Trey Lance is starting his third season in the NFL. This is when the total picks for draft #3 are supposed to go off, if you haven’t already.
Instead, Lance’s career seems stuck. Although he didn’t get much help from the backups around him in the San Francisco 49ers’ season-opener on Sunday, Lance looked shaky. He seemed reluctant in many retirements, which should probably be expected from a quarterback who has barely played since the 2019 college season. He had a lot of mistakes.
The question isn’t if Lance can compete for the starting spot, because that doesn’t happen, but if he or Sam Darnold will be the 49ers’ second baseman. Lance may not have secured the backup job behind Brock Purdy on Sunday. He finished 10 of 15 for 112 yards against the Las Vegas Raiders, mustering late to make his stats look good. He also took four sacks and was lucky not to have two interceptions, one of which was in the end zone.
There’s still plenty of time before the regular season starts, but the start to pre-season could have been 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 unwise throw into traffic in the end zone. The Raiders cornerback Duke Shelley dropped what should have been an interception and it landed in the hands of 49ers tight end Ross Doyley. It wasn’t exactly a highlight for Lance.
At least there weren’t three more engines, like those of the first three 49ers.
On the 49ers’ first drive, Lance pumped the ball twice on pass attempts and allowed the Raiders defense to close in on him. He was sacked twice and the 49ers went three times.
On the second drive, the 49ers faced another third. Lance looked indecisive again, and when he started to pressure him he quickly threw him incomplete over the middle. Three and another exit.
The third engine was more of the same. Lance seemed indecisive and slow to handle the play-by-play pass at first, then knocked out his goal for incompleteness. He showed some athleticism by running second in rushing runs and saving a few yards on a scramble. Then on third down, Lance didn’t pull the trigger on any pass and picked up another sack. Once again, the 49ers went by three.
Lance was better after that, though there were still bugs.
Lance finally passed on down for the first time with about 11 minutes remaining in the second quarter, on a fast road to the tight end. He ran up to his right and found Willie Snead for a 12-yard touchdown. Lance received a touchdown on the end of possession, even though it was a foul and the coaches will let Lance know.
To start the fifth drive, the offensive line gave Lance some time on the first down but he didn’t throw it and picked up a sack. He followed that up with a very nice play, an accurate over-the-center shot to Chris Conley on third and 10. That drive stalled when the fourth and second races were stuffed.
On the final drive of the half, Lance threw over the middle and linebacker Amari Burney read Lance’s eyes, broke up the ball and dropped the interception. Lance completed one to Conley for 24 yards and tight end Troy Fumagalli for 22 after a Bernie fall left him off the hook. That’s in addition to a defensive penalty that got the 49ers within field goal range even though third-round rookie Jake Moody missed the field goal attempt as the half ended. Darnold started the second half.
The offensive line didn’t help Lance at all. His receiving targets were backups, not starters. It wasn’t great. But Lance didn’t take advantage of that either.
The 49ers made a huge deal to get Lance, and it looks bad to say the least. San Francisco traded three first-round picks and a third-round pick to move up and take Lance, who gave the 49ers four starts and 102 pass attempts. Injuries hampered him. The 49ers have won only one game that Lance started and finished. That’s a lot of money for one win against a crappy Houston Texans 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 all right after off-season surgery. There was no discussion once he was released to practice.
Maybe Lance can win the backup job, or maybe he can do enough over the rest of the upfront business to build a commercial market for his services. Early signs of either occurring were not good.