Six months after publicly saying farewell to the 49ers’ fan base, Jimmy Garoppolo was regularly seen throwing passes to build his arm strength on a field behind temporary bleachers at training camp.
That was one year ago.
On Wednesday, Trey Lance was told he would open the season as the 49ers’ No. 3 quarterback behind starter Brock Purdy and Sam Darnold.
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.
For reasons that are still not entirely clear, Lance was not on the field when the team went out for their final practice of training camp. The first thought, of course, when the 49ers moved Lance down the depth chart, a source confirmed the front office is “exploring all options” and Lance was nowhere to be seen at practice, was that his time with the organization had come to an end.
And, then, you remember these are the 49ers. Things are not always how they appear.
The organization let everyone’s thoughts run rampant for hours before providing any context to the news of the day.
Neither general manager John Lynch nor coach Kyle Shanahan provided an answer to some obvious questions: Did Lance go AWOL? Did the team tell him to stay away while trade talks were taking place? Or, was it mutually decided the third-year quarterback should take the day off?
San Francisco 49ers
And why, exactly, would a player need to take a day off for moving one spot down the depth chart? Lineups change all the time, so this was a peculiar turn of events that team captain Fred Warner admitted caught him by surprise, too.
Warner, by the way, was the only representative of the 49ers organization who was supplied to comment on the situation after practice on Wednesday . . . but that’s another story.
Finally, Shanahan went on KNBR for his weekly show in the evening. He made it sound as if Lance was so distraught with the news that the club suggested he get away for a day.
Shortly after last season when Shanahan told Lance that Purdy would enter 2023 as the team’s starting quarterback, according to a source, Lance was defiant and told Shanahan he would end up convincing him to change his mind.
Obviously, that did not happen.
The 49ers brought in Darnold to compete with Lance. Then, veteran backup Brandon Allen signed with the club as an obvious contingency plan in case Lance did not stick around for the start of the regular season.
While Garoppolo’s sideshow took place last summer, Lance was the unquestioned starting quarterback. He was viewed as the team’s franchise quarterback — a tag that goes along with his status as the No. 3 overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft.
The 49ers expected him to benefit from a full season of play. But that never happened. He never played two full games in a row with the organization. In Week 2, he sustained a season-ending injury.
The 49ers eventually were forced to turn to Purdy, and he proved to Shanahan he is “the real deal,” as the coach recently referred to him.
The big question now is whether Lance will actually be the 49ers’ No. 3 quarterback or if Allen will fill that role.
Shanahan said on his radio appearance Lance will play — as strange as that sounds right now — in the 49ers’ preseason finale Friday night against the Los Angeles Chargers.
Meanwhile, the phone line is open for any trade offer that is not likely to produce much compensation coming the other way.
Shanahan said, if it were an option, he would be happy if Lance remained with the organization to open the season. He also said the 49ers would “do right for Trey.”
Those comments suggest that if Lance asks for his release, the 49ers would grant him the freedom to get a fresh start with the team of his choosing.
But what is best for Lance? That’s what Lance must decide.
At 23, he needs to play. And, before that, he needs to practice.
As the 49ers’ third quarterback, Lance will seldom get any practice snaps from this point forward.
Once the regular season begins, Purdy will get all of the practice time and Darnold will focus on remaining sharp with his work on the scout team.
The events of Wednesday painted the picture that Lance’s time with the 49ers is over.
But history suggests with 49ers quarterbacks, it’s not over until the bags are packed, the locker is cleared and he is on a plane moving on to his next job opportunity.