SANTA CLARA, Calif. — Roughly two and a half years after the San Francisco 49ers drafted him to be their franchise quarterback, Trey Lance‘s time with the team is over.
Sources told ESPN’s Adam Schefter that the Niners agreed to trade Lance to the Dallas Cowboys in exchange for a fourth-round draft choice on Friday night.
The deal puts a cap on a whirlwind 48 hours in which Lance was informed that Sam Darnold had beaten him out for the No. 2 quarterback job behind starter Brock Purdy, did not participate in Wednesday’s practice and then returned to the team facility Thursday morning. Lance was slated to play in San Francisco’s exhibition finale against the Los Angeles Chargers on Friday night but instead will head to Dallas to join his new team.
Speaking to KNBR radio Thursday morning, Niners general manager John Lynch said he believed the “most likely” result would be Lance staying in San Francisco. But he also noted that if a deal could be worked out elsewhere, the Niners would accommodate a trade for Lance.
“If we can find a landing spot for Trey that is a really good one for him and works for our organization, that’s not something that we’d turn a blind eye to,” Lynch said.
Lance is scheduled to make $940,000 in 2023 and has a $5.3 million salary in 2024, all of which is guaranteed. Upon trading him, the Niners will incur dead money hits of $8,361,434 this year and $5,540,956 in 2024.
After this season, Dallas will get to decide on Lance’s fifth-year option for 2025.
Trade talks surrounded Lance all offseason after he suffered a broken right ankle in Week 2 of last season, and Purdy staked his claim to the starting job with a finishing flourish down the stretch.
When the Niners signed Darnold in March, coach Kyle Shanahan indicated Lance and Darnold would compete for the No. 2 job behind Purdy. But Lynch also acknowledged that he received trade interest in Lance before the draft in April, noting that it would take something substantial in order to part with him.
That price dropped once Lance was demoted to the No. 3 spot Wednesday, as the Niners began fielding calls from other teams. And on Friday, a deal with the Cowboys was completed.
The addition of Lance does not diminish the Cowboys’ belief in Dak Prescott but gives them some cover for the future at the very least.
Prescott is signed through 2024 and is set to count $59 million against the salary cap next year. Owner and general manager Jerry Jones has mentioned wanting to extend Prescott’s contract but there has not been much dialogue regarding a new deal.
The Cowboys went through a number of quarterbacks after Troy Aikman’s retirement before Tony Romo went from an undrafted player to Pro Bowler in 2006.
The Cowboys selected Prescott in the fourth round in 2016 not expecting him to become a starter but Romo suffered a back injury that preseason and Prescott has been the starter ever since.
Prescott turned 30 last month and has missed games each of the last three seasons. He tied for the NFL lead in interceptions last year with 15 in 12 games. He missed five starts after suffering a broken right thumb in the season opener.
On Thursday, he said this is as healthy as he’s felt in years, now three years removed from a dislocated and fractured right ankle. In 2021, he missed one game with a calf injury.
“I’m blessed. I’m thankful. I’m healthy,” Prescott said. “It’s one of those things you don’t want to harp on too much, but yeah, I am much different than I am the last few years and will continue to try to stay that way and take care of my body.”
But he has yet to take the Cowboys past the divisional round of the playoffs on four postseason appearances. The Cowboys’ last Super Bowl win came in 1995 and Prescott understands the urgency.
“At the end of the day the pressure is what you put on yourselves,” Prescott said. “So I think at the end of the day we’ve got to understand that our standard is wins, simple as that. We hold ourselves to a high standard and high expectations. Nobody wants to end this drought more than the guys in the locker room, I can promise you that. For us, it’s about making sure we know in our identity, we believe in our identity as a team, we go out there and play complementary football at all three levels. I think if we do that, just from what we’ve built during the offseason to training camp to now, it’s promising.”
The addition of Lance means the Cowboys will now keep three quarterbacks on their 53-man roster in the regular season.
In March, the Cowboys signed backup Cooper Rush to a two-year deal worth $5 million that included a $1.25 million signing bonus. He is 5-1 as a starter the last two years when Prescott has missed games because of injury.
Will Grier was competing to be the No. 3 quarterback and is expected to take the bulk of the action in Saturday’s preseason finale against the Las Vegas Raiders.
The Niners originally used the No. 3 overall pick on Lance in the 2021 NFL draft after trading three first-round picks and a third-rounder to the Miami Dolphins to acquire the selection.
San Francisco planned for Lance to play in limited packages behind then-starter Jimmy Garoppolo as a rookie but a broken right index finger suffered in the preseason scuttled any long-term plans that season. Lance had another setback with the ankle injury last year.
All told, Lance started four games and appeared in eight contests in his two seasons with the team. He completed 56 of 102 passes for 797 yards with five touchdowns and three interceptions in his time with the team.
Lance’s eight games are the fewest played by a top-5 pick for the franchise he debuted with in the Common Draft Era (since 1967 and excluding the 2023 draft class), according to ESPN Stats & Information research.