weeks.
Lance returned to action in Week 6 against the Arizona Cardinals, but had a dismal performance. He completed only 11 of 23 passes for 89 yards and two interceptions. He also fumbled twice and was sacked four times. He was benched in the fourth quarter in favor of veteran backup Jimmy Garoppolo, who led the 49ers to a comeback win.
Lance never regained his starting job after that game, as Garoppolo led the 49ers to a 12-4 record and a playoff berth. Lance was relegated to the third-string role behind Garoppolo and rookie Brock Purdy, who was drafted with the last pick of the seventh round in the 2022 draft.
Shanahan admits drafting Lance was a mistake
In an interview with KNBR 680’s Tom Tolbert and Ray Ratto on Thursday, head coach Kyle Shanahan admitted that drafting Lance was a mistake and that he wished he could go back in time and do things differently.
“When you move up and it doesn’t work out, that’s definitely a mistake,” Shanahan said. “But we did like our decisions when we looked into the two veterans that were available and we didn’t get that and we knew what way we were going to have to go two years from then. We knew we needed to go up and get a quarterback at that time.”
Shanahan said he felt he had no choice but to trade up for a quarterback in the 2021 draft, because he did not think he would have another opportunity to do so in the future.
“We didn’t feel we’d be in a position the following year to have that option,” Shanahan explained. “One, in the draft and two, in free agency. And I think that was accurate, we ended up having the 29th pick in the draft the year after that and the following year and that would have been impossible to get up into a high pick to take a rookie quarterback.”
Shanahan said he took a huge risk by selecting Lance, who had limited experience and faced a steep learning curve.
“So that was the reasoning for it, which I do get that, but this is the risk of it. We took a huge risk that didn’t work out in that way,” Shanahan said. “That’s why I feel very fortunate we still have a rookie quarterback.”
Purdy emerges as the future of the franchise
The rookie quarterback Shanahan referred to is Purdy, who has impressed the coaching staff and teammates with his poise, accuracy and leadership. Purdy played college football at Iowa State, where he set several school records and led the Cyclones to three consecutive bowl wins.
Purdy was drafted with the No. 259 overall pick in the 2022 draft, making him Mr. Irrelevant. However, he has proven to be anything but irrelevant for the 49ers. He has outperformed Lance in practice and preseason games, earning praise from Shanahan and others.
Purdy has also seen some regular season action as Garoppolo’s backup. He has completed 18 of 25 passes for 234 yards and three touchdowns with no interceptions. He has also run for 47 yards on six carries.
Purdy is expected to take over as the starter once Garoppolo’s contract expires after this season. The 49ers believe they have found their franchise quarterback in Purdy, who has shown more promise than Lance ever did.
Cowboys take a chance on Lance
The Cowboys decided to roll the dice on Lance, hoping they can salvage his potential and turn him into a productive player. The Cowboys have been looking for a backup quarterback behind Dak Prescott, who has missed some games due to injuries.
The Cowboys traded a fourth-round pick to the 49ers for Lance, which is a low price to pay for a former No. 3 overall pick. The Cowboys hope they can develop Lance under the guidance of head coach Mike McCarthy and offensive coordinator Kellen Moore, who are both former quarterbacks themselves.
The Cowboys also have a talented offense that features star players such as Ezekiel Elliott, Amari Cooper, CeeDee Lamb and Michael Gallup. Lance will have plenty of weapons to work with if he ever gets on the field for the Cowboys.
Lance will compete with Cooper Rush and Will Grier for the backup job behind Prescott. He will also have a chance to learn from Prescott, who is one of the best quarterbacks in the league.
Lance said he is grateful for the opportunity to join the Cowboys and start fresh in a new environment.
“I’m excited to be here and be part of this organization,” Lance said. “I want to thank the 49ers for drafting me and giving me a chance, but things didn’t work out there. I’m looking forward to working hard and improving my game here. I know I have a lot to prove and I’m ready for the challenge.”