The 49ers’ brass highly suspected it last night.
Brock Purdy did, too.
The black shooting sleeve on his arm wasn’t going to hide what was happening with Purdy’s elbow. His ulnar collateral ligament — the one that connects the ulna and the humerus — is torn.
An MRI confirmed it Monday, and while Purdy reportedly is seeking second opinions, there’s no circumstance where his first fully-professional offseason isn’t spent rehabbing from Tommy John surgery to repair — if not to replace — the tendon.
Purdy was set to be the 49ers’ starter next season. While he’s expected to be back for training camp, there are no guarantees in this world. His injury opens the door for another quarterback.
The top names that will be tied to the Niners are Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers. The rumor mill started churning during last night’s game.
But I don’t think the door is open enough for either of the Northern California natives to step into the Niners’ quarterback room.
But do you know who’s already in that room? Trey Lance.
The former first-round pick has been given an incredible opportunity to rebuild his reputation as the 49ers’ quarterback of the future.
Well, the future is now. Lance inhabits a strange space. He wasn’t given a full run, so he had not proven himself good or bad. Purdy, meanwhile, has played twice as many games, but he showed far more than Lance in his eight games at the helm of the offense.
I can tell you this: The Niners are not afraid of starting Lance again. While Purdy was set to be QB1 for 2023, the Niners were going to push the notion of competition between the two young signal-callers.
Now Purdy is out until at least the start of training camp, which means Lance — should he be healthy enough — is the team’s QB1 for OTAs.
This competition could be a lot tighter in June.
Ok, ok, ok: back to the big names.
I see a zero percent chance that Rodgers becomes a 49er. Quote me on this.
For one, the team can’t afford him. They don’t have enough draft picks to entice the Packers — an NFC rival — to send Rodgers out to California, and if the Niners were to swing a trade (and that’s the only way to get him), it could cost them as much as $59.5 million against the cap for the 2023 season.
If the Niners commit to Rodgers — a bold decision given the team has two cheap, quality quarterback options that are expected to be healthy for training camp — it could whittle Rodgers’ cap number to $15.8 million.
That might even be too expensive. It would also necessitate the Niners trading Lance. Green Bay wouldn’t be interested — they already have Jordan Love.
All of this overlooks the fact that Rodgers is the Kyrie Irving of football, unquestionably talented but also downright bizarre.
The 49ers’ goal is to run it back. Bringing in Rodgers is to fundamentally change this Niners’ team.
While I don’t have any concerns that the 49ers’ locker room can handle Rodgers, but at this point in his career, the juice might not be worth the squeeze for a team like San Francisco.
Actually, at the cost, we know it isn’t.
There is a universe in which Brady returns home to the Bay and becomes a Niner, though.
The issue is it’s a strange universe that’s highly unlikely to intersect with ours.
Brady is an unrestricted free agent. He can sign with any team he wants.
The Niners don’t need Brady, who slipped in his age 45 season, but you also don’t immediately tell the greatest quarterback of all time “no” if he calls.
The only way I can imagine Brady being a Niner is if he signs a one-year, super-cheap contract and is promised nothing from the team in return.
I’m talking about the least amount of money he can possibly take — roughly $1.16 million.
The Niners can demand such a thing, because Brady needs the Niners eons more than the Niners need Brady.
The Niners’ offense came alive under Purdy in a way they hoped it would (and still might) under Lance. Purdy’s incredible grasp of the offense and his ability to improvise and extend plays with his feet is something that should not be affected by his elbow surgery. Who knows, he might even throw harder once he has a new ligament in his right elbow.
Brady, on the other hand, is the definition of a statue. Yes, he can see everything that’s happening on the field, but can he react to it at an elite level? We know he’s not going to run for yards. Frankly, if the play’s top option (or two) doesn’t come open, he’s likely to dump the ball to a running back or throw the ball away.
Yes, the Niners had better weapons than the Buccaneers this past season, but the Bucs still had enviable weapons — Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, Russell Gage, Leonard Fournette, and Rachaad White.
I think you’re picking up what I’m laying down: I think Purdy is the better quarterback for the 49ers right now. Quote me on it.
Lance? Who’s to say what he is? In the words of Rodgers, he’s a “beautiful mystery.”
If Brady wants to come to the Niners for a paltry salary and compete for the starting job with two players half his age, he’s welcome to try.
Who knows — he might win the job. He might even win another Super Bowl — this time for his hometown team.
But that’s a whole lot of variables. Frankly, all of it would be beneath a man of his stature. He can just go loose with the Raiders. Another aging star residency on the Strip.
And don’t suggest Jimmy Garoppolo. He’s gone. The Niners aren’t going to pay what it’ll cost to keep Garoppolo around.
I promise you, his Niners tenure is over.
But while Garoppolo is gone, the 49ers’ quarterback position remains the same:
In a state of flux.