Should Trey Lance be considered an NFL draft bust?

Trey Lance | Mandatory Credit: Daniel Bartel-USA TODAY Sports
Trey Lance | Mandatory Credit: Daniel Bartel-USA TODAY Sports /

The San Francisco 49ers announced on Wednesday that Brock Purdy and Sam Darnold would assume the QB1 and QB2 spots, respectively. In doing so, the franchise effectively admitted to missing the mark with Trey Lance after trading several high-end draft picks to acquire him at the 2021 NFL Draft.

Trey Lance: A Bust Or A Victim?

Lance’s time in the Bay Area has been marred by injuries and the inability to stay on the field for live reps. Jimmy Garoppolo was thought to be the ideal bridge for the team’s young signal-caller, providing him a full year to learn the ropes from the sideline. Thanks to an injury to Jimmy G, Lance ended up starting two games as a rookie.

The returns were decent at best but good enough for head coach Kyle Shanahan to announce Lance as the Week 1 starter for the 2022 season. Alas, the North Dakota State alum would suffer a broken right ankle, shelving him for the remainder of the season.

Luckily for Shanahan and Co. — and unluckily for Lance — former Mr. Irrelevant, Brock Purdy, took the reins and never looked back. He won every game he started in the regular season and even had the Niners in position to make another Super Bowl appearance. Unfortunately, Purdy would tear a ligament in his arm, leaving the dominant Philadelphia Eagles to eviscerate a quarterback-less squad.

Jimmy Garoppolo Out; Sam Darnold In

Entering this most recent offseason, San Fran and Garoppolo officially parted ways, with the latter signing a lucrative three-year deal with the Las Vegas Raiders. To fill his shoes as the veteran pretense in the quarterback room, general manager John Lynch signed Sam Darnold.

Darnold, a former No. 3 overall pick, immediately became a favorite of the coaching staff. His professionalism and experience gave the young signal-callers someone to help ease their development. Now, you might say, “Why would anyone want to learn from Darnold?”

To that I say, the New York Jets and Carolina Panthers deserve just as much blame for Darnold’s failure. With a fresh start in the Bay Area, the USC product has settled in and cemented himself as the primary backup to Brock Purdy.

Speaking of Purdy, the Niners expect him to be ready for the opening contest vs. the Steelers. They said as much by naming the seventh-rounder as the team’s unquestioned QB1. Lance is now left without a seat at the table, at least not the seat he coveted. So, what’s next? Who is to blame?

Can The Niners Recoup Any Value In A Trey Lance Trade?

Let’s tackle the “what’s next” question first. Either the Niners will keep Lance around as the third option, or they will trade him to the highest bidder. Given how late in the offseason it is, predicting a team to trade for (and start) the unproven quarterback is not realistic.

Instead, a team like the Minnesota Vikings or Denver Broncos could present the best outcome for all parties. San Fran would recoup some draft capital in a trade, while the Vikings or Broncos could get a high-upside potential successor to Kirk Cousins or Russell Wilson, respectively.

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As far as what the Niners can expect in return — it won’t be much. Perhaps a middle Day 2 pick is the best-case scenario, while a fourth-rounder seems more likely. Would Minnesota or Denver be willing to pay that price? Your guess is as good as mine, but I would say yes.

Now, the more nuanced question of, “Who deserves blame?”

San Fran traded too much to come up the board for Trey Lance. Not only that, but they also did not allow Lance to develop organically. He was always a prospect that desperately needed on-field reps — not more time on the sideline.

The Niners And Trey Lance Deserve Equal Blame

Sure, the Niners saw a window to win a Super Bowl with Jimmy Garoppolo at the helm; that’s fair. However, you can’t make such a lofty investment in a young quarterback and keep him glued to the bench. Not when it’s clear he needs more live-action.

Still, it can’t all be the franchise’s fault. Lance himself was unable to stay on the field due to injury and inconsistent play. He still looks like the same player that was taken in 2021, which is not a promising thing to say about such a raw prospect.

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Lance was supposed to be “the guy” for the next decade and a half in San Fran. But neither side held up their end of the bargain. Hopefully, a trade manifests itself, and Lance gets a chance to prove himself elsewhere. As for the Niners, they might have lucked their way into “the guy” anyway.

The success of Brock Purdy will always be weighed against Lance’s accomplishments — fair or not. Ideally, we will look up in a few years, and both men will be QB1’s.