The 2021 NFL Draft was historic, marking the third time in the common draft era (since 1967) that quarterbacks were selected with each of the first three picks, joining the 1971 and 1999 drafts. The Jacksonville Jaguars selected Clemson's Trevor Lawrence first overall, the New York Jets selected BYU's Zach Wilson second overall, and the San Francisco 49ers selected North Dakota State's Trey Lance third overall.
Only two years into their careers, the Jaguars can feel good about their selection with Lawrence earning the first Pro Bowl nod of his career in 2022 while leading Jacksonville to their first playoff win since the 2017 season. The Jets have already moved on from a struggling Wilson to entering negotiations to trade for 39-year-old, future Hall of Fame Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers. Lance's future with the 49ers, unlike Lawrence's and Wilson's with their respective franchises, is a significant question mark. San Francisco sent four picks, including three first-rounders, to the Miami Dolphins to move up nine spots from 12th to third to take him. Yet, Lance has started just four games in two seasons after sitting behind Jimmy Garoppolo in 2021 and suffering a broken ankle in Week 2 of the 2022 season.
However, the 49ers front office is adamant it wouldn't take a mulligan on its heavy investment of Lance.
"I wouldn't change anything that we've made about the decision with Trey," San Francisco 49ers CEO Jed York said at the NFL owners meeting in Phoenix on Tuesday, via NBC Sports Bay Area. "I think Trey has a chance to be great. But it's a bonus when you get somebody at the end of the seventh round that ends up coming in and being very impactful for your team."
Brock Purdy, the last pick of the 2022 NFL Draft, made the most of his playtime as a rookie, winning each of his first seven starts, which included playoff wins against the Seattle Seahawks and Dallas Cowboys. Despite needing elbow surgery for a torn UCL he suffered in the NFC Championship Game loss to the Eagles, the seventh-round pick, not the former top-three pick, is starting out as the leader to be the 49ers quarterback in 2023.
"I think Brock has earned the right with the way he played that he's probably the leader in the clubhouse," 49ers general manager John Lynch said Monday. "If we were to line up, he'd probably take that first snap."
The team hopes Purdy can begin throwing a football roughly three months after the surgery that occurred in March. Lynch added Monday that the team hopes that "he's ready to go for training camp."
Despite his general manager voicing support for Purdy, York made it a point to say Lance isn't a bust just two years in and that having an affordable quarterback is the way to win. The team's consecutive NFC Championship Game appearances affirm that stance.
"You can't worry about, well, Trey hasn't played as many games as we would've liked," York said. "It's not his fault. He got injured. When you look at when we drafted him, we wanted to make sure we had a young quarterback on a rookie contract that allows you to be able to say, 'All right, Javon (Hargrave) is kind of a bonus. There's a delta in what you're spending on your quarterback versus what somebody else is spending in their quarterback.
"And I hope one of these three guys gets a massive, massive extension with the San Francisco 49ers at some point. But until then, we're going to make sure we build this thing around a young quarterback with a very team-friendly contract."
The 49ers were able to spend near the top of the market on other top positions in re-signing wide receiver Deebo Samuel (three years, $71.6 million), trading for running back Christian McCaffrey and his contract (four years, $64 million) as well as signing Hargrave away from the Eagles on a four-year, $80 million deal this offseason. Although, the 49ers surrendered the opportunity to get three talented first-round picks on team-friendly deals thanks to the trade-up for Lance.
In the end, York said it doesn't matter which quarterback gets the 49ers to the mountaintop and that the only thing that matters is hoisting the Vince Lombardi Trophy, something they have come close to with three conference championship game appearances and a Super Bowl LIV appearance in the last four seasons.
"The ultimate goal is to win a championship,'' York said. "It's not to say that this draft pick or this decision was the perfect decision. It's to win a Super Bowl."