Kyle Shanahan feels remorse when discussing Trey Lance trade Friday

Aug 26, 2023, 5:00 AM | Updated: 6:57 am

Trey Lance #5 of the San Francisco 49ers and Head Coach Kyle Shanahan of the San Francisco 49ers ta...

Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images

Friday’s mood at Levi’s Stadium was somber to say the least, especially for Kyle Shanahan.

The San Francisco 49ers head coach took to the podium after the team’s loss to the Los Angeles Chargers Friday, with everyone’s mind firmly elsewhere. The organization made the decision to trade former franchise quarterback Trey Lance to the Dallas Cowboys prior to kickoff, ending his rocky tenure in one swift motion.

The 23-year-old prospect has been in competition with Sam Darnold for the 49ers’ backup QB spot for several months, a battle that the latter had won. But when Shanahan & the 49ers revealed the decision to Lance Wednesday, he was understandably emotional, requesting the day off as he evaluated options.

Figuring out that he wouldn’t get much of an opportunity in The Bay, both sides came to an agreement on a plan to go their separate ways.

“When Trey and I talked, we talked about all the situations going forward. I told him how much I’d still want him to be here to be the three and things like that. I also told him that what I think is best for Trey. I do think Trey needs an opportunity to play more. The opportunities he’s had here, when he has had those two opportunities, he’s gotten hurt in both of them and kind of missed that window a little bit,” Kyle Shanahan said about Lance. “Trey kind of needs that again. He didn’t get that here. So, I told him that’s what I think is best for him, if he can find a good opportunity. If he doesn’t and he wants to be here, well we want him here. Trey took a little bit of time to think about it, but he came back and said he’d like to find another spot if we can.”

Trey Lance’s 49ers tenure has been shaky from the start, playing backup to former starter Jimmy Garoppolo as a rookie in 2021. During that time, Lance broke his index finger in the team’s final preseason game, putting him behind schedule in his development. Then, the QB suffered an ankle fracture in Week 2 of last season, ending his tenure as the team’s starter, according to the coach.

“But once he broke the finger and stuff, it just got tougher for him as time went,” Shanahan stated. “We knew we’d commit to him the next year, which we did. We knew he wasn’t fully ready in every aspect, but we knew he had a skill set that we could put some stuff together to give him the chance to compete and grow with a good team as he developed as a full quarterback. And he got hurt in the first quarter of the second game, which kind of set that back. Now we’re here in the third year. And we still got a good team. We thought it would be Trey.”

After telling the media Tuesday that both Lance & Danrold could be the backup in the regular season, the news 24 hours later left a few with a sour taste. But the coach had apparently already made his decision about a week prior; it was Darnold.

Because of that, Kyle Shanahan wanted to tell his young QB straight away, feeling in debt to him for his standing with the team.

“Because I knew it. I thought [the decision] would take longer. I wanted to go through this game, but I knew it. I think a lot of guys knew it. I think he had an idea. It was more about my relationship with Trey. I’m in meetings with him every day and stuff. I’m on the field with him every day. I could get a sense that he was starting to feel that we felt that way,” Shanahan explained. “It was the truth and I don’t want to bs him. So, once I thought that once we knew and once I could tell he knew that we knew, I remember the night before I realized, I’m going to come in the morning and tell him. I don’t want that between us. So, I did. Didn’t expect it to get out right away. But it did. But that was something I thought I owed to Trey.”

Darnold has been efficient in training camp, playing the role of game manager, while throwing no interceptions. That alone seems to have won him the job, playing at a consistently high level in the coach’s eyes.

“Just everything, the whole body of work. He got better as it went. I thought it was tight for a little bit and just over the last couple weeks and stuff started to separate himself each day. Just the more comfortable he got, the more consistent he got. I think it was pretty apparent for all of us,” the coach said. 

While the 49ers ultimately traded the player for a fourth-round pick Friday, the decision wasn’t easy. In fact, the team would have preferred to keep the player if they could.

But already possessing an overzealous salary cap made that unfeasible for the Red & Gold.

“You’d love to keep a third guy to develop, especially a guy that you really, really love and believe that he could do it someday,” Shanahan said. “But to do that for $7 million over two years with places where you are in the cap, when you can’t provide those reps and stuff for people…I wish it would because hell yeah, we’d love to just keep him until eventually it works out. But that clock ran out here and that’s why we had to make a real tough decision, one we didn’t enjoy doing, one we didn’t want to do, but we try to do what we think’s best and this is what we think is best.”

So here we are: Trey Lance is on a new team, hoping for a fresh start as the backup to Dak Prescott. While the 49ers move on with fellow young prospect Brock Purdy.

Still, the offensive guru feels a bit of responsibility in Lance’s lack of development the last few years, stuck on the fact that he needed the reps they couldn’t provide for him.

“I will always feel like I let Trey down,” Kyle Shanahan said, emotionally. “I mean, I wanted him to come here. I believe in Trey. I believed in him before we took him and I’m responsible for that. I didn’t want to throw him into the heat of battle right away, but I thought he needed to play.”

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