November 28, 2023
Coach Kyle Shanahan explained how Trey Lance went from a No. 3 overall draft pick in 2021 to getting traded Friday to the Dallas Cowboys for a fourth-round pick.

SANTA CLARA — Coach Kyle Shanahan evoked a sorrowful tone Friday in the wake of Trey Lance’s trade from the 49ers to the Dallas Cowboys.

Shanahan acted crestfallen how his 2021 No. 3 overall draft pick did not pan out. But he also sounded pleased with Lance’s opportunity on a NFC rival — one the 49ers eliminated in the last two postseasons — and the coach emphasized how solid the 49ers are positioned.

Rather than keep Lance as a No. 3 quarterback behind Brock Purdy and Sam Darnold, the 49ers acquiesced to Lance’s wishes of finding a spot where he could get needed practice reps as a No. 2, which is what he presumably will be in Dallas behind Dak Prescott.

“I always feel like I let Trey down,” Shanahan said. “I wanted him to come here. I believed in Trey. I believed in him before we took him. I’m responsible for that.”

General manager John Lynch, in a later session with reporters, said: “Love the kid. Kyle and I, when we broke the news to him today saw him light up a little bit and he loves it here. He was very appreciative of the opportunity. Like Trey, typical Trey, he apologized to us and there was nothing for him to apologize for. And we’re happy that he’s got a spot. The Cowboys came up big and I think that’s an indication that they’re excited to have him and we’re excited for Trey’s new opportunity. And we’ll always be big fans.”

A quick recap of how the 49ers’ breakup with Lance, before Shanahan’s full transcript follows:

Wednesday morning: Shanahan meets with Lance and tells him that Darnold won the No. 2 job, behind Purdy, who’s healthy and earned the No. 1 job by virtue of last season’s efforts. About 1 1/2 hours later, Lance tells Shanahan he’d like to explore trade possibilities, and that he’d like to take off practice because he was too emotional to be around his teammates.

Wednesday evening: Shanahan and Lance go over teams interested in a trade, as discovered by the 49ers and Lance’s agent.

Thursday morning: Interest picks up with other teams (the Buffalo Bills and the Cowboys were the finalists, according to a team source). The trade is consummated for a fourth-round pick, which is higher than the 49ers’ anticipated from where talks began. Brock Purdy joins other teammates near the weight room by the practice field to express their appreciation and wish him well, and Lance reciprocates by saying he’ll be watching them, too.

“Hell yeah, we’d love to just keep him, until eventually it works out,” Shanahan said. “But that clock ran out here. That’s why we had to make a real tough decision, one we didn’t enjoy doing, one we didn’t want to do, but we try to do what we think is best, and this is what we think is best.”

* * *

Here is what Shanahan said to the media after Friday night’s loss to the Chargers to close the preseason, in his first press conference since Tuesday, other than his Wednesday radio show on KNBR 680-AM:

On why a fourth-round pick was a good return rather than keep Lance:

“We decided on the two (quarterbacks) we were going with. We’ll see how the 53 works out, to see if we can keep three. We told Trey he wasn’t the (No.) 2, I said we’d like to keep him here as the (No.) 3. We also wanted to do what was good for him, too, and we’ll see how this plays out.

“When we looked into other teams and he told us he’d like another opportunity where he had a chance to be the (No.) 2, we felt we had some good deals for him. When other teams got involved, getting a fourth (round pick) was a little better than anticipated and it clears up a lot of money, and it’s a better situation for him, too.”

On if he requested a trade and if the relationship was beyond repair:

“We were good. I had a great conversation with him today. I had a tough conversation when I told him he didn’t win the No. 2 job. Today was much easier, having gone through the last couple of days with him. There was nothing to fix.

“I told him he was going to be the 3, if he could find another opportunity that was good, we’d allow him to do that. And we did.”

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On why end QB competition before the preseason finale:

“Because I knew it. I thought it would take longer. I wanted to go through this game. But I knew it. And I think a lot of guys knew. I think he had an idea. It was more about my relationship with Trey that, I’m in meetings with him every day, I’m on the field with him every day, and I could get a sense he started to feel that way. I didn’t want to B.S. him. Once we knew and I could tell he knew that we knew, the night before, I said I wanted him to come in the morning to tell him. I didn’t want that between us. So, I did. I didn’t expect it to get out right away. It did. I told Trey right before the team meeting that we had. I didn’t get a chance to even tell Sam or anybody else on the team. That was just between Trey and I. It obviously got out.”

On why not tell the media Wednesday, on if he wanted to tell the players first:

“I would love to tell the players first, I would love to tell Sam first. We were hoping that Trey was coming to practice still. I totally understood why he didn’t. He asked if he could have it off, because he was a little emotional and didn’t want to be around the players like that. I totally understood that. But we were still hoping he’d come. By the time he didn’t, I wasn’t going to have a meeting on the field to tell the players who we announced as the second-string guy. Not to mention, practice ended at 1:43 (p.m.) and I had a radio show at 1:45.

“I got on the radio show, talked about it for 20 minutes there, and that’s where I felt good with it, because I felt if I talked about it there, you guys would get the information. Unfortunately I found out that radio show was delayed because of a baseball game in extra innings, so you guys didn’t find out until 4:30. If I had to do it over, I would have had it to you guys right away.”

On when you signed Darnold, did you tell Trey this could be the backup? Was it clear to him?

“I told Trey the same thing I told you guys. Brock was (the starter) since Day 1. I said if Brock was healthy, it was going to be hard for anyone to beat him out, from what he put on tape last year. If he wasn’t healthy, Sam and Trey would be competing for the 1 spot. If he was, they’d be competing for the 2. That’s what we said when they got here, and at OTAs and training camp, and that’s the way it worked out. They had all OTAs together, they had all those practices. Sam won the competition.”

On what Sam Darnold showed you to be the better choice?

“Just everything. The whole body of work. He got better as it went. It was tight for a little bit. Over the last couple of weeks, he started to separate himself each day. Just the more comfortable he got, the more consistent he got. It was pretty apparent for all of us.”

Did he request a trade?

“We talked about all the situations. I told him how much I wanted him here to be the 3. I also told him what I think is best: Trey needs an opportunity to play. When he’s had those two opportunities here, he’s gotten hurt in both of them and missed that window a little bit. It gave an opportunity for someone else to do it. Trey needs that again. He didn’t get that here. I told him that’s what I think is best, if he can find an opportunity. If he doesn’t and he wants to be here, we want him here. Trey took a little bit of time to think about it, came back and said he’d like to find another spot if he can. That’s when we started to look into it, his agent and us.

“The first conversation was Wednesday. About an hour and a half later, he came and told me that he’d like that, but that he’d also like to not go out to practice, to get his stuff together, to think about it. That’s what he did. The next day (Thursday), he came in, he was at our walk-through, he was at our meeting last night.

“We communicated yesterday what the possibilities were. I told him some of the teams that were interested. I talked about some of those options last night and what I felt was best. Today some other teams became interested. If they wouldn’t have, he would have been out there at that game and we would have gone with him as our (No.) 3.

“But some good stuff did come out, some stuff I think he’s really excited about. Especially telling him today, I could tell he was. So I think we are, too.”

On failure of evaluation or circumstance:

“Obviously we took our shot and it didn’t work out. That’s on us with that. I’m not going to say anything is a ‘failure.’ That would be too much of a negative towards Trey. We took a shot, hoping he could be our guy. That didn’t work out. I understand that from our standpoint.

“I still do believe in Trey. Three years ago, we had the 12th pick in the draft, after that COVID year. We thought we had a really good team. We didn’t think we’d have a chance again to get to that top area to take a quarterback. We went into it realizing it was a risk, but we didn’t think we’d pick that high again for a couple of years. We would never have a chance to move from 12 to 3. We tried to move to a number of spots before that. But 3 was the first one that would do it. We looked at everything in between. We took our shot. We believed in him.

“I was hoping he’d play more his first year. We knew he wouldn’t come in and just take over from Jimmy. We were hoping to mix it in and give him some experience. Once he broke his finger (in the 2021 preseason finale), it got tougher for him. We knew we’d commit to him the next year, which we did. We knew he wasn’t fully ready in every aspect, but we knew with his skillset, we could put some stuff together to give him a chance to compete and grow with a good team as he developed. He got hurt in the first quarter of the second game which set that back.

“Now we’re in the third year, and we still have a good team. We thought it would be Trey. We got pretty fortunate falling into still having a rookie (contract) at quarterback for a second year. It happened to be a seventh-round pick. And we also look back at it as we didn’t think having the 29th pick, which those two first-round picks were (in 2022 and ’23), we were hoping it’d be 32, but two first-round picks at 29, we knew somebody wouldn’t consider moving up with that.

“It felt pretty fortunate what we fell into (with Purdy).”

On if Trey went over the options and how he conveyed that to the team:

“I told them after the deal, any time you trade a quarterback — I mean all those guys are going through similar stuff. I’m going to have tough conversations with a lot of guys the next few  days – but I told them the circumstances are different when it’s under this magnitude, at the quarterback position, with someone drafted like him. So I just told them that’s what John and I decide, and I hope they trust us with what’s best for the team. They just have to be prepared for those questions.”

On if Lance’s play in the preseason opener at Las Vegas decided things:

“No, I didn’t mean it that way. Today I said it was the last couple of weeks. You never make a decision off one day, off one preseason game or anyting like that. It’s a cumulation of work. It was a lot tighter early in camp. Sam got comfortable with the more reps he got, the more he started to separate himself.”

On if there’s anything he wishes he did differently with Trey Lance:

“I always feel I let Trey down. I wanted him to come here. I believed in Trey. I believed in him before we took him. I’m responsible for that.

“I can look back in hindsight. He broke his finger on a helmet in that fourth preseason game vs. the Raiders (in 2021). I wish I didn’t put him in that play to break that finger. That really hurt him that first year, and that hurt him in practice time, because he had to adjust how he threw, which set him back for a second year. In the second year, we gave him a chance to do it, and we made him an offense that gave him a chance to be successful. You hope a guy can stay healthy so he’ll stay out there long enough. That didn’t last long. I always felt for him and continued to work with him. Sometimes things just don’t work out.”

On why not keep Lance:

“It was hard for us to do that, with where we’re at as a team, with how much time we have given him and the situation here where we gave him every chance to beat out Sam. It just didn’t happen.

“When you look at it that case, there’s not many opportunities you can do on that practice field. There isn’t a developmental league. There isn’t a field on the side we can put players to get him reps.

“You have to get the 1 ready to go. When you’re not, it’s hard enough to get the 2 ready to go. The 3 is usually a guy who never gets a rep until he randomly gets out there. That wasn’t what I felt was right for Trey, with how much we have done so far, and that wasn’t what was going to be right for our team, either.

“I felt it was time to move on, for him and for us. I’m well aware of everything that happened. Unfortunately it did happen.

“But I like where our team is at, too, right now. I feel very good about that. I also feel very good that despite all that, we’d love to keep a third guy to develop, especially a guy that you really love and believe he could do it for some day, but to do that for $7 million over two years, with the places where you are in the cap, and you can’t provide those reps for people, and you have other stuff (roster and contract moves) with our team that we’re doing, that, to me, doesn’t make much sense for the Niners.

“I wish it would, because, hell yeah, we’d love to just keep him, until eventually it works out. But that clock ran out here. That’s why we had to make a real tough decision, one we didn’t enjoy doing, one we didn’t want to do, but we try to do what we think is best, and this is what we think is best.

On drafting a developmental quarterback on a win-now team:

“I do think there was a chance. We thought were aligned as a team to win right away when we did it with him. We knew it would take him time. But we also had to make a decision where we were going to go with our team over a two-year window, and we felt if we could get a guy on a rookie deal who could help us win, man, we could put a good team around him. We took a shot with Trey. We believe he could and we knew it’d take some time. But in the meantime we were going to have a pretty good team.

“The time we did give him, when he had those ops (opportunities), he missed those. Those weren’t his fault. Those weren’t our fault. It happens in football.

“We are very fortunate that we found a guy who’s still on a rookie deal that has helped us put together a good team. We also feel we have a very strong backup.”

On status of injured kicker Jake Moody

“It’s week to week right now. We’re hoping he has a chance for Week 1. We’ll see how his body reacts. We definitely have to have a Plan B for Week 1. Zane would have been that.”

On Robbie Gould, their former kicker who remains unsigned in free agent:

“Everyone’s a possibility. It’s definitely up for discussion.”

* * *

Here is what John Lynch said:

Can you go over the timeline of how it might have accelerated today when more teams got in?

“Yeah. I guess that was Wednesday when [head coach] Kyle [Shanahan] informed [QB] Trey [Lance] of the decision with [QB] Sam [Darnold] being the number two. I think that led to just some organic conversations between them. And Kyle came up to my office and just said, ‘Hey, as we started talking, Trey’s, like he always is, he’s all in.’ But he did suggest and ask, ‘Hey, if we could find the right opportunity that he would appreciate that.’ He also said he’d be here and continue to compete. And I had a chance then to talk to Trey, talk to Trey’s agent, and I gave him my word that I’d look and see what’s out there. So, we started that process and it culminated today with Dallas happening. And it felt like a long time, but it was really a short period of time, a couple days where we’re talking to teams and teams are reaching out to us and the end result was what we ended up with.”

 

Did you guys give them permission to seek a trade? Is that what happened?

“We kind of worked on it together and I told Patrick Collins, his rep, I told Patrick feel free to go out and find teams if you want. So, we kind of kept in communication during the process. And I want to let you guys know, Trey was tremendous during this whole thing. He handled it as well as you could and just asked if there a good landing spot I’d be appreciative of that, but if I’m here, I’m here.”

 

You guys traded up to get him, you gave him all those picks. Why give up on a guy who’s only 23 years old and only halfway through that contract?

“It’s a fair question and it’s something we talked a lot about internally. Ultimately, with Brock being healthy, number one, and we’re excited about that, Sam being the number two, the reality it’s not the way everybody works it, but with our system, the number one takes a lot of reps, the number two takes the scout team reps. It’s just not a whole lot of opportunity. I heard Kyle talk about it, to get better, and that’s what he needs to do. He needs to play to get better. And I think that’s going to be his opportunity. Play, I mean, ideally games, but play is running scout team, play is doing all those things. We weren’t going to have that. And so how do you allow a player to grow? And so, back to what we put into him, we take, believe me, we take full accountability. We own that. As I said on TV today, I think his story is very much unwritten. I’ve got a lot of belief in the kid and think with his talent, with his work ethic he’s going to forge a nice career in this thing. And so, love the kid. Kyle and I, when we broke the news to him today saw him light up a little bit and he loves it here. He was very appreciative of the opportunity. Like Trey, typical Trey, he apologized to us and there was nothing for him to apologize for. And we’re happy that he’s got a spot. The Cowboys came up big and I think that’s an indication that they’re excited to have him and we’re excited for Trey’s new opportunity. And we’ll always be big fans.”

It’s not an optimal time to have to trade someone. Are you pleasantly surprised that you got a fourth-round pick under these conditions?

“It’s not what it looked like when we first started having conversation. It wasn’t anywhere close. So, it did advance in a hurry today. I’m not doing cartwheels over it because my preference would’ve been that it worked out and it didn’t. And there’s circumstances for that, and we can explain them away, but the reality is the reality. He had a couple opportunities. I think injuries played a part and where we’re at as a team, we felt like this was the best situation for us. Also, the best situation for him.”

Trey fell behind QB Brock Purdy, which is understandable, but I think a lot of people don’t understand how Trey fell behind QB Sam Darnold. We were there, we watched every snap and I don’t think it was clear to us that Sam was clearly better. What happened?

“I think it was a tight battle and I think Kyle would say the same thing. But ultimately, coaches are paid to make those decisions and they felt collectively that Sam had separated himself and that wasn’t for lack of Trey competing his tail off. He improved greatly. So, I think we were real proud of the effort he made. Sam has had a really good camp and you see Sam’s arm talent, his abilities. I think the same reasons why we were interested in bringing him here have kind of come to fruition. Now, it’s going to happen, but ultimately we felt that was the best decision. And then, I explained from there.”

 

Usually when teams make a trade like that for a quarterback, it doesn’t work out well for them but that hasn’t been the case for you guys because of Brock Purdy. Do you consider that you got really lucky?

“I try not to look at things like that. This thing’s not an exact science, but when you put that much into a player, it usually is really tough to rebound from. Fortunately, we’ve been able to continue to grow this team, to make this team better. And we were very fortunate for Brock to become what he’s become. Now he’s got to continue to do it. But, the early returns are good and, everything from his rookie year to the somewhat, I won’t say miraculous, but he made a hell of a return and with some hurdles in there, starting surgery late and all that. For him to be where he is at and we had to open our eyes and say, okay, he’s cleared, but is he ready? And he kept showing us that he was, and then the other things transpired that led us to where we’re at.”

 

It’s a cap sport. How much did the salary cap ramifications of, the average quarterback makes a million, third-string quarterback is making nine his cap figure, how much did that cap figure and the cap implications play a factor?

“I think in future years, Trey’s on the minimum this year, in future years, next year, it kicks up quite a bit. And that kind of coincides with when our stuff’s going to get tight. So, of course, that plays a factor. As Kyle said, we would’ve loved to have kept all four of those guys in the building. And Trey is the, I think everyone should know, he’s a tremendous teammate. He’s a tremendous human being. And so, never was it like we were worried we’re going to have a malcontent, Trey told us that, ‘hey, if I’m here, I’m here and I’m rolling, but if you could, find a spot for me,’ and so there was some level of that and finding a nice landing spot for him. And I think we did that.”

 

Going back to the process that led you to Trey when you drafted him. And maybe this is hindsight, but how much do you think you underestimated the gap between where you were as a team and what you needed from the quarterback versus how much he needed to develop and the timing of that?

“You know, he hadn’t played a ton of football, so we knew we were taking somewhat of a chance. But you know, I believe to this day, if we hadn’t taken him, someone would’ve right behind us. I think the next pick. And so, I don’t think we were the only ones seeing it. He’s a very talented young man. He’s got a lot of qualities in his makeup that lead towards, and like, believe me, I still think that story’s unwritten, so it didn’t work for us. But I think, one of the things we’ve been talking about and thinking about, I mean, there’s all kinds of stories from, you know [former NFL QB] Steve Young who sat for a while, [former NFL QB] Warren Moon up in Canada to [former NFL QB] Kurt Warner working in a grocery store. I still very much have belief that he’s going to become a player. Now it’s just not going be for us, and we take full accountability for that and in some ways, yeah, we got lucky on Brock, but sure that set back our team, it would’ve been nice to have those picks and all that, so we do own that. And fortunately, we still have a really good football team that I think has a legitimate shot. We’re focused on game one, but we have a championship-level roster. Now it’s what we make of it.”

 

You still have optimism that DE Nick Bosa will be signed by Week 1?

“Yeah, I do. We’ve got a lot of work to do and we’ll continue to do that. He’s a great player. We want him here. We need him here.”

 

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