A student-operated publication at Santa Rosa Junior College.

The Oak Leaf

A student-operated publication at Santa Rosa Junior College.

The Oak Leaf

A student-operated publication at Santa Rosa Junior College.

The Oak Leaf

Opinion: The 49ers did wrong by Trey Lance, and that’s OK

Oak Leaf Staff
The American Flag on the field of Levi Stadium. Fans disagreed over which player would be the better starting quarterback for the team, with Lance fans arguing he had more raw potential while Purdy fans claimed he was the more stable option for the team in its current state as they are in pursuit of a Super Bowl victory.

It is my wholehearted belief that the end result of this debacle is the best possible result for all parties involved.

For the uninitiated, I will try and provide a brief summary of the situation. In 2021, the 49ers traded three years of first-round picks and one third-round draft pick to the Miami Dolphins for the third overall pick in the draft. With this pick they selected quarterback Trey Lance out of North Dakota State University (NDSU). Lance had shown promise during his time at NDSU, but his junior year was cut short due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and he had only started a total of 17 games in college.

The decision to draft Lance caused a stir because the Niners had signed Jimmy Garoppolo in 2017 to a massive $137.5 million deal, which made him the highest-paid player in the league at the time. Debate raged for the following years about Lance versus Garoppolo, with both gaining diehard fans within the organization and fan base. In 2023 Lance was named the team’s starting quarterback and he started a total of two games before a season-ending ankle injury on a controversial running play against the Seattle Seahawks.

Then it was Jimmy Garoppolo’s turn. He went on to start 10 games and win seven of them. He finished his season winning four games in a row, including a stunning Monday Night Football performance in Mexico City against the Arizona Cardinals, posting 228 yards and 4 touchdowns. On Dec. 4, while playing the Miami Dolphins, Garoppolo suffered a foot injury that sidelined him for the remainder of the season.

Then it was on to the very last pick of the NFL draft, Brock Purdy — dubbed “Mr. Irrelevant.” Purdy started and played all four years of his college career at Iowa State, and entered his first NFL action firing on all cylinders. He went on to win every single game he finished in dominant fashion, posting 323 passing yards and three touchdowns in his first playoff game against the Seahawks. He then suffered an injury in the NFC Championship game against the Philadelphia Eagles.

During the offseason, Garoppolo’s contract ended and he went on to be signed by the Las Vegas Raiders. The Niners signed Sam Darnold and Brandon Allen, two veteran journeymen at this stage in their respective careers. This complicated the quarterback situation in San Francisco further and it became clear Lance’s job was not secure.

Then began the drama, mostly spurred on the social media platform formerly known as Twitter. Fans quickly divided into camps, with ride-or-die Lance fans pitted against Purdy fans — and a couple of Darnold diehards playing with blocks in the background.

After a whirlwind offseason, Lance was traded to the Niners’ historic rival, the Dallas Cowboys, for a fourth-round pick, making the Lance trade one of the worst returns on investment in league history. Many on social media believed that the Niners did wrong by Lance by not giving him enough playing time or enough of a chance this year. And I fully agree.

Lance is a naturally talented quarterback with a cannon of an arm and enough of a scrambling ability to run a modern NFL offense. I fundamentally disagree with those who classify Lance as a mobile/running quarterback. He ran the 40-yard dash in 4.92 seconds, which is slower than Brock Purdy (4.84 seconds) and traditional pocket passers like Aaron Rodgers (4.71 seconds). Yet it felt, at times, that Lance was fighting the offensive system he was put into.

The Niners run a dynamic “West Coast Offense,” which is a style pioneered by former Niners coach, the late and great Bill Walsh. This system is characterized by short and quick passes, screens, wide-receiver running plays and jet sweeps, and a hard-hitting run game. The system is complex, but usually avoids deep passes, Lance’s specialty. Instead of building a new offense for Lance, Niners head coach Kyle Shanahan stuck with the system he was best at managing, which makes sense, as he is regarded as an offensive guru in the NFL.

Lance was never going to get the system he needed to succeed in San Francisco, and the Niners have all of the pieces in place to make a Super Bowl run right now. They do not have the time to develop a project quarterback. Furthermore, due to the amount of draft capital the team sacrificed to select him, Lance was an overnight media sensation. This, unfortunately, turned him into a distraction for the team. Trading him to Dallas settles the issue. Lance gets a fresh start, with far lower expectations — he’s the third-string quarterback behind Dak Prescott and Cooper Rush. Furthermore, the Dallas system suits him far better, with many more deep passes to weapons like CeeDee Lamb and Michael Gallup.

It’s unfortunate that Lance had to endure Bay Area media coupled with an ill-fitting team and a fan base known for being, shall we say, passionate. Yet, at the end of the day this situation will pay dividends for Lance and allow the 49ers organization to finally put the Lance situation behind them.

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About the Contributors
Rosemary Cromwell
Rosemary Cromwell, Reporter
(they/she) First year reporter with the Oak Leaf, but not new to the Journalism field. Working towards transferring to a 4 year university by next fall to major in Journalism.

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