SANTA CLARA — Trey Lance stood at his locker on one side of the 49ers’ locker room, speaking for the first time to reporters since a Sept. 18 fracture to his right foot, which remains in an orthopedic boot.
Down the way in a corner, Brock Purdy sat in front of his locker, waiting to update reporters on, well, how he is mulling options on how to fix his right, throwing elbow.
Lance, then Purdy. That could be how the 49ers’ quarterback depth chart looks going into next season, assuming Lance indeed gets fully cleared in a month and is ready for April’s start of the offseason program, as he expects.
All that truly remains up in the air, however, just two days after Purdy’s elbow injury in a 31-7, NFC Championship Game loss at Philadelphia.
“I haven’t talked to Kyle yet. I’ll go talk to Kyle and I’m sure it’ll be the whole story again this year for you guys, so I’m super excited for that,” Lance said with a wry smile. “But I’m just excited to get back out there.”
Coach Kyle Shanahan and general manager John Lynch will address the media Wednesday. But Shanahan caught up with a melancholy Purdy on Tuesday.
“We just sort of reflected about the season, and it was more about what I can do to get healthy and what I have to do when I get back,” Purdy said. “In terms of who’s going to be the starter and who we’re bringing in or any news, we literally didn’t cover any of that, and, honestly I didn’t want to hear about anything.”
Since Purdy’s injury, fans and reporters have begun speculating about the 49ers’ alternatives, such as signing Tom Brady in free agency or trading for a veteran, such as Aaron Rodgers, Kirk Cousins or Derek Carr.
“I just wanted to focus on my recovery right now and what I have to do for my arm moving forward,” Purdy added.
The recovery of a torn ulnar collateral ligament figures to take at least six months. It’s essentially the most optimistic opinion Purdy has received. A full reconstruction of his UCL has not been ruled out, and that scenario could shelve him a year.
He’s been reading up on other case studies, aware that it’s a “baseball injury” that pitchers often endure, but not so much for football players, although former 49ers quarterback Nick Mullens indeed required a UCL repair after his December 2020 injury. He then bounced between the Eagles, the Browns, the Raiders, and finished this past season on the Vikings.
“The quarterback situation, there haven’t been a lot of cases,” Purdy said. “Usually, it’s like a linebacker or offensive lineman, and they can just brace it up and play. But when you’re throwing, it’s a different situation.”
Purdy is talking as if he’ll be back playing in 2023, after already stunning the NFL world the past two months. Quick refresher: He was the last player drafted in 2022, then “Mr. Irrelevant” relieved an injured Jimmy Garoppolo on Dec. 4, against the Miami Dolphins’ all-out blitzes. Purdy went on to post eight wins in riveting, high-scoring fashion, before a hit by Hasson Reddick crippled Purdy’s arm from throwing Sunday with a Super Bowl berth on the line.
He is aware a UCL repair could be fast-tracked to where he can throw in three months, then the six-month mark (or training camp) is when he could practice “and be part of everything.”
“There’s literally nothing I know for sure,” Purdy said of his prognosis. “There are different options in terms of letting it recover, surgery, all these different types of surgeries – repair vs. reconstruction. So we still haven’t come to a conclusion about any of that. We still have to get more pictures on MRIs and whatnot and get more opinions.”
Monday’s MRI revealed a torn UCL, and follow-up tests were upcoming Tuesday for Purdy, who was the last player in the locker room after the media’s hour-long access. Purdy wore an olive-green compression sleeve on is right elbow.
“In terms of walking around, I don’t feel it as much,” Purdy said. “It’s swollen. But the minute I go to move or to pick something up, there’s definitely pain. I can’t use my arm for any purposes other than that. It sucks. I definitely injured it.”
Lance, meanwhile, remains in an orthopedic boot. He required a follow-up procedure Dec. 30 to remove a stabilizing screw from his right ankle, which he fractured on a run in the Sept. 18 home opener against Seattle, an injury that required a five-day hospital stay to control his pain.
Lance plans on remaining under the 49ers’ care these next four weeks, “to make sure I’m getting to 100 percent, and I’m exactly where they want me and where I feel I’m more like myself.”
He went 1-1 as an injury replacement in 2021, the year in which the 49ers drafted him No. 3 overall after trading a trio of first-round picks (and more) for that slot. This year, Lance opened as QB1, lost the opener in a Chicago rainstorm, then was hurt in the first quarter of the home opener.
He continued to attend all 49ers’ meetings, and he was on the sideline to help Purdy several games. As for what help Lance may need for his re-entry, he feels his throwing motion is “in a really good spot.”
“We’ve been throwing, just half-kneeling and standing. I haven’t put any cleats on yet,” said Lance, noting that he keeps a ball with his name on it in the training and meeting rooms.
Garoppolo, a pending free agent, left the 49ers’ facility before the media got access to the locker room.
Once reporters finished questioning — and, in some cases, consoling — Purdy, wide receiver Deebo Samuel stopped by to gift Purdy a jersey that was autographed with a custom message, that read in part: “I’m so proud of you.”
Lance is, too. He was admired from an eighth-story suite how Purdy handled Miami’s defensive onslaught in that Dec. 4 coming-out part.
“I was super excited. It was little stuff we talk about through the week that we don’t go over, over, over, because we didn’t expect it,” Lance recalled. “Then they get a rookie quarterback in there and they bring zero 18 times in a row.
“I was super excited for him. He did a great job. He’s super fun.”
Alas, a Super Bowl was out of Purdy, Lance and the 49ers’ reach this season. Next year? Who knows their fate — or their health status.
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