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Everything we learned from the preseason: QB battles, rookies rising, contract drama

The NFL wraps up its three-week preseason slate on Sunday before an 11-day countdown to kickoff the 2023 season.

As expected through more than four weeks of training camp and preseason contests, most quarterback battles have been decided, while a few contract situations continue to loom.

We saw some teams provide full previews of what to expect this season as they marched out their starting lineups in exhibition contests, while other teams remain somewhat of a mystery as they reserved their stars for joint practices only.

The regular season kicks off Thursday, Sept. 7 when the defending Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs play host to the Detroit Lions, and Week 1 will wrap up with a Monday Night Football matchup with the defending AFC East champion Buffalo Bills traveling to play the New York Jets.

Here are six things we learned during the nearly completed preseason:

Jeremy Fowler details the trade that sends former No. 3 pick Trey Lance from the 49ers to the Cowboys.

It comes as no surprise in San Francisco that quarterback Brock Purdy retains the starting job after propelling the 49ers to the NFC Championship Game last season; the 2022 seventh-round pick only needed to prove his recovery from offseason right elbow surgery.

What was surprising, however, was the Niners naming sixth-year pro Sam Darnold as Purdy’s backup over Trey Lance — the Niners’ 2021 third-overall pick who they moved up to get after trading three first-round picks and a third-round pick to the Miami Dolphins.

About 48 hours after learning he was the third quarterback on the roster, Lance was traded to the Dallas Cowboys in exchange for a fourth-round pick.

“Really hard day,” Niners general manager John Lynch told the local CBS broadcast during a preseason finale hours after trading Lance, who played eight games for the Niners, the fewest games played by a top-five pick for the franchise he debuted with in the Common Draft Era (since 1967). “We took a shot and it didn’t work out. We own that and we take accountability for that.”

It will be interesting to monitor what Lance’s arrival means for Cowboys starter Dak Prescott and the future of the position in Dallas.

“Didn’t cross my mind, period, about an impact here regarding Dak,” Cowboys owner and general manager Jerry Jones said Saturday.

In Tampa Bay, Baker Mayfield won the battle over Kyle Trask to succeed seven-time Super Bowl champion Tom Brady. After previous stints with the Cleveland Browns and Carolina Panthers, this will be the third consecutive Week 1 that Mayfield starts for a different team, which is tied with five other quarterbacks for the longest streak in NFL history.

In Washington, with a new era set to begin under the Josh Harris ownership group, the Commanders will roll with 2022 fifth-round pick Sam Howell, who won the job over eighth-year pro Jacoby Brissett. Howell is one of 12 quarterbacks to start for Washington since 2017, when Kirk Cousins last played there and was the last Commanders quarterback to start every game in a season.

And in Indianapolis, the Colts named rookie first-round pick Anthony Richardson, the fourth-overall selection, their starter over Gardner Minshew. With the 21-year-old Richardson starting, it becomes the eighth consecutive season opener where Indianapolis has had a different starting quarterback, which is tied for the second-longest such streak since quarterback starts were first tracked in 1950 and the Bears’ run of nine straight years from 1998-2006.

Matt Bowen voices support for fantasy managers to select Aaron Rodgers as their quarterback.

In a preseason finale against the New York Giants at MetLife Stadium, Aaron Rodgers made his Jets debut as fans cheered.

Entering his 19th season, Rodgers played two quick series. His first resulted in a stalled five-play drive that saw the Jets punt, and in his second, Rodgers led a four-play, 52-yard drive that was capped with a 14-yard pass to receiver Garrett Wilson for a touchdown.

As for the concerns Jets coach Robert Saleh raised during a lively team meeting featured on HBO’s “Hard Knocks,” protection did not appear an issue with Rodgers under center as he was pressured on one of eight dropbacks according to NFL Next Gen Stats.

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