By Josh Dubow
SANTA CLARA, Calif. — Trey Lance has no desire for a fresh start even though his path to becoming the franchise quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers has many roadblocks.
After the Niners traded three first-round picks to draft him third overall in 2021, Lance has started only four games after serving as a backup for most of his rookie season and being injured most of last year.
Now he heads into his third season behind the former Mr. Irrelevant Brock Purdy, who went from being the last pick of the 2022 draft to the presumed starter in San Francisco as long as he recovers from offseason elbow surgery.
That led some teams to check in to see if the Niners were ready to move on from Lance, but he had no interest in a trade even if it gave him a clearer path to becoming a full-time starter.
“I knew where I wanted to be,” he said. “I just want an opportunity to compete. I love it here. I love the coaching staff. … Love the quarterback room, love the guys in the locker room. No doubt for me, this is absolutely where I want to be.”
Lance said he believes he is in his best state mentally since entering the league. The stress of learning a new offense as a rookie and working his way back last spring from a finger injury that altered his throwing motion and contributed to a tired arm are now in the past.
Lance is also fully recovered from the broken ankle that cut short his second season in Week 2 and can now focus on making the subtle improvements needed to be able to be a good starting quarterback in the NFL.
“I really feel like I’m having fun playing football again,” he said. “It’s hard those first years, my first year especially and then last year, I thought I’d be able to get close to that point of not having to be so stressed and worried and have a better understanding of offense and defense and I finally feel like I’m able to just have fun and enjoy it again. Obviously, there’s ups and downs and there is stress and anxiety that comes with playing the position and playing football, but this is the best I’ve felt for sure.”
Lance spent part of the offseason working with Patrick Mahomes and throwing coach Jeff Christensen and coach Kyle Shanahan has seen positive results in his footwork during the early parts of on-field work this spring.
Shanahan said Lance was unable to work on that aspect of his game last offseason because the priority was on getting back to his normal throwing motion that was thrown off when he broke a finger in the preseason as a rookie and was forced to alter his delivery.
“I think he spent most of his time working on a grip, trying to get it back, which is usually a prerequisite but because of his circumstances he got in that, so he was just late to working on the other things,” Shanahan said. “This year, he went into this offseason knowing exactly just football-wise what he had to work on and I think that’s why he is ahead of last year.”
While Lance may have made progress in the past year in his play, he has fallen in the pecking order at quarterback.
Purdy took over as starter late last season after Jimmy Garoppolo got hurt and won his first seven starts before injuring his elbow in the NFC title game loss at Philadelphia.
Purdy had surgery in March and is set to resume throwing again next week and Shanahan has said he’s optimistic that Purdy can be healthy enough to start Week 1.
That leaves Lance competing with free agent acquisition Sam Darnold, another former No. 3 overall pick who has struggled to have success early in his career.
“We have two guys who are talented enough to be taken in the top five of the draft and we have another guy who played like it last year,” Shanahan said about his quarterback room.
Shanahan said Lance’s demeanor hasn’t changed now that he’s not slated as the starter and the team still believes in his potential.
Lance said he isn’t worried about the depth chart and just wants to “live in the moment.”
“My opportunity is just to come in and compete and that’s all I wanted,” he said. “I don’t want to take anything away from Brock and no one should be able to take anything away from Brock. He did what he did last year and he deserves all the credit in the world for it. I just want an opportunity to compete.”