The San Francisco 49ers went through four quarterbacks and a Christian McCaffrey wildcat package this season and still found themselves one win away from the Super Bowl for the second straight year.
It’s no secret that head coach Kyle Shanahan’s offense thrives no matter who the signal caller is, as third-string quarterback and “Mr. Irrelevant” Brock Purdy became “Mr. Relevant” this season, going 8-1 as a starter (including playoffs). He led the 49ers to an NFC Championship appearance, and had it not been for a torn UCL he suffered in his right elbow in the first quarter, the 49ers could have had a better chance to make it to the Super Bowl.
Purdy was replaced by fourth-string quarterback Josh Johnson, an NFL journeyman who suffered a concussion in the third quarter. This prompted Shanahan to put Purdy back in the game, but only to hand the ball off to his teammates since he couldn’t throw.
The 49ers lost with a trip to the Super Bowl on the line for the second straight year, and the aftermath unfolded with Purdy reportedly being sidelined for six months at the least. The biggest question for the 49ers this offseason is what the team does at quarterback for next year.
To review 2022, the 49ers began the season with Trey Lance as their starter, a young man they gave up three first-round picks for in the 2021 NFL Draft. Veteran Jimmy Garoppolo took over in Week 2 after Lance suffered a season-ending ankle injury against the Seattle Seahawks. Garoppolo, who was the 49ers’ starting quarterback for their Super Bowl loss in 2019-20 and NFC Championship loss in 2021-22, broke his foot against the Miami Dolphins in Week 13 and did not return this season. With his one-year, $7 million contract for 2022 expiring, Garoppolo will become an unrestricted free agent, as the 49ers announced he will not return to the team for 2023.
Moving forward, the 49ers’ options at quarterback come down to Lance and Purdy as of right now. While Purdy was great as a starter for the 49ers in the second half of 2022, one wonders how someone like Lance could be out of consideration for the starting job in 2023, especially after such a hefty price was paid to draft him.
The most important thing to highlight here is that the 49ers’ offense will still include weapons such as McCaffrey, receivers Deebo Samuel and Brandon Aiyuk, and tight end George Kittle With weapons like these, Shanahan’s offensive mind to create unique opportunities for them to make plays, and the No. 1-ranked defense in the league, it could be argued that playing quarterback for the 49ers is simpler than most NFL opportunities.
While Purdy is an athletic player, he is more of a pro-style, pocket-passing quarterback who isn’t the dual-threat option that Lance is. If you’re the 49ers, it’d be foolish not to consider what this offense could be with a quarterback who has the athleticism of Lance and what he can add as a zone-read running threat along with being a passer for Shanahan’s offense.
Those who say Purdy should be the unanimous starter when he’s healthy again should consider how much more this offense could become with Lance if given a legitimate shot—especially with weapons who weren’t present last time he started a game. Lance hasn’t gotten a true chance to show who he is as a quarterback in the NFL, as the only game he finished in 2022 was a monsoon at Soldier Field in Week 1.
Overall, the 49ers have a unique and dangerous offense with two young quarterbacks who are both more than capable of running it. It’s in the team’s best interest to have a quarterback competition between the two come training camp, and then make a decision on the starter for 2023.
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