The 49ers are fielding calls for Trey Lance and Brock Purdy isn't sure if he will play in 2023. This week's news is the latest chapter in the 49ers' QB journey under Kyle Shanahan and John Lynch that has more twists and turns than Lombard Street. One has to wonder if the lasting legacy of their tenure will be, "they were a QB away from a Super Bowl."
There's ample time to answer that question, but also plenty of opportunity to play Monday morning quarterback and suggest the 49ers should already have at least one Super Bowl under this regime.
Look no further than their list of QB what ifs:
49ers QB: What-ifs under Kyle Shanahan/John Lynch
2017: What IF they didn't write off Colin Kaepernick
The 49ers deemed Colin Kaepernick wasn't a fit for Shanahan's system back in 2017. Kaepernick still hasn't played in the league since, although he did settle a collusion case against the NFL back in 2019. If the 49ers were so enamored with Trey Lance's skill set, you have to wonder what they could have done with Kaepernick. I'm not going to even attempt to answer that mystery.
2017: What IF they drafted Patrick Mahomes
The 49ers could have drafted Patrick Mahomes third overall in 2017 (they passed on him along with nine other teams), but instead opted for defensive lineman Solomon Thomas. Lynch attended workouts for Mahomes, Deshaun Watson and Mitchell Trubisky, but it was a smokescreen as San Francisco had other plans at QB. Still, Mahomes' pro day was impressive enough for Lynch to call Shanahan and say, "we may want to rethink this," per NBC Sports. Imagine if Mahomes' workout had actually swayed the 49ers' brass.
The 49ers traded for Jimmy Garoppolo near the trade deadline in 2017, leaving Shanahan "in mourning" as Kirk Cousins was his preferred target all along. Given all of Garoppolo's injuries, it's fair to wonder if San Francisco would have raised a Lombardi Trophy already with Cousins.
2019: What IF Garoppolo connects with Emmanuel Sanders?
The 49ers' QB what-ifs isn't just reserved for their personnel decisions. What IF Garoppolo had connected with Emmanuel Sanders on a deep ball that could have been the game-winning score in Super Bowl LIV? Garoppolo could have been a Super Bowl MVP. I tend to believe Patrick Mahomes would have led a game-winning drive with around 1:30 left on the clock had the 49ers converted that opportunity.
2020: What IF the 49ers had signed Tom Brady in 2020
Tom Brady reportedly wanted to make a homecoming and end his career with the 49ers when he hit free agency for the first time in 2020. However, the 49ers' brass didn't think he'd be much of an upgrade over Garoppolo, a decision that should haunt them still after Brady won a Super Bowl in his first season in Tampa Bay.
2021: What IF the 49ers traded for Matthew Stafford in 2021
Remember when the 49ers outbid the Rams for Christian McCaffrey's services? Well, apparently that was payback for the Rams swooping in and outbidding the 49ers for Matthew Stafford in the 2021 offseason. Like Brady, Stafford won a Super Bowl in his first season with his new team, which beat the 49ers in the NFC Championship Game on its way to a title. Here's a what IF within the what IF, if your brain can take it. What IF Jaquiski Tartt had not dropped a would-be Stafford interception in the fourth quarter of that playoff game?
2021: What IF the 49ers drafted Mac Jones instead of Trey Lance
ESPN Draft analyst Todd McShay wrote before the 2021 NFL Draft that the 49ers personnel department was pushing for Lance while Shanahan wanted Mac Jones after they traded three first-round picks to move up from the 12th to third overall pick. So what IF the 49ers had actually drafted Mac Jones? Perhaps the better question is, should they have drafted Justin Fields?
2022: What IF Lance and Purdy didn't get hurt in 2022?
This is a really interesting two-part question. The Lance injury was crushing, not just because it left San Francisco down its QB1. We never got the answer to the question, is Lance any good? He has thrown just 102 passes in his NFL career, the same number as Tim Boyle since 2021. It's also fair to wonder what IF Brock Purdy doesn't tear his UCL in the NFC Championship Game against the Eagles. Does he lead them to a Super Bowl title? Maybe. But it would have been an uphill battle after the 49ers missed the replay review on the DeVonta Smith opening-drive, fourth-down catch, which led to Philadelphia taking a 7-0 lead.
49ers QB: What's next
Of course, hindsight is 20/20 and here's the reality. The 49ers have not won a Super Bowl since the 1994 season and are still a QB away from ending that drought. Reading between the lines, the 49ers fielding calls on Lance, suggests they could be happier with his development (and durability) so far. Given Purdy's status and question marks surrounding Lance, it's fair to wonder what else the 49ers will do to bolster their QB room?
Their front office has been known to be aggressive. They traded three first-round picks to move up for Lance, and once made Garoppolo the highest-paid QB in NFL history.
Here are some options:
Draft a QB
This is the most logical option. The 49ers can't afford to stand pat with Lance, Purdy and Sam Darnold given this week's news and last year's injuries. They've also proven with Purdy that they can find value at quarterback ANYWHERE in the draft. Armed with three third-round picks and 11 picks total, they have the ammo to land a quarterback outside the first round. Among their choices:
- Hendon Hooker: The 49ers broke the mold and went outside the usual Shanahan scheme fit when they drafted Lance, so why not do so with Hendon Hooker? He's 25 years old and coming off an ACL tear, but he had 58 touchdown passes and five interceptions in his last two seasons in the SEC, coupled with over 1,000 rushing yards and 10 touchdowns on the ground. Hooker could sneak into the first round and be out of the 49ers' price range, and they may also be hesitant to break the Shanahan mold again and draft a dual-threat QB after the Lance pick.
- Tanner McKee: Tanner McKee was one of the QBs who worked out for the 49ers at their pro day at Levi's Stadium. He also happened to play for Stanford, Lynch's alma mater. Question is, does he fit in Shanahan's system? He's a 6-foot-6 pocket passer, but lacks the ability to elude the rush and extend plays, according to CBS Sports HQ NFL analyst Brady Quinn.
- Stetson Bennett: If Stetson Bennett thrived with the best supporting cast in college football, it stands to reason he could do so with one of the NFL's most talented teams. Bennett could also be a Purdy-like quarterback for the 49ers, as he throws with anticipation and has mobility to extend plays.
- Jake Haener: Like McKee, Fresno State's Jake Haener was also at the 49ers' Pro Day. Haener also has had a couple of calls with 49ers QB coach Brian Griese. He brushed off comparisons to Brock Purdy per NBC Sports, but there are some similarities. Both are undersized, can excel on intermediate throws and have enough pocket mobility to evade the rush.
- Dorian Thompson-Robinson: The 49ers had a private workout for UCLA's Dorian Thompson-Robinson, who could be a Day Three pick, and a cheaper dual-threat option than Hendon Hooker. He can make the intermediate throws in the 49ers system and extend plays, although CBS Sports analyst Ryan Wilson sees him as a QB3 with a chance to be a bonafide backup in two to three years.
Stick with their current QB room
This seems like the least-wise option given Purdy's injury and the lack of confidence in Lance. The 49ers did sign Sam Darnold, who was better last year with the Panthers, but in just six starts. The 49ers would be playing with fire to stick with their current QB room given they had four different quarterbacks get hurt in 2022.
Lure Tom Brady out of retirement
This is the most appealing option. Brady has given no indication he's coming out of retirement, but perhaps bygones could be bygones and he could sail into the sunset with San Francisco. Brady didn't look as sharp last season, but he was dealing with a supporting cast that pales in comparison to what he'd inherit with the 49ers.
Trade for Kirk Cousins
The 49ers spoke directly with the Vikings at the NFL Scouting Combine about a potential trade involving Lance. Given Shanahan's affinity for Kirk Cousins, who is entering a contract year, you can't rule out a swap. Our Cody Benjamin laid out some a trade scenario where the 49ers would send Lance and a 2023 third-round pick for Cousins and a 2024 second-round pick.
Trade for Lamar Jackson
The 49ers have essentially ruled themselves out of the Lamar Jackson sweepstakes due to salary cap constraints and contentment with their current QB room, but I'd urge them to reconsider. Imagine Jackson with Christian McCaffrey, Deebo Samuel, Brandon Aiyuk and George Kittle. The sheer possibility of having one of the most electric five-man skill player combos ever is worth the investment. The 49ers have gambled big on a QB (Lance) before, why not take another swing here and then pull off some salary cap gymnastics to get under the cap.
Sometimes to know where you're going, you have to know where you've been. Based on Shanahan's reputation as a QB whisperer of sorts, and the 49ers' failure with big investments at QB (Garoppolo and Lance ... so far), they are much more likely to play it safe and add a QB in the draft, unless Brady comes calling.