The San Francisco 49ers are starting Trey Lance in their preseason opener on Sunday amid, arguably, the NFL’s most intriguing quarterback battle.
Niners head coach Kyle Shanahan confirmed in an interview with KNBR that Lance will get first run with the offense against the Las Vegas Raiders. Brock Purdy reportedly won’t play, while Sam Darnold, the former New York Jets starter competing for a backup job, will play in the second half.
Lance has spent all offseason competing to become the Niners’ starting quarterback, but the biggest variable in that battle has been more about Brock Purdy’s health than what Shanahan is seeing in camp, where Lance has been drawing strong reviews. Shanahan hasn’t been shy with his praise for Purdy, though, and it would take a massive regression in form — read: more than three picks in a joint practice — to change that.
So Lance could be starting Sunday for multiple reasons. The Niners could be resting Purdy like he’s already the starter, or to protect his arm. Shanahan could be more curious how the former third overall draft pick performs with the top offense than Purdy, who started eight games last season between the regular season and playoffs before tearing his UCL. The Niners might want to do everything they can to improve Lance’s trade value. Or perhaps Lance really might be getting a shot at starting.
Whatever the reason, Lance will get an opportunity to remind everyone he can still be a factor in future plans, be it in the Niners’ or some other team’s. It’s an unusual situation for a third overall pick to be in, but that’s what happens when a third overall pick has started four games in three seasons.