Lance, Purdy, Jimmy G: Who will be 49ers’ starting QB in 2023?
As the San Francisco 49ers head into the offseason after another gut-wrenching loss in the NFC Championship Game, at the top of coach Kyle Shanahan’s priority list will be determining who his team’s starting quarterback will be for the 2023 season.
Currently, the 49ers don’t have a QB on the roster healthy enough to take a snap.
On Wednesday, Niners general manager John Lynch confirmed reports that rookie Brock Purdy ruptured the ulnar collateral ligament in his throwing elbow during the first quarter of San Francisco’s loss to the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday. The initial prognosis is the injury could require surgery to fix, putting him out at least six months and likely making him unavailable until training camp.
Purdy told reporters during locker room clean-out this week that he has not decided how he will proceed with fixing the injury and will seek a second opinion.
“For me to claim or say anything about what’s going to happen moving forward, that’s out of my control,” Purdy told reporters. “I’m going to do what I can to get back healthy and be ready to compete come fall.”
Purdy’s replacement, fourth-string quarterback Josh Johnson, suffered a concussion during the game and could not return.
Trey Lance, the starter at the beginning of the regular season, suffered a season-ending broken ankle in Week 2 that required surgery. Lance has subsequently had a second surgery on his right ankle to remove hardware from the first surgery and told reporters he’s expected to be cleared in three to four weeks.
“I’m just excited to get back out there, excited to compete,” Lance said when asked how things will set up for the quarterbacks this offseason.
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And Lance’s backup, Jimmy Garoppolo suffered a broken foot in a Week 13 contest against the Miami Dolphins that is close to being fully healed. Garoppolo is set to become a free agent in March. Both Lance and Garoppolo watched from the sidelines as San Francisco was down to using Christian McCaffrey in Wildcat formation for the final plays of Sunday’s game.
Shanahan was asked if he thought his playcalling or scheme had anything to do with four quarterbacks getting injured during the season.
“I think when you look at the injuries, common sense would answer that question,” Shanahan said. “I mean, how have they gotten hurt? I’m sorry Josh got a concussion when he hit the ground. I’m sorry our quarterback got his arm bent backwards on a normal, dropback pass. I’m sorry on a dropback pass someone rolled up on Jimmy’s ankle. And then we have dual-threat quarterback who got hurt running the ball.
“No quarterbacks got hurt when we had to hand it off the whole second half [against the Eagles], so you could look into that.”
Purdy, the last pick of last year’s draft, was a revelation as a third-string rookie. The Iowa State product finished 7-1 as a starter after taking over for an injured Garoppolo. Purdy completed 66.5% of his passes for 1,943 passing yards, with 16 touchdowns and four interceptions during the second half of the season and the playoffs.
If Purdy were healthy, he may have been Shanahan’s projected starter for 2023. Purdy is set to make $870,000 in base salary in the second year of his rookie deal next season.
Yes, the 49ers selected Lance with the No. 3 overall pick in the 2021 draft as the quarterback of the future, but his play was uneven before getting injured. The North Dakota State product is set to make $3.76 million in the third year of his rookie deal.
Purdy and Lance are the only quarterbacks under contract for San Francisco next season.
Garoppolo could make sense again as a bridge quarterback for the 49ers because of the injury issues with Lance and Purdy. But like those two, Garoppolo has also had injury concerns, failing to make it through a season without injury in three of the past six years. On Wednesday, Shanahan said he does not see a scenario in which Garoppolo returns to the team.
Of course, there was much speculation about free-agent Tom Brady returning to San Francisco. The Bay Area native grew up a 49ers fan and can still play at a high level, but the 45-year-old signal-caller announced he was retiring “for good” on Wednesday.
With the NFL setting the salary cap at $224.8 million for the upcoming season, the 49ers have about $16.4 million in cap space. Their top pending unrestricted free agents set to hit the market in March include defensive back Jimmie Ward, edge rusher Samson Ebukam, right tackle Mike McGlinchey, cornerback Emmanuel Moseley, kicker Robbie Gould, defensive lineman Charles Omenihu and Garoppolo.
But figuring out the quarterback situation will be at the top of Shanahan’s list. On Wednesday, the coach said he’s content with Lance and Purdy as the leaders in the quarterback room.
“I think that stuff will play itself out by training camp,” Shanahan said. “I know we have two starters on our team right now that we can win with. So when you have that situation, you’re not that eager to go looking around.”
Eric D. Williams has reported on the NFL for more than a decade, covering the Los Angeles Rams for Sports Illustrated, the Los Angeles Chargers for ESPN and the Seattle Seahawks for the Tacoma News Tribune. Follow him on Twitter at @eric_d_williams.
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