49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan says Brock Purdie, Trey Lance and Sam Darnold are all ‘franchise-like quarterbacks’

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An old football adage, often attributed to the great John Madden, more or less stated that if you say you have more than one starting quarterback, you really have none.

Kyle Shanahan does not seem to agree with this view. The head coach of the San Francisco 49ers said Thursday that he thinks the trio of Brock Purdy, Trey Lance and Darnold is capable of leading a team.

“I believe we have quarterbacks talent-wise who are all capable of being franchise-like quarterbacks,” Shanahan said at the Dwight Clark Legacy Series event. According to David Lombardi of The Athletic, “Brock's done that in his eight [games], And we have two other guys on our roster that we're pretty confident can do the same.”

But there can only be one 49ers' Week 1 starter this season, and all signs point to Purdy being that player.

Shanahan and 49ers general manager John Lynch effectively named Purdy the 2023 starter this spring and acknowledged they have received trade calls for Lance. Shanahan said that Purdy “will be the one to start [the season] Earlier this offseason and Lynch said Purdy “earned the right to be that guy” after leading the 49ers to the NFC Championship last season with a 7–1 record. San Francisco signed Darnold in free agency after spending the last two years as an off-starter, again for the Carolina Panthers after a tumultuous three-year stint with the New York Jets.

San Francisco 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan could have a Week 1 starter in 2023. (AP Photo/Tony Avelar)

The Case of Lance and Darnold BM

Shanahan refused to explicitly rule out Lance or Darnold as the team's starter. He claimed that Lance, who sat out a season after taking the No. 3 overall pick in 2021, would have “reached that level where he would have done similar stuff” to what Purdy did in 2022. Didn't break my finger. He broke his ankle in 2021 and 2022.

“We expected Trey Lance [to be the man for a long time] And I think he still can be. You also don't expect the last pick in the to come in and at that level,” Shanahan said. “He missed that protest and Brock came in and did it. I really think Trey could go in and do it, but Brock's already done it and that's a great thing for us.”

As for Darnold, Shanahan said he still views him as a talented former No. 3 pick of the 2018 draft. Oddly enough, Darnold is the most experienced quarterback of the group, with 55 career starts under his belt.

Shanahan said, “You look at his entire career and there's no reason to think differently.” “He hasn't been in the best of shape, so we're happy to have him here.”

So why would Shanahan say all this? Perhaps he wants a true quarterback contest this offseason among three quarterbacks under the age of 26. The 49ers did not have one in Shanahan's tenure as head coach after being traded to San Francisco in 2017 for Jimmy Garoppolo and naming Lance the Week 1 starter in 2022.

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Or, maybe Shanahan said what he said if Purdy doesn't fully recover from UCL surgery by 1 week. While Shanahan said he thinks Purdy will be ready by training camp, it's impossible to know for sure until he puts on pads and starts practicing.

Another idea is that Shanahan is simply trying to bump up Lance's trade value ahead of the 2023 season and entice a team to make an offer to him.

Either way, the 49ers will have one of the most important decisions to make this year. San Francisco NFC West (-175, per betmgm), the 49ers have the second-best odds (+300) to the NFC and are tied for the third-best odds to win the Super Bowl (+900). A lot depends on who Shanahan taps as the starting quarterback, and he's not fully showing his cards yet.