San Francisco 49ers quarterback Trey Lance throws a pass. Aug 13, 2023; Paradise, Nevada, USA; San Francisco 49ers quarterback Trey Lance (5) throws the ball against the Las Vegas Raiders in the first half at Allegiant Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The great Trey Lance Experiment is already a failure.

The young quarterback is receiving plenty of criticism, and yet the masterminds behind putting him in this situation aren’t receiving nearly enough blame. San Francisco 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan and general manager John Lynch are responsible for making difficult choices. Real leadership comes with real risk. Sometimes tough decisions work out. Sometimes they don’t.

Lance is clearly not the guy the 49ers thought they were getting when the organization traded up to select him third overall in the 2021 NFL Draft. All draft picks are a gamble, but this was even more so. Lance was a guy from a small school who started 17 games in his North Dakota State career and only one during the COVID-shortened 2020 season.

Those were ample warning signs. But because Shanahan and Lynch are perceived to be good at their jobs they were given the benefit of the doubt. Shanahan, in particular, might be the best playcaller in the NFL. He runs a quarterback-friendly system that schemes receivers open for easy throws. So, when Lance was named the starter last year, most of us expected him to take the San Francisco offense to new heights. Didn’t exactly happen.

Lance lost to the Chicago Bears 19-10 at soggy Soldier Field in Week 1 of the 2022 NFL season. Then Lance suffered a season-ending ankle injury the following week at home against the Seattle Seahawks. You know the rest of the story. Jimmy Garoppolo came back and got hurt, and rookie Brock Purdy came out of nowhere to look like the second coming of Kurt Warner. The 49ers might have beaten the Philadelphia Eagles in the AFC Championship if not for Purdy’s torn elbow ligament.

We give Shanahan a lot of credit (deservedly so) for almost reaching the Super Bowl with his third-string quarterback. But we now must criticize him for drafting Lance despite the red flags. The fact that Lance might not be a better option in 2023 than Mr. Irrelevant (Purdy) or journeyman Sam Darnold is an indictment of the 49ers organization. The acquisition of Lance will go down as one of the worst moves in NFL draft history.

San Francisco wisely will stick with Purdy for two reasons. First, he has already proven he knows how to excel in the Shanahan system. Second, he’s on a cheap contract. In a salary-cap sport, the most valuable thing a team can have is a good, young quarterback on a rookie deal. That means the 49ers can devote financial resources to other needs to keep competing at a high level.

Purdy’s unexpected rise helped the organization save face for what so far has been a colossal blunder.

All of this will likely lead to Lance being traded. He has value. A 23-year-old with physical gifts will get several chances. Lance’s biggest problem so far has been availability. He hasn’t played a full season since 2019, his redshirt freshman year at North Dakota State. There’s still time for him to develop into an above-average starter. However, it’s clear that this isn’t going to happen in San Francisco.

How could Shanahan and Lynch be so wrong? It happens. As much as we like to apply the genius label to coaches and executives, they’re fallible human beings. Mistakes happen. But so far, Lance has received the lion’s share of the heat. More of that should be directed at Shanahan and Lynch.

About Michael Grant

Born in Jamaica. Grew up in New York City. Lives in Louisville, Ky. Sports writer. Not related to Ulysses S. Grant.