April 19, 2024
Trey Lance will be "pulling for us and watching every step of the way" as the 49ers move on with Brock Purdy and his top backup Sam Darnold to end a 28-year Lombardi Trophy drought.

SANTA CLARA – Trey Lance is gone, not long after Jimmy Garoppolo. That leaves the 49ers up to Brock Purdy. Again.

Isn’t this actually like last season’s playoff push, other than Lance and Garoppolo are not on the roster anymore, not in the locker room, not in meetings, not in practices, not in the 49ers’ quarterback-centric picture?

“It just sort of goes to show you, in the NFL, with the positions and the depth chart, it all can change overnight,” Purdy said Friday night, after the 49ers put to rest both the preseason and the Lance era. “… Yes, it is wild. Sort of like a,’Welcome to the NFL’ kind of thing.”

More players will leave to reach the 53-man roster limit by Tuesday at 1 p.m., and they’ll follow a much different exit than Lance, who’s headed to the Dallas Cowboys for a fourth-round draft pick in return.

The remaining 49ers are drag racing to Lombardi Trophy Ave., all due respect to the abandoned car on the shoulder (Lance), the absent NFL Defensive Player of the Year (Nick Bosa) and the injured kicker(s).

Purdy joined teammates Friday morning near the weight room to wish Lance a fond farewell, because he genuinely was a positive light amid a spotlight that can turn so dark on 49ers’ quarterbacks, including injured ones like he often was in his two-season, truncated tenure.

And what did Lance say back to them?

“He said he is obviously going to be pulling for us and watching every step of the way,” Purdy relayed, “but it was more like us being appreciative of everything that he’s done for us.”

San Francisco 49er quarterbacks Trey Lance (5) and Brock Purdy (13) practice, Tuesday, Aug. 8, 2023, in Santa Clara, Calif. (Karl Mondon/Bay Area News Group) 

Lance’s lasting legacy could be much more than the lazy label of “first-round bust.” He’s not the one who spent three first-round draft picks plus a second-rounder to move up and select him No. 3 overall in 2021 out of Fargo, North Dakota, by way of even smaller Marshall, Minnesota. He didn’t passionately pursue injuries to his index finger, his knee, his ankle.

What Lance did do was makld an invaluable imprint on Purdy, who’s now wholly entrusted to end the 49ers’ 28-year drought without a Lombardi Trophy celebration.

“Going in last year and then him just being by my side from the get-go — sideline, meetings, in the locker room, wherever we are at — man, he’s been a real one,” said Purdy, who coach Kyle Shanahan said earlier in camp was “the real deal” to affirm his unimpeachable place as the 49ers’ starting quarterback now that he’s proven healthy and recovered from elbow surgery.

“(Lance helped me come into the league and welcome me with open arms and showed me the ropes to this whole thing,” Purdy continued. “So can’t tell you how grateful I am for him and to have him in my life and to be here with him. So, forever grateful for Trey.”

No Raiders player said that as JaMarcus Russel bailed after three failed seasons as a first-round bust (No. 1 overall pick in 2007, no games after 2009).

Lance did not leave the 49ers in a worse place. What he cost the 49ers in draft capital did not bankrupt their future (and, heck, it sparred them from perhaps errant first-round picks the last two years, or it saved them money from paying more players in those spots).

Lance’s ex-teammates are “excited” or “happy” for his opportunity that awaits with the Cowboys, who were eliminate by the 49ers from the past two postseasons without Lance taking a snap in those or any other playoff games.

“Teams move on from guys, but it’s the human part that’s the hardest, because we all love Trey so much,” fullback Kyle Juszczyk said. “He’s such a good person and great locker room guy that we’re definitely going to miss him.”

As chummy as George Kittle was with Garoppolo over the years, Kittle did not alienate Lance and often commended him, whether it was public praise, a pat on the helmet on the sideline or, well, after Friday’s chaos. Kittle said Lance, 23, handled his reassignment “like an adult.”

San Francisco 49er quarterback Brock Purdy (13), throwing for the first time at the team’s training camp practice, passes to George Kittle, Thursday, July 27, 2023, in Santa Clara, Calif. (Karl Mondon/Bay Area News Group) 

“You’ve seen examples in other places where guys don’t handle adversity well and they blame everybody else. They point fingers and stuff like that,” Kittle said. “We haven’t really had that issue in this entire organization.

“That speaks to the volume of character that we have on this team,” Kittle said. “You know, Trey was in a room when Jimmy G got scrutiny every single day, all the time. Jimmy handled it really well. So he had to learn a little bit from him and then he handled it great on his own as well.”

Sharing that room now with Purdy is Sam Darnold (21-34 starting record) and Brandon Allen (2-7).

Darnold on Lance: “He’s a great dude. He was loved in the locker room. He was all those things. He was a great teammate even with me coming here and competing and doing all those things. Even since OTAs, he has been nothing but great to me. I’ve appreciated that a ton.”

Regardless of how tight Darnold’s fellow quarterbacks were with the New York Jets and the Carolina Panthers, being a 49ers quarterback comes with greater pressure than perhaps any other team, courtesy of five Super Bowl wins from Joe Montana and Steve Young, to say nothing of their predecessors such as John Brodie and the 49ers’ Rolodex of quarterbacks the past 25 years.

Easy come, easy go. Lance wasn’t easy to get. He was able to go because the 49ers found Purdy with the 262nd and final pick of last year’s draft, then found a golden arm who also was once a No. 3 overall draft pick, Darnold.

San Francisco 49ers quarterback Sam Darnold (14) and teammate quarterback Brock Purdy (13) throw passes before the start of their pre-season game against the Los Angeles Chargers at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif., on Friday, Aug. 25, 2023. (Jose Carlos Fajardo/Bay Area News Group) 

Ideally, Darnold put up his final stat line this season Friday night, completing 6-of-11 passes for 89 yards and a touchdown in a 23-12 loss to the Los Angeles Chargers.

Darnold isn’t the man who ran Lance out of town. Coaches hired him, after Lance’s injuries and inaccurate throws slammed the door on more opportunities.

“I’m not scrolling through the comments on Twitter, Instagram or any of that stuff,” Darnold said of fans’ criticism of him. “ … I don’t know that it would affect me that much, to be honest.”

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The only voices that count are the ones that dispatched Lance to Dallas, after all. Darnold proved better than Lance, in the coaches’ eyes, and perhaps so did Brandon Allen, who stands to fill the No. 3 role that Lance balked at in seeking a trade.

Added Purdy: “I’m going to come in, do my job, and some situations happen. It sucks how Jimmy got hurt, Trey got hurt, and things happen like that. But at the same time, it’s how the NFL is. And so no hard feelings. I love Trey and I want nothing but the best for him.”

That sentiment was shared by a chorus of 49ers, including general manager John Lynch, who, no matter how much he hails Lance’s growth and potential, and no matter how awed he is by Darnold’s “arm talent,” he’ll gladly take whatever “accountability” is required from The Trey Trade. And Lynch will look like everyone else to Purdy as this franchise’s long-sought quarterback tonic.

San Francisco 49ers head coach shakes hands with quarterback Brandon Allen (4) before their pre-season game at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif., on Friday, Aug. 25, 2023. (Jose Carlos Fajardo/Bay Area News Group) 

“We take full accountability for that and in some ways, yeah, we got lucky on Brock, but, sure, that set back our team,” Lynch said of their Lance gamble. “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.”

On March 10, nearly six weeks after his NFC Championship Game trauma, Purdy’s right elbow was repaired with an InternalBrace procedure reattaching his ligament rather than a Tommy John reconstruction surgery.

It’s amazingly Purdy, not Lance nor Garoppolo, who’s left ushering the 49ers to the doorstep of their first Super Bowl-winning season since 1994. Right?

“We’re focused on Game 1, but we have a championship-level roster,” Lynch said. “Now it’s what we make of it.”

As left tackle Trent Williams said leaving the locker room: “Preseason’s over. Week 1, here we come.”