49ers trade Trey Lance to Cowboys, ending botched tenure with San Francisco

Where did it all go wrong with the 49ers and Trey Lance? The answer is going to leave a ripple effect for years to come.
San Francisco 49ers quarterback Trey Lance (5)
San Francisco 49ers quarterback Trey Lance (5) / Tom Hauck/GettyImages

In a shocking development, the 49ers have offloaded Trey Lance to the Cowboys after two-plus failed years of development.

There's going to be no shortage of ridicule and taunting of the San Francisco 49ers for the next few years in the wake of their shocking decision to trade away quarterback Trey Lance to the Dallas Cowboys, news of which was broken by ESPN on Friday, Aug. 25, just hours before the Niners' preseason finale against the Los Angeles Chargers.

According to the ESPN report, San Francisco is getting back a fourth-round pick for the former No. 3 overall selection out of North Dakota state.

One for whom the 49ers traded up to get, sending away two additional first-round selections and a third-rounder back in 2021 in what was viewed as a massive "swing for the fences" kind of deal to finally find a dynamic signal-caller to build a franchise around.

Well, it didn't work.

The failure to develop Lance will ultimately make that trade one of (if not the worst) trades in Niners history, and the only saving grace is the hope that second-year quarterback Brock Purdy is the "real deal" after taking the league by storm late last season.

Purdy, in contrast to Lance, was the final pick of the 2022 NFL Draft and essentially provided the key element that made Lance expendable.

But, where did San Francisco get it wrong with Lance?

49ers priorities changed after drafting Trey Lance, who was an experiment to begin with

Lance's tenure ends in a weird way, as both head coach Kyle Shanahan and general manager John Lynch told KNBR 680 that they hoped the quarterback would be on the roster come the regular season, although they were both open to letting him move to a better situation.

Whether or not Dallas is a better situation, though, is anyone's guess. It's likely the Cowboys were the lone team to offer up anything close to a decent draft pick in exchange, which trailed the botched leak of Lance being demoted to QB3 on the depth chart behind Purdy and Sam Darnold prior to the 49ers' preseason finale.

That's going to be part of the story. But the bigger story is how the Niners took a shot at a raw talent who'd need a lot of refinement, a player who attempted a mere 318 passes at the collegiate level and had just one full season as a starter with the Bison before missing all but one game in 2020 because of the pandemic.

And then, despite all of his upside, Lance had to ride the pine behind San Francisco's then-starter, Jimmy Garoppolo, his rookie season. Sure, Lance got two starts -- one toward the beginning of the year and one near the end -- amid Garoppolo injuries, and there were the occasional spot plays when Lance would relieve Garoppolo early in the season.

But that was it. No real time for on-field development.

In 2022, though, the 49ers were willing to hand Lance the franchise. Garoppolo, who was the subject of offseason trade rumors leading into the year, inevitably wasn't dealt but was the QB2 behind Lance.

This is important, as the Niners felt they had a good enough team on both sides of the ball to afford Lance his developmental lumps. He could experience growing pains amid a San Francisco team that could still compete for a playoff berth.

Except Lance suffered that season-ending broken ankle in Week 2. That was massive and plays a huge role in the quarterback's downfall with the red and gold.

A season later, following Garoppolo's departure, Purdy's ascent and the infusion of Darnold, the 49ers are no longer willing to let a raw talent like Lance take his lumps.

Read more: These 3 factors ultimately spelled the end for Trey Lance with 49ers

With very little salary cap room in 2024 and beyond, the Niners need to win now to make it all worthwhile. Lance, for all his upside and potential, no longer fit that priority.

One that changed over the course of Lance's second season in the NFL, one in which he was supposed to be the year-long starter.

As a result, and after a whirlwind of directional changes, he's now a Cowboy. Now, San Francisco can only hope that development never takes place with a hated rival.

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