clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Was the 49ers trade for Trey Lance the worst trade ever?

With the news that Trey Lance has been listed as the QB3 for the 49ers, we evaluate if the trade to move up and draft him is the worst in history.

Trey Lance #5 of the San Francisco 49ers is pressured by Elijah Garcia #95 of the Denver Broncos during the second half of a preseason game at Levi’s Stadium on August 19, 2023 in Santa Clara, California. Photo by Loren Elliott/Getty Images

The San Francisco 49ers look prepared to continue to roll with Brock Purdy as their starting quarterback and Sam Darnold as the team’s QB2. The odd man out in this equation is Trey Lance. With the new NFL rules, they can make him active on game day, but the Niners are exploring their options with Lance, including considering trading the former No. 3 overall pick.

When the dust settled on the 2020 NFL season, the Miami Dolphins held the No. 3 overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft. San Francisco was sitting at No. 12 but needed quarterback help and knew they needed to make a big move up to jump in front of other QB-needy teams. The 49ers sent first-round picks in 2021, 2022 and 2023, along with a 2021 third-round pick to Miami to move up.

Lance has since played in only eight career games. He served as the QB2 behind Jimmy Garoppolo in 2021. Lance got limited work, playing in certain packages, but didn’t consistently take the field until Jimmy G suffered a thumb injury that sidelined him for a handful of games in the middle of the season. As a rookie, he finished with 603 passing yards with five touchdowns and two interceptions in six games. Lance added 168 yards and a touchdown on 38 carries.

Lance was named the starting quarterback in 2022 over Garoppolo. He played in only two games before suffering a season-ending ankle injury. Lance tallied just 194 yards and an interception with 67 rushing yards before getting hurt. Garoppolo relieved him, but the legend of Purdy began once the veteran also went down with an injury.

Purdy has impressed enough to be named the QB1, but putting Lance as the QB3 is an all-time head-scratching move. We don’t know how relationships are behind the scenes, but you’d think having Lance as the QB2 and the chronically disappointing Darnold as the QB3 would be the move. Even if the plan is to try and trade Lance, listing him as the QB3 is pretty horrible marketing. We don’t know what kind of trade package the team is desiring, but from everything that has come out, you can’t imagine it is very high and is almost assuredly nowhere close to what they gave up for him.

With how poorly this situation has played out, can you call this the worst trade in NFL history?

I don’t think so. Sure, it is extremely fresh in our minds, and the 49ers gave up three first-round picks to move up. Luckily, they haven’t taken much of a hit for doing so, making the playoffs in both seasons since Lance was selected. It does make you wonder what would have happened if they had made a different move or had even stayed at No. 12. Kyle Pitts, Ja’Marr Chase, Jaylen Waddle, Penei Sewell, Jaycee Horn, Patrick Surtain II, DeVonta Smith, Justin Fields, Micah Parsons and Rashawn Slater were the next picks off the board. Hindsight is 20/20, but nearly each of these players outside of Pitts would have been an instant upgrade for the immediate outlook of the franchise.

The trade was bad and could be considered the worst in 49ers franchise history. The NFL itself has a long history, and this one doesn’t seem nearly as bad as others, especially since we benefit from hindsight.

After just one season, the Atlanta Falcons traded away future Hall of Famer Brett Favre. The Minnesota Vikings traded five players and eight, yes eight, draft picks for Hershel Walker, who played in only two seasons for the Vikings. The then-San Diego Chargers traded two first-round picks, a second-round pick and two players to move up one spot to select Ryan Leaf in the 1998 NFL Draft. He is considered one of the biggest draft busts in history.

The Washington Commanders organization traded three first-round picks and a second-round pick for Robert Griffin III, who never came close to panning out. The Chicago Bears traded a first, two thirds and a fourth to draft Mitchell Trubisky. He struggled during his four years in the Windy City, and the team is just now recovering with Justin Fields’s progression.

I don’t think that the 49ers faithful needs to worry about the Lance trade being the worst in history. At the very least the franchise seems to be in a much better spot moving forward than the other teams mentioned above.