Has Brock Purdy recalibrated the 49ers’ future quarterback plans?
SANTA CLARA, Calif. — Near the end of the first half of his first playoff game as an NFL starting quarterback, Brock Purdy entered the San Francisco 49ers’ huddle and spat out a playcall so quickly none of his teammates understood it.
For the always commanding Purdy, it was the first time his teammates saw him a little overstimulated at the moment.
“We’re just like, ‘Brock, it’s fine man, take a deep breath and call the play,'” said tight end George Kittle. “And he was fine after that.”
Seven is starting his young NFL career, Purdy was more than good. The final pick in the 2022 NFL draft was a revelation when it replaced injured incumbents Trey Lance and Jimmy Garoppolo.
Purdy not only helped keep the Niners’ season alive, but took the offense to places it hasn’t been since Kyle Shanahan took over as head coach in 2017.
The 49ers have won all of Purdy’s seven starts, including two playoff games, and the Niners have reached the NFC Championship Game for the second straight season and third time in four seasons. They will play with the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday (3 p.m. ET, Fox).
Where there used to be a question about whether Purdy could do enough to keep the Niners competitive, now there’s a whole different and more important question: Does Purdy the Niners’ future lie at the game’s most important position?
It’s a question that currently doesn’t have an official, on-record answer, largely because there doesn’t need to be. The Niners can play out the rest of the season, see how Purdy fares as the stage gets bigger, and then make the best decision possible.
But there’s no doubt Purdy transformed the conversation.
“Brock Purdy played really good football,” said Mike Tannenbaum, ESPN’s NFL front office insider and former general manager. “Let’s see how it goes from here, but he’s really changed the paradigm quite dramatically.”
As such, it’s worth taking stock of the quarterback situation in San Francisco and how it might evolve this offseason.
How Has Purdy Changed Quarterback Dynamics?
Purdy took over the starting job when Garoppolo lost to a broken left foot in the December 4 win against the Miami Dolphins.
Including that Miami game, the Niners went 8-0 with Purdy either starting or taking the bulk of the snaps. Since joining the roster, Purdy has had a 66.0 QBR (fifth in the NFL) while completing 68.3% of his passes (fifth), averaging 218 yards per game (12th) and 8.12 yards per Attempt (second) equals to go with 13 touchdowns passes (tie for first) and three interceptions (tie for fourth-least).
During that span, San Francisco’s offensive performance is 31.75 points per game (league first), an ESPN offensive efficiency of 77.18 (first), 70.75 extra points expected (first), and 6.18 yards per game (second) up. Before Purdy got in, the Niners placed 15th, seventh, 12th, and sixth in those categories.
Surrounded by elite players like Kittle, running back Christian McCaffrey, fullback Kyle Juszczyk and wideouts Deebo Samuel and Brandon Aiyuk, as well as a top playcaller and designer in Shanahan, Purdy wasn’t asked to carry the cargo, he was asked to play the part at a point Guard who can distribute the ball to his playmakers.
While Purdy ticked that box, he also surprised many by playing off schedule, particularly in the red zone. And it’s his ball security that has won Shanahan’s trust in a short period of time.
“He was amazing with it,” Shanahan said. “I think that’s the best thing he’s done and being able to handle the ball as well as he has while still making a number of games that he’s got is definitely what of I am most impressed.”
Is it losing Purdy’s job?
Barring an injury or a particularly bad coming out, most likely.
Think of the end of the season as the final destination at the end of a long and winding road. If the price down the road is the Niners’ starting quarterback job, it’s fair to say Purdy is close.
Each week, Purdy faced a new test with increasingly significant stakes. He’s passed each one without flinching and has built a résumé already longer than Garoppolo’s as he won his last five starts in 2017 and the Niners made him a starter the following offseason on a five-year, $137.5 million contract anointed.
“He stacks significant wins on top of each other,” said Tannenbaum. “If you win a playoff game, I think that’s a long, long way to go. If he hasn’t cemented it yet, I think it’s pretty damn close.”
Additionally, Purdy is under contract for three more seasons at an average salary cap of $1,004,253 and will not be eligible for a contract extension until after the 2024 season.
If Purdy deserves the job, he’d be one of the most valuable players in the league, a top-flight quarterback on a cheap rookie contract. Upcoming overtimes for key players like Nick Bosa and Aiyuk at the defensive end would suddenly fit into the Niners’ cap puzzle much more easily.
What does this mean for Lance?
After nearly two full seasons into Lance’s career, the Niners still don’t know what they’ve got. There have been several injury blocks to Lance’s career, including the broken right ankle he sustained in Week 2 after entering the season as a starter.
Lance, who is considered a talented but raw candidate after the Niners traded three first-round picks to put him No. 3 in the 2021 NFL draft, has missed out on valuable NFL playing time.
In two seasons, Lance has started four games and played 248 offensive snaps. Given their investment and Lance’s talent, the Niners would undoubtedly love to pull through, but Purdy’s performance combined with Lance’s injury heartache — he’s expected to be back in time to participate in the offseason program in some capacity — has made that a more difficult one Suggestion.
Lance has two years left in his rookie contract with caps of $9.3 million in 2023 and $10.85 million in 2024. These numbers include the remaining $11 million+ in signing bonus shares that of the San Francisco cap regardless of what happens next.
Which means the Niners have a few options.
You could have a competition between Lance and Purdy depending on how Purdy fares the rest of the way.
They could try trading with Lance, although in that case they’d have to eat her over $11 million in dead money, which is why Tannenbaum suggests it would take “something significant” in the way of a first-round election to make it worthwhile. That seems unlikely, if not impossible, even in a quarterback market where a lot of wild things have happened in recent years.
Third, Lance could return as Purdy’s backup. After the course of this season, no one knows better than the Niners the importance of having multiple reliable options at the most important position of the game.
What about Garoppolo?
If last offseason taught us anything, it should be to never rule out Garoppolo and the Niners reunion. Against all odds, Garoppolo signed just before the start of the season after a mid-season in limbo.
It was a move that proved prescient as the Niners lost Lance in Week 2. Garoppolo played some of the best football of his career before his injury, completing 67.2% of his passes for 2,437 yards with 16 touchdown passes on four interceptions – seemingly leaving the door open for another return.
It’s hard to imagine another reunion this time. As part of his revised contract, the Niners are unable to tag Garoppolo, meaning he will meet full free agency in March.
Despite his long injury history, Garoppolo is considered one of the best options in a market where supply is unlikely to meet demand. All of that combined with Purdy’s showing up makes it a good bet he’ll get a contract that pays him well in another NFL city.
What about Tom Brady and other outside options?
Brady has risen above the Niners since they tried to sign him after the 2019 season. But Purdy’s play, Lance’s presence, Brady’s signs of slowing down, and the fact that the Niners are having to expend resources re-signing their own key free agents make it unlikely they’ll tip their toes for Brady or a veteran free agent to come , would dive into the water with a significant eight-figure deal.
https://www.espn.com/nfl/story/_/id/35518885/is-brock-purdy-future-starting-quarterback-san-francisco-49ers-trey-lance Has Brock Purdy recalibrated the 49ers’ future quarterback plans?