49ers Could Trade the Trey Lance Contract While it Still has Value

Ahead of the 2021 NFL Draft, the San Francisco 49ers traded the Miami Dolphins the No. 12 pick, their 2022 and 2023 first-round picks, and a 2022 third-round pick for the No. 3 selection rights in 2021. That No. 3 pick turned into quarterback Trey Lance. In Lance’s rookie season, Jimmy Garoppolo beat him out. In Year 2, 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan gave Lance the job. Unfortunately, Lance went down with a season-ending ankle injury in Week 2. Garoppolo took over and did well, and when Jimmy G went down, the last pick in the 2022 NFL Draft, Brock Purdy, took over and is currently 5-0 to start his career. Now, it looks like Shanahan and the 49ers have found their QB of the future, but it’s Purdy, not Lance. If that is the case, what should the team do with the Trey Lance contract?

The Trey Lance contract

Trey Lance contract, San Francisco 49ers
Trey Lance | Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

As the No. 3 pick in the 2021 NFL Draft, Trey Lance signed a fully guaranteed four-year, $34,105,275 contract with a $22,163,836 signing bonus.

In 2023, Lance will make $3,760,480 in base salary and $5,540,959 in prorated signing bonus for a cap hit of $9,301,439. The third-year QB will also carry a dead cap number of $20,153,117. The following season, Lance will make a base of $5,310,719, which with the prorated signing bonus, brings his cap hit to $10,851,678 (which is also his dead cap figure).

The biggest issue with the Trey Lance contract is that as a first-round pick, the team has the option to add a fifth year onto the end of the deal. Based on his draft spot, position, and possibly playing time, Lance’s 2025 cap number would be around $20 million.

That’s not bad either, but the team has to decide next offseason whether to pick that option up.

Lance’s cap hits of $9, $10, and even $20 million are great for a starter, and the first two aren’t bad for a decent backup. The problem is the longer Lance stays with the team in a backup role, the lower his value becomes.

Ideally, the 49ers would keep Lance in 2023 to make sure Purdy is the guy. Together, the pair will make just a hair over $10 million next season. However, if the 49ers hope to recoup even some of the draft capital they gave up to get Lance in the first place, they may need to trade the QB while the Trey Lance contract still has some meat on the bone.

Could the 49ers trade Lance? 

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Brock Purdy Contract: Winning a Playoff Game Would Cause a $20M Problem for the 49ers

From a financial and an insurance perspective, the best course of action is to keep Trey Lance at least one more year in case Brock Purdy gets hurt or doesn’t live up to expectations in his second season.

However, from a football perspective, it may make sense to fully give the reins to Purdy and bring in a true veteran backup to aid in Mr. Irrelevant’s development.

Throughout NFL history, when teams find an unexpected starting QB, getting rid of the competition and fully installing “the guy” as a starter is what usually happens.

When Tom Brady won the job with the New England Patriots, the team traded Drew Bledsoe to the Buffalo Bills. When Russell Wilson won the job with the Seattle Seahawks, the team traded Matt Flynn to the Oakland Raiders.

The Cowboys have dealt with this twice. After the 2006 season, Tony Romo emerged as the starter over (once again, poor) Bledsoe. The team told the veteran QB his services were no longer needed, and he decided to retire. Ten years later, Jerry Jones and company did the exact same thing (with the exact same outcome) with Romo and Dak Prescott.

In 2023, the value the 49ers can get for their highly-drafted quarterback is tied to the Trey Lance contract. The longer a team has the QB under contractual control, the more they will be willing to give up for him.

If the 49ers do decide to trade Lance this offseason, there would be several suitors. The Patriots, New York Jets, Tennessee Titans, Washington Commanders, and New Orleans Saints could all kick the tires on the former No. 3 overall pick.

The most interesting match, though, could be between the 49ers and the team they traded with to get Lance in the first place. With Tua Tagovailoa’s future incredibly uncertain due to concussions at the end of the 2022 season, Miami could give up a decent future pick to get the QB they could have taken in 2021 and the still-valuable Trey Lance contract.