Trey Lance is starting his third NFL season. That’s when No. 3 overall picks of the draft are supposed to be taking off, if they haven’t already.
Instead, Lance’s career looks stuck. Though he didn’t get a lot of help from the backups around him in the San Francisco 49ers’ preseason opener on Sunday, Lance looked shaky. He looked hesitant many of his dropbacks, which perhaps should be expected from a quarterback who has barely played since the 2019 college season. He had too many mistakes.
The question isn’t if Lance can compete for a starting spot, because that isn’t happening, but if he or Sam Darnold will be the 49ers’ second quarterback. Lance probably didn’t secure the backup job behind Brock Purdy on Sunday. He finished 10 of 15 for 112 yards against the Las Vegas Raiders, rallying late to make his stats look decent. He also took four sacks and was lucky to not have two interceptions, including one in the end zone.
There’s still time to go before the regular season starts, but the start to the preseason could have gone a lot better for Lance. The 49ers went three-and-out on each of Lance’s first three drives. Even on his fourth drive, which ended in a touchdown, he made an ill-advised throw into traffic in the end zone. Raiders cornerback Duke Shelley dropped what should have been an interception and it landed in the hands of 49ers tight end Ross Dwelley. It wasn’t exactly a highlight for Lance.
At least it wasn’t another three-and-out, like the 49ers’ first three drives.
On the 49ers’ first drive, Lance twice pumped the ball on pass attempts and allowed the Raiders defense to converge on him. He was sacked twice and the 49ers went three-and-out.
On the second drive, the 49ers faced another third down. Lance once again looked indecisive, and when the pressure started getting to him he threw it quickly and incomplete over the middle. Another three-and-out.
The third drive was more of the same. Lance looked indecisive and slow to process on a play-action pass on first down, then overthrew his target for an incompletion. He did show some athleticism on second down in escaping the rush and salvaging a couple yards on a scramble. Then on third down Lance didn’t pull the trigger on any pass and took another sack. Once again, the 49ers went three-and-out.
Lance was better after that, though there were still mistakes.
Lance finally passed for a first down with about 11 minutes left in the second quarter, on a quick out to the tight end. He scrambled to his right and found Willie Snead for 12 yards. Lance got a touchdown at the end of the possession, though it was a mistake and coaches will let Lance know that.
To start the fifth drive, the offensive line actually gave Lance some time on first down but he didn’t throw it and took a sack. He did follow that up with a very nice play, an accurate strike over the middle to Chris Conley on third-and-10. That drive stalled when a fourth-and-2 run was stuffed.
On the final drive of the half, Lance threw over the middle and linebacker Amari Burney read Lance’s eyes, broke on the ball and dropped the interception. Lance completed one to Conley for 24 yards and tight end Troy Fumagalli for 22 after Burney’s drop let him off the hook. That and a defensive penalty got the 49ers in field goal range though rookie third-round pick Jake Moody missed the field goal attempt as the half ended. Darnold started the second half.
The offensive line didn’t help Lance out at all. His receiving targets were backups, not starters. It wasn’t a great situation. But Lance didn’t exactly make the most of it either.
The 49ers made a massive trade to get Lance, and that’s looking bad to say the least. San Francisco traded three first-round picks and a third-round pick to move up and take Lance, who has given the 49ers four starts and 102 passing attempts. Injuries have held him back. The 49ers have won just one game that Lance started and finished. That’s a lot to pay for one win against a bad Houston Texans team near the end of the 2021 season.
Purdy is the 49ers’ No. 1 quarterback. The only question was his health. The 49ers needed to make sure his elbow was fine after offseason surgery. There was no debate once he was cleared for practice.
Maybe Lance can win the backup job, or perhaps he can do enough over the rest of the presason to build a trade market for his services. The early signs for either happening weren’t good.