SANTA CLARA, Calif. (AP) — San Francisco 49ers general manager John Lynch said he expects Trey Lance still to be on the roster when the season starts in just over two weeks despite losing out on the backup job to Sam Darnold.
The Niners made the decision earlier this week to give Darnold the No. 2 job behind Brock Purdy despite trading three first-round picks to draft Lance third overall in 2021.
The team is exploring all options with Lance, including a possible trade, but Lynch told flagship radio station KNBR that Lance being the third-string quarterback for Week 1 in Pittsburgh remains in play.
“That’s the most likely option,” Lynch said. “We’re very happy with Trey. That’s probably the most likely option that he’s here. If we can find a landing spot for Trey that is a really good one for him and works for our organization, that’s not something that we’d turn a blind eye to. But that’s not where our focus is right now. Our focus is on Trey getting back here and us being the best football team.”
Lynch said the decision to move Darnold into the backup spot was a “gut punch” to Lance. Lance didn’t attend practice on Wednesday after getting the news in what Lynch described as a mutual decision.
Lance was back with the team on Thursday and is expected to play in the exhibition finale at home against the Los Angeles Chargers on Friday night after Purdy and Darnold get their shot.
“Trey handled it incredibly well, with class,” Lynch said. “He was devastated and rightly so. When you put your heart and soul into something and it doesn’t come to fruition, you’re going to be devastated. That’s the type of competitor he is. But we’re in a good place, he’ll be back in the building today and we’re moving forward.”
San Francisco traded three first-round picks and a third-rounder to Miami in 2021 to move up from No. 12 and draft the untested Lance third overall.
Lance started only 17 games at FCS level North Dakota State before the Niners drafted him and he never got much of a chance to gain the experience he needed in the NFL.
He spent his rookie season backing up Jimmy Garoppolo, starting just two games as an injury replacement and being hampered by a finger injury on his throwing hand.
Lance was handed the starting job last season, but that lasted less than five quarters as he broke his ankle early in Week 2 and was sidelined for the rest of the season.
Purdy, taken with the last draft pick in 2022, came on late in the season and won his first seven starts to take over the starting role headed into this season.
San Francisco signed Darnold in free agency after he flamed out with the Jets and Carolina after also being drafted third overall in 2018 by New York. Darnold ended up doing enough in practices and the first two preseason games to beat out Lance.
Lance has completed 56 of 102 passes in his brief NFL career for 797 yards, five TDs, three interceptions and an 84.5 passer rating. He also has rushed for 235 yards and one TD on 54 carries.
“Trey made incredible leaps and bounds this year,” Lynch said. “I think his games showed that. I give him a lot of credit because we didn’t tailor an offense that highlights what Trey is able to do. I think he grew from that. He just played within our offense and still showed some of his ability to move around, made a lot of plays. Ultimately, Kyle and our coaching staff, they’re tasked to make tough decisions, and believe me this one was painstaking for them. They came to a point where they felt like Sam had won it and nothing was going to change that.”
In other news, Lynch said the team is still working hard to try to end the holdout of Defensive Player of the Year Nick Bosa. Bosa is seeking a long-term contract to replace the fifth-year option on his rookie deal and hasn’t reported to camp.
“I don’t like the situation,” Lynch said. “Since our tenure here, we haven’t had a holdout anywhere towards this magnitude. Not something I’m comfortable with. We’re working really hard to try to change that. We’re in communication with his reps. He’s a special player, he’s going to get a special contract. I can tell you that.”
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