Why Did the 49ers Trade Trey Lance? A Look Back at the QB’s Rocky Road

    The San Francisco 49ers used the third overall pick to take the North Dakota State QB. What went wrong for Trey Lance and the 49ers?

    The San Francisco 49ers moved on from the player they drafted with the third overall pick in 2021. Trey Lance was traded to the Cowboys for a fourth-round pick at the end of the preseason. Let’s look at what happened to Trey Lance in San Francisco.

    When Did the San Francisco 49ers Draft Trey Lance?

    The team traded up with the Miami Dolphins for the third pick in 2021. The Dolphins received three draft picks that were used to draft wide receiver Jaylen Waddle and make trades for wide receiver Tyreek Hill and linebacker Bradley Chubb.

    49ers coach Kyle Shanahan said about Lance after the 2021 NFL Draft, “I try to watch a guy play the quarterback position and see how he executes his own offense. Just kind of the natural feeling he has for the quarterback position, which entails getting the ball to the right spots.”

    Did the 49ers Not Have Enough Information on Lance?

    There wasn’t a lot of Lance game tape when the 49ers selected the quarterback in the 2021 draft. Lance only played one game in his final season at North Dakota State because the school team played one fall game due to COVID in the fall of 2020, with the rest of the schedule in the spring.

    In one 2020 game, Lance completed only half of his 30 passes with two touchdown passes and an interception. He declared for the draft and did not play with the Bison during the spring.

    The only college season when he played more than two games was as a sophomore, which was special when he passed for 28 touchdowns and zero interceptions on 287 pass attempts. He rushed for over 1,100 yards and 18 touchdowns on his way to leading North Dakota State to an FCS championship.

    Lance received positive reviews for his draft workouts, and most draft analysts felt he was worthy of being a top-10 pick. At the time, North Dakota State already had one alum, Carson Wentz, starting as a quarterback in the NFL.

    How Did Lance Perform With the 49ers?

    Lance played eight total games with San Francisco and entered the second season as the starting quarterback. In his rookie season, Lance completed 57.7% of his passes, threw five touchdowns, and made two interceptions.

    Lance struggled in the team’s loss on a rainy day in Chicago to open 2022. The next week, Lance broke his ankle in the first quarter against the Seattle Seahawks. That would be the last NFL regular-season game he played for the 49ers.

    Brock Purdy Became the Clear Starter

    After Lance and Jimmy Garoppolo were injured last season, rookie Brock Purdy had to come off the bench to start for the 49ers. Purdy, the last pick of the 2022 NFL Draft, played great and helped the team reach the NFC Championship Game.

    As a starter, he won all five regular-season games and two playoff games. Purdy threw 13 touchdowns and four interceptions in nine regular-season games. He needed offseason elbow surgery after being injured in the playoff loss to the Eagles.

    Why Was Lance Traded When He Was?

    The team reportedly had offseason trade talks about Lance with other teams, but there was some uncertainty about Purdy’s status to open the season as he recovered from his surgery. The 49ers kept Lance as a potential starter until Purdy was ready to play. The team also brought in former first-round pick Sam Darnold to add depth to the roster. Purdy was ready to play in the preseason, and Darnold outplayed Lance for the backup role.

    This made Lance available, and Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones worked out a trade for him. 49ers general manager John Lynch said after the trade, “We took a shot, and it didn’t work out. We own that. We take accountability for that.”

    Lance was traded the day before the Cowboys’ final preseason game and was unable to play. He has been listed as the emergency backup quarterback for the first two games, with Dak Prescott and Cooper Rush ahead of him on the depth chart.

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