SANTA CLARA — The 49ers were approximately one week into training camp in the summer of 2022 when coach Kyle Shanahan approached CEO Jed York.
“He grabs me after practice and says, ‘We got to talk,’” York said on Thursday. “And that’s generally not a good thing when your coach tells you, ‘We got to talk.’”
Shanahan’s message to York foreshadowed one of the great stories in NFL history — the sudden rise of the final pick in the 2022 NFL Draft to a player leading his team into the Super Bowl less than two years later.
Stay in the game with the latest updates on your beloved Bay Area and California sports teams! Sign up here for our All Access Daily newsletter.
“I think our third-string quarterback is our best quarterback,” Shanahan told York, referring to little-known former Iowa State quarterback Brock Purdy.
In his second season, Purdy was an NFL MVP candidate and is one of the major reasons the 49ers will play in Super Bowl LVIII on Feb. 11 against the Kansas City Chiefs.
But when York first heard Purdy had great potential, it caught him more than a little off-guard.
At that point, Purdy was third on the 49ers’ depth chart behind Trey Lance and Nate Sudfeld. Later, the 49ers agreed to a new deal to retain Jimmy Garoppolo. Sudfeld was released, Purdy remained on the 53-man roster to open the season as the third quarterback.
San Francisco 49ers
The 49ers had large investments in the quarterbacks ahead of Purdy. They traded up to select Lance with the No. 3 overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft.
Garoppolo, previously on a contract that paid him $27.5 million annually, accepted a pay cut to $7 million to open the season as the backup to Lance.
York did not know exactly what to make of Shanahan’s Purdy's proclamation that day.
“One thing owners don’t love to hear when they’ve invested money and or draft picks, or both, into people and the last pick in the draft is the guy we think is the best,” York said. “That’s generally not great news, but he’s honest.”
At the time, Shanahan reassured York that he was not thinking of moving Purdy to the top of the depth chart. But he expressed his belief that things would end up with Purdy as the team's starting, long-term quarterback.
“Obviously, we invested in Trey and Trey (was) doing a good job, we’re going to do everything we can and we’re not going to change that,” York said of Shanahan’s message that day. “And we’re not going to change the depth chart, but I think Brock will end up being our quarterback at some point.”
Lance was injured in Week 2, which led to Garoppolo moving back into the starting role. Purdy moved into the No. 2 role.
Purdy got his first action, coincidentally, against Kansas City in mop-up duty in Week 7 of a game the Chiefs won 44-23.
“Brock threw one ball into the stands, and I may or may not have had some sarcastic comments for Kyle postgame,” York laughed.
When Purdy took over for good in Week 13 after Garoppolo sustained a season-ending injury, it did not take him long to prove Shanahan’s words to York months earlier were prophetic.
“But when Brock took over, we had a calm about it,” York said. “But there was a sense that nothing catches you by surprise. You might not like everything that Kyle tells you, but he’s always open and honest in the moment.”
Shanahan’s blunt honesty is one of the qualities York said he likes the most about his coach. Also, Shanahan is open-minded enough to change his opinion or perspective as time goes on and things change.
“He’s very clear about that with me: ‘I will tell you exactly what I think of a player, a situation, a coach in the moment.’”
Obviously, Shanahan's opinion of Purdy has not changed. It has gotten only stronger since he stepped onto the field.