NFL Winners and Losers After 49ers Trade Trey Lance to Cowboys

Gary Davenport@@IDPSharksTwitter LogoFeatured Columnist IVAugust 26, 2023

NFL Winners and Losers After 49ers Trade Trey Lance to Cowboys

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    SANTA CLARA, CALIFORNIA - AUGUST 19: Trey Lance #5 of the San Francisco 49ers warms up during pregame warm ups prior to playing the Denver Broncos at Levi's Stadium on August 19, 2023 in Santa Clara, California. (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)

    Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

    They say life comes at you fast in the NFL.

    No one knows that better than quarterback Trey Lance.

    Back in 2021, Lance was one of the darlings of that year’s draft. The San Francisco 49ers thought so highly of the North Dakota State star that they dealt three first-round picks to move up to third overall to select him.

    Fast forward to 2023, and after pitching and lurching through two lackluster and injury-marred seasons, Lance was passed on the depth chart by “Mr. Irrelevant” Brock Purdy, relegated to third-string status behind Sam Darnold and then sent packing for pennies on the dollar.

    Per Todd Archer and Nick Wagoner of ESPN, on Friday the 49ers traded Lance to the Dallas Cowboys for a fourth-round pick in 2024.

    It might not be a stunner of a deal, but it’s a remarkable fall from grace for the player and quite the admission of failure from the team. It’s a move that also produced a number of winners and losers, from California to Texas and beyond.

    As the dust settles and Lance packs his bags, here’s a look at some of them.

Loser: San Francisco 49ers

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    INDIANAPOLIS, INDIANA - FEBRUARY 28: General manager John Lynch of the San Francisco 49ers speaks to the media during the NFL Combine at the Indiana Convention Center on February 28, 2023 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)

    Stacy Revere/Getty Images

    Normally, this sort of piece starts out with a “winner,” But given how things have unfolded since Trey Lance arrived in San Francisco, there’s only one place this can begin.

    The Trey Lance debacle has been a disaster for general manager John Lynch, head coach Kyle Shanahan and the San Francisco 49ers.

    It’s not like the Niners just had the third overall pick in 2021 and used it on Lance. Teams blow it with high picks all the time—just ask the New York Jets and current 49ers backup Sam Darnold.

    But the 49ers sold their souls to trade up for Lance, dealing first-rounders in 2021, 2022 and 2023 to the Miami Dolphins as part of the package that landed them Lance.

    Per ESPN’s Nick Wagoner, at the time Shanahan talked Lance up as the face of the franchise for years to come.

    “When you watch the film, you see such a true quarterback in every aspect of how he plays,” Shanahan said. “Then you meet him and you’re like, ‘Man, this guy doesn’t have to be a quarterback. He can go be a CEO of some company.’ That’s a huge compliment. It’s a very impressive thing to watch the skill set he has, just how intelligent he is, how he handles himself. Then to know how he relates to all his teammates, just going up there and watching how his teammates talk about him, how they gravitate around him, watching some of them interviewed on TV. You can tell he’s going to impress a football team. He’d also impress a company. He’s going to be impressive in whatever he’s in.”

    Three years later, the 49ers all but gave him away.

    Frankly, had the 49ers not enjoyed the success they have in recent years, this would be the kind of thing that gets general managers fired.

Winner: Trey Lance

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    SANTA CLARA, CALIFORNIA - AUGUST 19: Trey Lance #5 of the San Francisco 49ers looks to pass during the second half of a preseason game against the Denver Broncos at Levi's Stadium on August 19, 2023 in Santa Clara, California. (Photo by Loren Elliott/Getty Images)

    Loren Elliott/Getty Images

    This trade may have been a disaster for the San Francisco 49ers, but it’s good news for Trey Lance himself.

    If anyone needed a change of scenery, it was the 23-year-old.

    Not surprisingly, Lance hasn’t had much to say since news broke that it would be Sam Darnold who would back up Brock Purdy in 2023. That’s understandable—it was just the latest indignity in a “career” that has been nothing but indignities.

    Lance entered the NFL riding a tsunami of hype. But the reality was he was a quarterback who attempted all of 318 passes in college—and that was at an FCS school. After playing sparingly as a rookie, Lance was named the starter for the 49ers in 2022. His first game that year was played in weather conditions so awful that no quarterback would have looked good. In his second, he suffered a season-ending ankle injury.

    Then Lance got to watch from the sidelines as Brock Purdy led the Niners to the NFC Championship Game. Got to watch as San Francisco acquired Sam Darnold in the offseason. Got to watch as it became abundantly clear that he was no longer part of the plan in Santa Clara.

    At this point, anyone who makes a definitive statement about Lance’s NFL future is speculating. He’s the great unknown. The size, mobility and arm talent appear to be there, but he has attempted 420 passes. Total. Since high school.

    In Dallas, he’s not the third overall pick who was supposed to lead the franchise for years to come. The spotlight won’t fade entirely (it doesn’t do that in Dallas), but Lance won’t be the subject of constant conversation that he was in San Francisco.

    He can take a breath. Perhaps relax. And go about learning how to play quarterback in the NFL—something he really hasn’t had the opportunity to do yet.

Loser: Dak Prescott

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    ARLINGTON, TEXAS - AUGUST 12: Dak Prescott #4 of the Dallas Cowboys gestures to fans as he leaves the field after the loss to Jacksonville Jaguars in a preseason game at AT&T Stadium on August 12, 2023 in Arlington, Texas. (Photo by Richard Rodriguez/Getty Images)

    Richard Rodriguez/Getty Images

    The Trey Lance trade may have been great for Lance himself. But for the guy he’ll ostensibly be backing up in Dallas, it might not be such great news.

    This isn’t to say that Lance is a threat to Dak Prescott’s job this year. That’s a bridge too far. But Prescott is coming off arguably the worst season of his career—an injury-marred mess in which he tied for the league lead in interceptions despite playing just 12 games. It was also a season that ended in yet another postseason disappointment for Dallas, which led ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith (who admittedly doesn’t so much like the Cowboys) to call the Prescott era a failure while appearing on First Take.

    “Not only have they not made a Super Bowl appearance, they haven’t made an NFC championship game appearance (since 1995),” Smith said, via Patrick Andres of Sports Illustrated. “Damn right that’s a failure. Now that doesn’t mean they haven’t had great moments. It doesn’t mean that they haven’t had respectable seasons. But on several occasions, we’ve looked at the Dallas Cowboys with their roster, we labeled them a Super Bowl contender.”

    On some level, he’s not wrong. Prescott has excelled at times individually, but fair or not quarterbacks are judged by wins and losses. And while the Cowboys have piled those up in the regular season, in Dallas only one thing matters—winning the Super Bowl.

    Prescott hasn’t come close to even making one, much less winning it.

    Next year, Prescott’s contract carries a financially prohibitive cap hit of $59.5 million. The belief was that Prescott would be extended this year.

    But with Lance now in town and Prescott coming off a lousy (by his standards) season, the size (and even existence) of that extension has been thrown into flux.

    The pressure on Prescott to rebound in 2023 has increased exponentially. And if Dallas did decide to move on in 2024, the trade market for Prescott would likely be–interesting.

Winner: Brock Purdy/Sam Darnold

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    SANTA CLARA, CALIFORNIA - AUGUST 19: Brock Purdy #13 of the San Francisco 49ers scrambles during the first half of a preseason game against the Denver Broncos at Levi's Stadium on August 19, 2023 in Santa Clara, California. (Photo by Loren Elliott/Getty Images)

    Loren Elliott/Getty Images

    Per Coral Smith of, after his latest preseason action, 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan said that Brock Purdy appeared to be 100% recovered from the elbow injury he suffered in last year’s NFC title game loss to the Philadelphia Eagles.

    “I thought he did real good, all the plays that he had he made and I don’t think he had a bad one,” Shanahan said.

    After sending Trey Lance packing, it appears that wasn’t just coachspeak. This is Purdy’s team now.

    Brock Purdy. As in the final pick in the 2022 NFL draft Brock Purdy.

    Yes, Purdy was 7-1 as the starter for the 49ers and won a pair of playoff games before getting hurt. But we’re not talking about Patrick Mahomes here—Purdy averaged just 152.7 passing yards per game as a rookie and threw just 13 touchdown passes.

    He won games. But he’s not an elite talent by any stretch. What he is now, though, is the unquestioned starter for arguably the second-best team in the NFC.

    If that’s not winning, I don’t know what is.

    However, Purdy wasn’t the only 49ers quarterback who “won” Friday.

    By just about any estimation, Sam Darnold’s professional career has been a massive disappointment. The third overall pick in the 2018 draft washed out in New York. His two seasons with the Caolina Panthers didn’t go much better—16 touchdowns, an equal number of interceptions and an 8-9 record as starter.

    Now, however, Darnold may have his best chance yet of resurrecting his career. Expectations are high in San Francisco. If Purdy falters early, patience among fans and coaches could thin quickly—especially after the team all but gave Lance away.

    Were that to happen (or were Purdy to get hurt again), Darnold would be afforded an opportunity that has eluded him through five professional seasons.

    The chance to start for a good team.

Loser: Other QB-Needy Teams

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    SANTA CLARA, CALIFORNIA - AUGUST 19: Trey Lance #5 of the San Francisco 49ers looks to pass during the second half of a preseason game against the Denver Broncos at Levi's Stadium on August 19, 2023 in Santa Clara, California. (Photo by Loren Elliott/Getty Images)

    Loren Elliott/Getty Images

    As was mentioned earlier, the reality is that we don’t know what Trey Lance is yet. Maybe he’s at least partially the athletic, cannon-armed young signal-caller the 49ers mortgaged their future for. Maybe he’s the biggest disappointment at the position since JaMarcus Russell.

    There had been reports that Lance’s trade market was all but non-existent. But it’s still a little surprising that more teams weren’t willing to throw a Day 3 pick at the 49ers in return for a former top-3 pick under contract for at least three more years at a reasonable amount.

    Maybe the Niners had no desire to send Lance to a division rival, but the Los Angeles Rams should be in the market for a successor to Matthew Stafford. With Kirk Cousins in (another) contract year in Minnesota, the Vikings could use a Plan B at the position.

    Are the Washington Commanders that sure that Sam Howell is “the guy” after one pro start? Are the Tampa Bay Buccaneers really ready to turn the franchise over to Baker Mayfield?

    We know what Mayfield is folks. And what he is ain’t good.

    The Las Vegas Raiders are in the same position the 49ers were when they drafted Lance—hoping against hope that Jimmy Garoppolo can stay healthy. The Atlanta Falcons are trotting out their own untested youngster in Desmond Ridder. Kenny Pickett didn’t exactly light the world on fire as a rookie in Pittsburgh.

    Mind you, this isn’t to say that all of these teams should have pursued Lance. And it’s possible some did. But if he turns out to be less Russell and more just rusty, there are going to be a lot of teams kicking themselves for not ponying up that Day 3 pick.

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