Trey Lance

How NFL pundits graded 49ers' trade of Trey Lance to Cowboys

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The 49ers Faithful have endured yet another quarterback saga that officially came to an end Friday, when San Francisco traded Trey Lance to the Dallas Cowboys in exchange for a 2024 fourth-round draft pick.

The former No. 3 overall pick of the 2021 NFL Draft gets a fresh start in the Lone Star State with a Cowboys team excited to have him, while the 49ers recoup a draft pick, save some cap space and clear up any uncertainty left in their quarterback room.

But which team came out on top? Here's how NFL experts have graded the trade:

CBS Sports

49ers: B-

"Credit the 49ers for quickly finding a trade partner and getting decent capital in return. A fourth-round pick is nothing to scoff at, especially in exchange for a quarterback with a 54.9 completion percentage who was just demoted to third string. 

San Francisco gets dinged, however, for trading Lance just two years after making him the No. 3 overall pick. The fact that they gave up on him after two years isn't a great look, especially when you look at the players they could have taken with that pick (Ja'Marr Chase, Jaylen Waddle, Jaycee Horn, Patrick Surtain II, Devonta Smith, Justin Fields and Micah Parsons were taken shortly after the 49ers selected Lance)."

Cowboys: B+

"This grade might be a little high, considering that Lance is an unproven player who the 49ers essentially gave up on. But sometimes all a player needs is a fresh start, and that could be the case for Lance, who could unlock his potential in Dallas under Mike McCarthy's tutelage. 

Lance has the luxury of working with Prescott, who should be an ideal mentor for the young quarterback. Best case, Lance becomes an adequate backup who can step in and perform well enough to keep the train on the tracks. Worst case, Lance doesn't materialize, and the Cowboys lost a considerable draft pick that could have been used to shore up another part of the roster." - Bryan DeArdo

The Athletic

49ers: (T)B(D)

"Let’s get this part out of the way right now: The 49ers’ draft grade is an F. Three first-round picks for a quarterback who made four starts, attempted 102 passes and didn’t get halfway through his rookie contract is a draft failure.

But the trade grade and the draft grade must be viewed as separate entities. The trade grade is a B for now.

The Athletic polled eight team executives this week to assess Lance’s trade value. Three believed he could be worth at least a third-round pick. The rest thought a late Saturday selection was more feasible.

The Niners recouped an asset right in the middle of those projections, so they did well to maximize Lance’s value rather than holding on to him longer and risking another plummet.

Of course, other factors could change the outlook of the trade from the 49ers’ perspective. If Purdy struggles or the team’s quarterbacks get eviscerated by injuries again, they’ll rue jettisoning Lance.

Or if Lance benefits the rival Cowboys, there will certainly be some Niners regret. It could be a short-term benefit, like with Lance filling in for Prescott and helping them win some games this season to preserve playoff seeding over the 49ers. Or it could be a long-term benefit like taking the baton from Prescott as the franchise quarterback."

Cowboys: A

"The Cowboys spent a fourth-round pick on a player who just two years ago was the third pick in the draft. No, he hasn’t yet panned out, but the Cowboys clearly believe Lance has a chance to get himself on track.

Another way to look at it is that the 30-year-old Prescott has missed 17 games over the last three seasons. If he goes down again, the Cowboys know they have a more talented quarterback depth chart with Lance and Rush. That’s an important factor for a team that is talented enough to win games on defense as long as the quarterback is efficient enough to distribute the ball to the explosive skill players.

Maybe it doesn’t pan out for Lance in Dallas. But a fourth-round pick for a player who was viewed as a franchise quarterback a very short time ago is an easy call." - Jeff Howe


49ers: C

"The 49ers don't deserve much credit here. They traded three first-round picks to get Lance in the first place. That's etched in stone as one of the dumbest draft moves in history now that they've shipped him away for a Day 3 pick.

But they turned a third-string quarterback into a fourth-round pick after they signaled to the whole of the NFL that they had zero use for him. So they don't come out of this specific trade feeling all too shabby. It's the baggage that holds them back."

Cowboys: D

"The Cowboys are clearly looking for some insurance for Dak Prescott by adding Trey Lance. They see Lance as a talent who can develop behind an established starter. If something happens to Prescott, or he proves incapable of bringing a Super Bowl to Dallas, they can pivot to the former No. 3 overall pick.

If it works out, Jerry Jones and company will look like geniuses who found an eject button for Prescott while only giving up a fourth-round draft pick.

But right now, they look like complete idiots.

The 49ers chose Sam Darnold over Lance to be their backup. They effectively gave up on a quarterback they traded up to get at No. 3. That should tell the Cowboys something!

If Dallas wasn't convinced by Cooper Rush as a backup for Prescott — this is the part we remind you that Rush is 5-1 as an NFL starter — they could have just signed someone like Darnold in the offseason.

A fourth-round pick isn't much, that's the only reason this isn't a complete fail. But it's not like the Cowboys couldn't have used a fourth-round pick to draft someone who could contribute to a Super Bowl run.

Instead, they gave the pick away while undermining Prescott's place as their franchise quarterback." - Alicia de Artola


49ers: C-

Cowboys: A-

"We could easily give the 49ers a brutal trade grade. But this boils down to their draft pick if anything. The trade itself, considering that Lance didn't provide much trade value coming off an injury, wasn't necessarily terrible. Still, there's no question that the Cowboys won this trade given Lance's star-studded ceiling." - Joey Mistretta

USA Today

49ers: D

"It’s hard to really determine the long-term ramifications of trading Lance for the 49ers, as this move, on its face, looks like an absolute disaster for San Francisco.

However, the 49ers are a legitimate Super Bowl contender that has one of the best coaches in the game, typically drafts well and has a quarterback they really seem to like in Brock Purdy.

Everything is going well for the 49ers right now, which is why the franchise can weather a massive fiasco like trading three first-round picks to draft a quarterback you’d later trade for a fourth-round pick roughly two years later.

Getting a fourth is better compensation than some speculated for San Francisco, but the team also traded three first-round picks for a quarterback they just traded for a fourth-round pick. It’s a bad look even if it’s not the end of the world for the 49ers.

In the years to come, San Francisco will ultimately be judged for how much they accomplish with Purdy (or another starter) at the helm and how Lance does with his change of scenery. If Lance figures it out and becomes a good starter and San Francisco falters with Purdy or someone else, it makes this deal look even worse. If Lance isn’t able to ever win a starting gig, it just shows the 49ers admitting a massive defeat and moving on.

Either way, San Francisco won’t get any positive marks for this, even if this particular transaction is not worthy of a wholly failing mark. Other than getting a decent mid-round pick, this is a historic failure for one of football’s best teams. They’re just incredibly lucky the on-field project hasn’t suffered like it very easily could’ve. They just have to keep winning to brush this off past the brutal optics of the trade."

Cowboys: B+

"This move for Dallas is not nearly as simple as just finding a good backup for quarterback Dak Prescott. This really could be the Cowboys signaling that they might not be as tied to Prescott as a long-term starter as previously thought.

Lance is by no means a lost cause, and the Cowboys may want to get him in the building this fall to see how his development is going and see if he really can be a starting quarterback in the NFL with the right opportunity. Prescott will carry a stunning $59(ish) million cap hit for Dallas in 2024, and it’s entirely possible that the Cowboys want a full reset at coach and quarterback if the team fails to win the NFC this season after multiple attempts to do so with Prescott under center.

It’s not to say Lance would just walk into the job, but it’s also not to say that having someone like Lance couldn’t entice the Cowboys to trade Prescott to a new team for a windfall next offseason and designate it as a post-June 1 transaction. Over the Cap says that trade designation would save the Cowboys $34 million next summer, which would be very enticing for a new coaching staff in terms of long-term fiscal flexibility.

If the team really likes Lance’s potential and feels that he can reach it with the right situation in Dallas, there could be a very silent changing of the guard on the horizon with the Cowboys. Prescott has been a commendable starter for the Cowboys, but team owner Jerry Jones is not known for his patience and might want another big splash to change things up.

This is a big “if,” however. Lance would have to give the Cowboys a reason to hope in his potential for these dominoes to even get consideration to fall, but you don’t just trade a fourth-round pick for a backup quarterback before the season with a perfectly fine backup in Cooper Rush on the roster. Jones might be wanting to weigh his options for a post-Prescott future, and Lance could figure into that equation now.

Again, the Cowboys didn’t just make a move like this without at least some thought for the future. We have no idea where this goes, but it’s certainly intriguing. It’s a really solid move as it is, especially if Lance figures it out and can start down the road. Don’t underestimate where this could go." - Cory Woodroof

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