49ers 2023 QB Competition

One of the more intriguing questions of the 2023 NFL offseason will be the week 1 starting quarterback in San Francisco. With Brock Purdy still leading them through the playoffs, is it too early to start speculating? Of course not! Who would write an NFL blog and not lean into speculating about literally every awesome narrative? I’m ready to start talking about Justin Jefferson’s Hall of Fame speech. But you’re not, and that’s okay. We’ll get there.

Brock Purdy

What a year for Mr. Irrelevant! Purdy appears to have good leadership skills and the locker room loves him. That’s an enormous first step and many deficiencies can be overlooked when a QB has that. That said, while not necessarily hampered by his own draft position, Purdy is somewhat hampered by Trey Lance’s draft position and the enormous draft capital expended to get him. It doesn’t mean Purdy can’t win and hold the job with his play in the playoffs and next offseason, but it does mean he needs to do something extraordinary to get that chance. A deep playoff run would do nicely, and that started with a dominant game on SUPER Wildcard Weekend. That said, as I mentioned in my playoff preview of that game, his leash is likely shorter than many fans seem to think. Every QB has a bad game, and Purdy hasn’t had one yet. When it happens, will the fans be forgiving? With all the weapons they have on offense, it’s easy to get caught up in the “well, he’s just letting his weapons do the work” line of thinking. And perhaps that’s true. Then you start thinking, well what if we had someone who can let the weapons do the work, but can also be a weapon himself?

So far, those questions aren’t being asked because Purdy has yet to fail. At some point he will. Then what? I’m very curious to see how Niners fans respond, especially if it happens in the next playoff game, or the next playoff game, or week 1 of next season. He has tremendous control of the offense and the huddle, he knows and accepts his role, and he seems incapable of getting rattled.

But he has limitations, most noticeably the lack of a deep ball and underthrows when he tries, and committing to a 23 year old with physical limitations goes against NFL thinking. I’m not saying it’s the right or wrong thinking; I’m saying it’s the NFL thinking. Coaches and GMs so often look for physical tools that they can mold instead of seeing the intangibles in front of them, which is why it took so long for guys like Brady and Brees to be accepted as legitimate. Purdy looks like he has the mindset to overcome that NFL thinking, but it’ll take time. A ring would help.

Trey Lance

It’s just the reality that when significant draft capital is spent on a player, they get all the chances. Trading up from the 12th to the 3rd pick to get Lance in 2021 cost the 49ers their 2022 and 2023 1st round picks, plus a 2022 3rd rounder. Coaches and front offices don’t walk away from that kind of investment just because a 7th round rookie is on a winning streak. Purdy and Garappolo are guys that can keep things moving and get it to the playmakers. Lance can potentially do all that, plus be an additional playmaker.

Also very important is that, despite a season-ending injury, Lance has been an extremely active and visible teammate. He goes to team and position meetings, wears an earpiece on the sideline during games, continues to help out Purdy however he can, and bought Christmas gifts for his offensive line. This is not a guy ready to give up his gig, and he’s doing all the right things to make sure he still has the locker room behind him next season. Barring a Purdy Super Bowl win or the acquisition of a legendary veteran, Lance may still begin the offseason as the starter. But it’s hard to ignore Purdy’s success, and they’re 3 wins away from a scenario where the team has to decide between the guy who won the Super Bowl or the guy they traded everything to acquire.

With each playoff win led by Purdy, don’t be surprised if trade rumors start swirling around Lance.

Jimmy Garappolo

With Lance coming back and Purdy clearly establishing himself as a playoff-capable QB with control of the huddle, and “really good backup” as his floor, there’s no room here for Jimmy. With last year’s surprise shoulder surgery behind him, and a strong season that showed the shoulder isn’t an ongoing issue, it stands to reason he’ll have a chance to win a starting gig somewhere else. Even amidst a strong QB draft class, it’s possible some high drafting team would bring him in to start while they develop a rookie. This may be his last shot at a multi year contract, so unless something happens to Lance or Purdy late this season or early next offseason, it’s doubtful Jimmy stays in San Francisco. That’s why he got put in the middle of the list, cause I know you won’t even read this. You scrolled down just a bit and saw Brady and blew right past Jimmy G. And that’s okay. He’s used to it.

Tom Brady

Of the two QBs tied to San Fran in the rumor mill, Brady would be the most likely. Despite his age and feeble old man look, he’s a free agent after this season, fresh off a divorce, and the appeal of going out winning a Super Bowl with his 3rd different team has to be tempting. But for that to happen, the Niners would have to willingly set back the development of Lance and Purdy just to go all in for a ring. That’s the kind of gamble that gets people fired in November if it’s not working out.

But man, the temptation of having the greatest pocket passer in history running an offense with all those weapons. A ring this year would likely shut these talks up, but anything less will start back up the chatter about just needing that missing piece.

Aaron Rodgers

This one would be trickier, though not impossible. Rodgers is still under contract with the Packers, and a trade (or retirement) would leave the Packers with a $40 million dead cap hit. That seems like a lot, but if he plays for the Packers in 2023, a trade or retirement next offseason would jump to a $68 million dead cap hit. Niners would have to be able to handle Rodgers $59 million payday for 2023, far more than it would likely take to rope in Brady if that option is available. Plus, all the picks the Niners traded to get Lance leaves them short of what it would likely cost to get Rodgers.

As improbable as this trade seems, if it were to happen, it’s entirely probable it would include Trey Lance, who just happens to have been the college QB for the Packers new stud WR Christian Watson. The whole concept of pairing college QB/WR teammates together has worked well elsewhere, with Burrow and Chase lighting things up in Cincy and, despite the team and Carr’s failure, Davante Adams still had an All-Pro year.

This whole talk about Rodgers and Brady seems strange as the 49ers head to the divisional playoff round on absolute fire. But remember that they made it to the NFC Championship game last season, then dumped the QB who got them there to the bench the next day. At the moment, it seems like Purdy has the upper hand, but with the number of times I’ve echoed Stefon Diggs infamous tweet (and the namesake of this blog) in just the 2022 season, I’ll never assume anything in this league.

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