Proposed Trade Sends 49ers QB Trey Lance to Fallen NFC Powerhouse

Trey Lance of the 49ers (on ground)

Getty Trey Lance of the 49ers (on ground)

A lot would have to go just right, but it is entirely possible that by the time the NFL’s October 31 trade deadline comes around, the 49ers will be ready to move on from 2021 No. 3 overall draft pick Trey Lance. It’s even possible that Lance will be gone from the Bay Area by the time the season kicks off in Pittsburgh on September 10.

For that to happen, the Niners would have to have some confidence that quarterback Brock Purdy is completely healed from the rough elbow injury he suffered in last year’s NFC Championship game. They’d also need enough faith in the readiness of Sam Darnold to handle backup quarterback duties, just in case something again happens with Purdy.

And Lance, with an opportunity to play more in the preseason as the team ramps up Purdy’s rehab, will have to impress another team enough to show he has a future as an NFL starter.

If that’s the case, the 49ers might be wise to look to recoup some assets for Lance while they can. One ESPN writer put together a hypothetical case for the 49ers to look East for a team that would be a willing trade partner—to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who were 32-18 with a Super Bowl title before quarterback Tom Brady rode off into (another) retirement after last season.

Niners Collect 2023 Draft Assets in Potential Deal

The writer, Seth Walder of ESPN’s analytics group, proposes the following swap:

Tampa Bay Buccaneers receive: QB Trey Lance, 2024 second-round pick, 2024 sixth-round pick

San Francisco 49ers receive: 2024 second-round pick, 2024 third-round pick

There’s no immediate on-field help there for the 49ers, but there would be value in moving up in the second round if, as expected, Tampa continues to take a step backward in the standings. The Bucs were 8-9 last year and managed to win an ugly NFC South.

Swapping out the Niners’ sixth-rounder for a Tampa third-rounder is a nice swap, too.

“The Bucs aren’t contenders in 2023, so their moves should be focused on saving money and acquiring draft assets,” Walder wrote. “But there’s one exception to that framework: chasing quarterback upside. They might as well use the upcoming 17 games as a testing ground for a potential future QB — even if he’s a long shot. That precisely describes Lance. If there’s a 10% chance that Lance can become a long-term solution for the Bucs, that’s still a lot higher than Baker Mayfield‘s chances to be that guy.

“In the event that Lance — who is only 23 years old — pans out, the Bucs would retain control in 2024 for cheap and have the right to exercise Lance’s fifth-year option in 2025.”

Lance Has Not Been Able to Stay Healthy

Increasingly, it appears that the 49ers are sold on taking their chances going forward with Purdy, which probably means Lance will have to find a home elsewhere.

Lance has been snake-bitten in San Francisco. He made only eight appearances in the last two years, and only four total starts. He filled in for injured Jimmy Garoppolo in Week 5 as a rookie, which was seen as an opportunity for a changing of the QB guard with the 49ers. Instead, after he completed 15 of 29 passes for 192 yards, and rushed 16 times for 89 yards, it was announced after the game that Lance had suffered a knee injury.

Lance got one more start in place of Garoppolo, in Week 17 when he threw for 249 yards, two touchdowns and an interception in a win over Houston.

In his second season, Lance beat out Garoppolo for the starting job, but suffered a season-ending ankle injury two weeks into the year, which wound up requiring two surgeries. During his absence, Garoppolo got back on the field, got hurt and paved the way for Purdy to take over the QB1 role. He has not relinquished it.

That leaves Lance in an awkward position—for now, at least.