Following their NFC Championship game defeat, the San Francisco 49ers will have some interesting decisions heading into the off-season when it comes to what they want to do at quarterback. After an incredibly successful season, San Francisco was forced to play their fourth string quarterback Josh Johnson early in the conference title game. Now the big question is who should the organization invest in under center to try to take the next step, after reaching the NFC Championship in three of the last four seasons.
With Tom Brady announcing his retirement (for a second time), that puts to bed any rumors that the Bay Area kid would consider moving back to Northern California to play for his hometown team. Still, there are several interesting scenarios for the 49ers quarterback room moving forward. Let's break down some of the possible options for San Francisco.
Keep Brock Purdy and Trade Trey Lance
While the 49ers struck gold with Brock Purdy, the 23-year-old quarterback tore the UCL in his right elbow during the NFC Championship game and is set for surgery this off-season. With several years left on his cheap rookie contract, the 49ers can go full steam ahead with Brock leading the charge and attempt to use the money they save by having an inexpensive starting quarterback. This move would allow them to pay a roster chock-full of talented defensive and offensive game breakers. With Jimmy Garoppolo an unrestricted free-agent, the 49ers will be able to use his salary cap space and will likely receive a compensatory draft pick when he signs with another team.
If the team opts to trade Trey Lance, they can recoup some of the draft capital they gave up to bring Christian McCaffrey over in a trade from Carolina. Moving up to draft Lance in 2021 actually cost the team its first round pick this year, so when you combine that with what they gave up for McCaffrey, San Francisco doesn't have a non-compensatory draft selection in 2023 until the 5th round. While Trey Lance won't return as much on the open market as it cost to move up and draft him in 2023, he was the 3rd overall pick and still has three years of team control remaining on his contract. Moving Lance to a competitor for multiple picks will drastically help the 49ers refill some of the 2023 selections they are missing.
With Purdy's ability to run Shannahan's offense successfully, and what many believe is still a high upside for the QB, San Francisco can remain comfortable under center for several years provided Purdy continues to improve and reach that potential.
Keep Both Brock Purdy and Trey Lance
After the horrendous injury luck of 2022, no one in the league should understand the value of having a strong backup option at quarterback like the San Francisco 49ers. Both young quarterbacks still have multiple seasons under franchise control and reasonable contracts, so the idea of investing in both and promoting open competition between the two might not be the worst idea. If Lance performs well either filling in or by winning the job from Purdy, then the stock of either player might rise and it's possible the 49ers could get a better return for them on the trade market. In the meantime, San Francisco may opt to trade another talented player to save some cap space and refill some of those missing draft picks.
While keeping both quarterbacks may lead to some controversy in the media, as long as the organization is able to handle it well internally it may give the 49ers the best chance to take a big step forward.
Keep Jimmy Garoppolo and Trade Either Purdy or Lance
While this is possibly an expensive option, because Garoppolo is an unrestricted free agent and would require a substantial contract, you can't deny the improvement in the 49ers in the games that Jimmy G was under center. Garoppolo threw 16 touchdowns to just 4 interceptions this season, with a quarterback rating of 103.0. The 49ers were 7-3 in games this season when Garoppolo had at least 20 pass attempts.
Plus, the market for Purdy might be at its peak, returning far more than the last pick in the draft that the 49ers invested in him just last year. Should the 49ers opt to keep Purdy and trade Lance they would have a strong backup option to Garoppolo and can continue to groom Purdy into a high end NFL QB.
While this option is unlikely, we must remember the fickle nature of the NFL. After the 49ers lost the Super Bowl, the conventional thought was the team needed an upgrade at quarterback over Garoppolo. Yet after Lance was injured this year, you could see how much the team galvanized behind the veteran's return to the starting lineup. In fact, if it weren't for his broken foot and the impressive play of Purdy, this column might be all about why the 49ers are crazy if they don't re-sign Jimmy G.
It's not as wild an idea as it sounds to run it back with a healthy Garoppolo.
Build Around Lance and Trade Purdy
On paper this seems like a strange choice, but there is a reason why the 49ers traded so much to select Lance in the first place. His dynamic ability as an athlete along with his strong arm would be an absolute terror at full potential alongside all the other weapons in the 49ers backfield.
While Lance was admittedly a project when he was selected from North Dakota State, we have yet to see what he is capable of after an entire year and off-season in the NFL. This season Lance started in dismal weather conditions in Week 1 and then was injured after just 3 pass attempts in Week 2.
Players like Mahomes, Brady, Hurts and Rodgers have all had strong careers after sitting most, if not all, of their rookie seasons. It's not unfathomable that Lance can still reach the higher parts of the potential that made him the third overall pick, provided he makes a full recovery from his fractured right ankle.
With Purdy's value so high after his 8-0 record in the games in which he had more than 20 pass attempts, a team might be willing to overpay for his services, which could truly help the 49ers in the long run.
Whatever decision San Francisco makes, it will have a major impact on the quarterback market this off-season. And if history serves as a good reference, they probably want to make sure they have a backup plan, or four, just in case.
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