Kyle Shanahan

Shanahan explains 49ers' decision to trade Lance despite belief in QB

NBC Universal, Inc.

Kyle Shanahan and John Lynch took a gigantic risk in 2021, and more than two years later, they admitted it didn't work out at all.

On Friday, hours before the 49ers' preseason finale against the Los Angeles Chargers at Levi's Stadium, San Francisco's braintrust traded former No. 3 overall pick Trey Lance to the Dallas Cowboys for a 2024 fourth-round selection.

After giving up so much draft capital to select Lance, cutting bait on him in the middle of his rookie contract for a mid-round pick seemed like a panic move.

The trade came two days after the 49ers decided offseason acquisition Sam Darnold had won the backup quarterback competition, meaning Lance, the 2021 first-round draft pick, would be the third-stringer.

Now that won't happen — at least not in San Francisco.

After the 49ers lost to the Chargers, Shanahan spoke at length with the media for the first time since the decision, and explained the rationale behind the trade.

"Well, we decided who our two [quarterbacks] were going to be that we were going with," Shanahan said. "We'll see how our 53-[man roster] works out to see if we're going keep three or not. And when we told Trey, we told him that he wasn't the two, I said we'd like to keep him here as the three, but we also want to do what's good for him, too, and we'll see how this plays out.

"Now when we looked in other teams and he told us that he would like another opportunity to go somewhere where we had a chance to be the two, we thought we got some good deals for him. There's a number of teams involved. To end up getting the fourth was a little better than we anticipated and clears up a lot of money, and allows a better situation for him, too."

Lance is owed $6.24 million combined in the 2023 and 2024 seasons, so the 49ers were able to clear some much-needed salary-cap space as they try to sign reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year Nick Bosa to a massive contract extension. And now they might need to sign a free-agent kicker with Jake Moody and Zane Gonzalez both sustaining leg injuries.

As for how Shanahan and Lance arrived at the decision to explore trade options, the 49ers' coach believes a change of scenery will be the best thing for the 23-year-old.

"When Trey and I talked, we talked about all the situations going forward, and I told him how much I'd still want him here to be the three and things like that," Shanahan said. "I also told him that what I think is best for Trey. I do think Trey needs an opportunity to play more. The opportunities he's had here, when he has had those two opportunities, he's gotten hurt in both of them and kind of missed that window a little bit, gave an opportunity for someone else to do it, and that person did it and stayed healthy for those seven games and showed us something that we're confident in.

"And Trey kind of needs that again. And he didn't get that here. And so I told him that's what I think is best for him if he can find a good opportunity. If he doesn't and he wants to be here, we want him here, and Trey took a little bit of time to think about it, but he came back and said he'd like to find another spot if we can. And that's when we started looking into it, his agent, us. And that came to fruition today."

Shanahan also opened up about the decision to go with Darnold as the No. 2 quarterback behind starter Brock Purdy, and why he didn't wait until after the final preseason game to make the pick.

"Because I knew it," Shanahan told reporters. "I thought it would take longer. I wanted to go through this game, but I knew it, and I think a lot of guys knew it. I think he had an idea. It was more about my relationship with Trey that, I'm in meetings with him every day, I'm on the field with him every day, and I could get a sense that he was starting to feel that we felt that way. And it was the truth, and I don't want to BS him.

"So once we knew and I could tell that he knew we knew, I remember the night before, I realized I had to come in the morning and tell him. I don't want that between us. I did. Didn't expect it to get out right away. But it did. That was something I thought I owed to Trey. I told Trey right before the team meeting that we had [decided]. I didn't even get the chance to tell Sam or anyone else on the team. That was just a personal thing between Trey and I, and it obviously got out. That's why I thought it was important to tell him."

In the aftermath of the 49ers choosing Darnold over Lance, the local and national media has vilified Shanahan and Lynch for bungling such a major draft pick. They rolled the dice and came up empty, with Purdy the only saving grace in this whole situation.

Just as Lynch admitted responsibility during an in-game interview Friday, Shanahan did the same while explaining their thought process on the 2021 trade with the Miami Dolphins that looks like a disaster in hindsight.

"Obviously we took our shot, and it didn't work out," Shanahan said. "That's on us for that, but I'm not going to say anything is a failure. That would be too much negative toward Trey. I get our deal. We took a shot to go for that. We were hoping that he would be our guy, and that didn't work out. So I understand that from our standpoint, but I still do believe in Trey.

"And about three years ago, we had the 12th pick in the draft, after that COVID year, but we thought we had a really good team and we didn't think we'd have a chance again to get close to that top area to take a quarterback in the top 10, and when you have the 12th pick in the draft, we went into it realizing it was a risk, but we thought we weren't going to pick that high again for a couple years and we would never have a chance to move from 12 to three.

"We tried to move up to a number of spots before that, but three is the first one that would do it. We looked at everything between 12 and three, and we got that, and we took our shot at something we believed in, a person we believed in. Was hoping he could play more his first year. We knew he wouldn't just come in and take it over from Jimmy [Garoppolo] but we were hoping to mix it in and kind of give him some experience, but once he broke the finger and stuff, it just got tougher for him as time went.

"We knew we'd commit to him the next year, which we did. We knew he wasn't fully ready in every aspect, but we knew he had a skillset that we could put some stuff together to give him the chance to compete and grow with a good team as he developed as a full quarterback. And he got hurt in the first quarter of the second game, which kind of set that back. And now we're here in the third year and we still got a good team and we thought it would be Trey. I think we got pretty fortunate still having a rookie quarterback in our third year, that happened to be a seventh-round pick."

In the end, Shanahan shoulders the blame for Lance not developing properly while in Santa Clara.

"I mean, I always feel like I let Trey down," Shanahan said. "I mean, I wanted him to come here. I believe in Trey. I believed in him before we took him, and I'm responsible for that. I didn't want to throw him into the heat of battle right away, but I thought he needed to play. So, we tried to figure out every way to do that. I mean, if I can look back in hindsight, he broke that finger on a helmet on that fourth preseason game versus the Raiders.

"I wish I didn't put him in a play that had him break his finger because I think that really hurt him in his first year, and not only did it hurt him, not being able to mix in much, but it hurt him in the practice time because he had to adjust how he threw and things like that, which I think set him back for a second year. When we went into the second year, we gave him every chance to do it. We were going to make an offense that, to me, gave him the best chance to be successful, at that time, which we did do, and when you do that, you hope a guy can stay healthy so he can stay out there long enough.

"But that didn't last long. It was the first game. And after that, I mean, I always felt for and we continue to work with him, but sometimes things just don't work out."

The 49ers will answer questions about the Lance situation for a long time. Without the ascension of Purdy, Lynch and Shanahan might be on the heat seat for how this all played out. Now they just have to hope Mr. Irrelevant can make everyone forget about the former No. 3 overall pick who never was able to reach his potential in the Bay Area.

Download and follow the 49ers Talk Podcast

Contact Us