San Francisco 49ers quarterback Trey Lance is continuing his recovery from a broken ankle, but his wait to return to the field may end up being even longer — perhaps significantly so.
Speaking Monday at the NFL annual meetings in Phoenix, 49ers general manager John Lynch indicated that Brock Purdy, who is coming off of a stellar rookie season in which he led the 49ers to a 7-1 record including a trip to the NFC championship game, has the inside track to remain the team’s starter for Week 1 of the 2023 season.
“I think Brock has earned the right with the way he played that he’s probably the leader in the clubhouse at that,” Lynch told reporters when asked about the quarterback situation. “I’ll let (coach) Kyle (Shanahan) make those kinds of decisions, but I know when we talk, Brock has probably earned that right to be the guy. If we were to line up, he’d probably take that first snap.”
Purdy suffered a right elbow injury Jan. 29 during the NFC title game, an eventual loss to the Philadelphia Eagles, and underwent successful surgery earlier in March to repair a torn ulnar collateral ligament. Purdy is scheduled to begin a throwing program three months from the date of surgery, depending on how his recovery progresses.
Purdy was selected with the final pick in the 2022 NFL draft, No. 262 overall. After Lance went down Sept. 18 with a broken ankle followed by then-backup Jimmy Garoppolo — currently with the Las Vegas Raiders — suffering a broken foot in Week 13, Purdy was thrust into action. Including the playoffs, Purdy completed 66.5% of his throws for 1,943 yards, with 16 touchdowns against four interceptions.
“We’ve always said we don’t care where you were drafted, if you were drafted, that’s always been our stance,” Lynch said. “It’s what we believe in. I think both things can be true. We’re still very excited about Trey, but I think the way Brock played, he probably has earned that right to be the guy. But it’s certainly a competition, we’ll always have that. Again, these are decisions Kyle makes but I know in our discussions, this is the way we’re talking.”
The 49ers also signed veteran quarterback Sam Darnold March 13 as insurance at the position.
What does this mean for Trey Lance and Brock Purdy?
For Purdy, 23, this news should provide some stability and confidence, giving him an indication that he won’t need to rush back into action. Of course, that could change if Lance impresses during the offseason workout program while Purdy continues his rehab.
Despite Lynch’s comments about not being concerned about draft position, the franchise nonetheless traded a massive haul of picks for the selection that eventually was used on Lance. But since Lance, 22, has only appeared in eight games in his career — including four starts — and since the team will eventually need to decide about the use of a fifth-year option on Lance’s contract, Lynch and San Francisco may consider a trade, assuming that the organization feels comfortable with Purdy as its future.
“We like Trey on our team right now,” Lynch said. “Kyle and I always joke we’d trade each other if someone would give us a good enough deal. So we listen to anything but we like Trey on our team. We’re very excited about the way he’s progressing, about his opportunity. I think he’s chomping at the bit to get back out there, get back under center and be healthy again.”