SANTA CLARA, Calif. — Roughly two and a half years after the San Francisco 49ers drafted him to be their franchise quarterback, Trey Lance’s time with the team is over.
The Niners agreed to trade Lance to the Dallas Cowboys in exchange for a fourth-round draft choice on Friday night, general manager John Lynch and coach Kyle Shanahan confirmed. The 49ers are not picking up any of Lance’s remaining salary as part of the trade.
The deal ends a whirlwind 48 hours in which Lance was informed that Sam Darnold had beaten him out for the No. 2 quarterback job behind starter Brock Purdy, requested a trade, did not participate in Wednesday’s practice and then returned to the team facility Thursday morning.
It also ends a once promising union between a team that has advanced to at least the NFC Championship Game in three of the past four years and a young signal-caller once viewed as the answer to the franchise’s more than two-decade search for quarterback stability.
According to Shanahan, it wasn’t a decision the Niners took lightly.
“It was time to move on for him and for us,” Shanahan said. “We’d love to just keep him until eventually it works out, but that clock ran out here, and that’s why we had to make a real tough decision, one we didn’t enjoy doing, but we try to do what we think is best, and this is what we think is best.”
Lance’s exit from San Francisco comes a little more than two days after Shanahan informed him that Darnold would be the team’s No. 2 quarterback this season. Shanahan said Darnold began to separate himself from Lance in the competition in the past couple of weeks.
During that meeting Wednesday morning, Shanahan said he told Lance that even though he wasn’t going to be the backup, he wanted Lance to stay around as the third quarterback. But Shanahan added that he believed Lance needed as many reps as possible to continue developing, something that would be difficult in San Francisco with Purdy as the starter and Darnold running the scout team.
Lance took about 90 minutes to ponder his options before meeting with Shanahan again and told the coach that he would like to find a different spot to reset his career. At that same meeting, Lance also requested to take the day away from practice, a request the Niners granted, though Lance returned to the facility on Thursday. As late as Friday morning, he was slated to play in the preseason finale.
That all changed as interest in Lance picked up around the league on Friday morning. Trade talks surrounded Lance all offseason after he suffered a broken right ankle in Week 2 of last season, and Purdy staked his claim to the starting job with a finishing flourish down the stretch.
General manager John Lynch previously acknowledged that he received trade interest in Lance before the draft in April, noting that it would take something substantial in order to part with him.
That price dropped once Lance was demoted to the No. 3 spot Wednesday, as the Niners began fielding calls from other teams. The interest, according to Lynch, was much stronger than it was earlier in the offseason, leaving Shanahan and Lynch openly acknowledging that they got a little bigger return for Lance than they initially expected when the deal with the Cowboys was completed.
“It’s not what it looked like when we first started having a conversation. It wasn’t anywhere close,” Lynch said. “So, it did advance in a hurry today. I’m not doing cartwheels over it, because my preference would’ve been that it worked out, and it didn’t. And there’s circumstances for that, and we can explain them away, but the reality is the reality. He had a couple opportunities, and I think injuries played a part, and where we’re at as a team, we felt like this was the best situation for us, also the best situation for him.”
Lance is scheduled to make $940,000 in 2023 and has a $5.3 million salary in 2024, all of which is guaranteed. Upon trading him, the Niners will incur dead-money hits of $8,361,434 this year and $5,540,956 in 2024.
After this season, Dallas will get to decide on Lance’s fifth-year option for 2025.
The addition of Lance does not diminish the Cowboys’ belief in Dak Prescott but gives them some cover for the future at the very least.
Prescott is signed through 2024 and is set to count $59 million against the salary cap next year. Owner and general manager Jerry Jones has mentioned wanting to extend Prescott’s contract but there has not been much dialogue regarding a new deal.
The Cowboys went through a number of quarterbacks after Troy Aikman’s retirement before Tony Romo went from an undrafted player to Pro Bowler in 2006.
The Cowboys selected Prescott in the fourth round in 2016, not expecting him to become a starter, but Romo suffered a back injury that preseason and Prescott has been the starter ever since.
Prescott turned 30 last month and has missed games each of the past three seasons. He tied for the NFL lead in interceptions last year with 15 in 12 games. He missed five starts after suffering a broken right thumb in the season opener.