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49ers GM John Lynch: Brock Purdy 'has earned the right' to take first snap in QB battle

Brock Purdy's unexpected success has earned him the first chair in San Francisco's spring quarterback band.

"I think Brock has earned the right, with the way he played, that he's probably the leader in the clubhouse at that," general manager John Lynch told reporters Monday, via ESPN's Nick Wagoner. "If we were to line up, he'd probably take that first snap."

Speaking to NFL Network's Steve Wyche later in the day, coach Kyle Shanahan agreed with Lynch's sentiments.

"In the games he played, he played at a level that was the real deal," Shanahan said about Purdy. "If you go off that evaluation and what he did, he earned that job. He should be our starter on how he played. Because he has that film. And that was really cool to see."

Purdy's performance was certainly impressive enough to warrant an opportunity to win the starting job in 2023. The rookie completed 67.1 percent of his passes for 1,374 yards, a 13-4 touchdown-to-interception ratio and a passer rating of 107.3, all of which Purdy posted only after he was elevated to the starting lineup out of sheer necessity.

As the 2022 draft's Mr. Irrelevant -- the last pick of the draft -- Purdy remained in obscurity for much of 2022, lingering in the shadows behind former first-round pick Trey Lance and veteran Jimmy Garoppolo. Most everyone focused on San Francisco's future with Lance as the team's firm starter, keeping an eye on Garoppolo as he worked on a separate practice field and awaited his next destination.

When injuries struck, however, Purdy was called into action and delivered in resounding fashion, going 5-0 in regular-season starts and helping San Francisco reach the NFC Championship Game. An elbow injury suffered in that contest ended San Francisco's run, but forced the 49ers to acknowledge how essential he'd quickly become to San Francisco's chances of victory.

Purdy never looked like a rookie during his first season, and gave San Francisco legitimate reason to wonder whether he -- not Lance -- might be the right guy for the job.

Lance's track record to this point has been anything but certain. He spent his rookie season appearing in specific packages that utilized his athletic talents to create advantages for San Francisco's offense, but didn't fully step into a starting role until 2022.

That run lasted less than two games for Lance, who led San Francisco to an opening-week loss at a rain-soaked Soldier Field before an injury ended his season in Week 2. Garoppolo replaced Lance and performed well, but his own injury -- a familiar outcome that contributed to his departure for Las Vegas -- forced Purdy into action, putting San Francisco in an unenviable position that ended up suggesting the 49ers' best option might be their most unlikely candidate.

The 49ers' future at quarterback will remain one of the most intriguing storylines of the offseason through the conclusion of training camp. Draft status will not influence how San Francisco proceeds, according to Lynch, but both Lance and Purdy are returning from injury. San Francisco signed Sam Darnold this month to give them another option, which will be especially available during OTAs and minicamp.

Once they clear that hurdle, the real evaluation will begin. And as Lynch said, Purdy will be first in line to attempt to win the job in what will "certainly" be a competition.

"We've always said we don't care where you were drafted, if you were drafted, that's always been our stance," Lynch said. "We're still very excited about Trey, but I think the way Brock played, he probably has earned that right to be the guy."

Shanahan was similar in saying there's still excitement for Lance, and he's eager to see the competition play out: "We'll open it up for whatever. We know what we got healing up. … We have a guy who proved himself last year, and we have a guy in Trey Lance who we were believing in enough to give him the keys to our whole organization and unfortunately, he got hurt. And we also got a free agent who came in who we've always been a huge fan of. So, I can't wait to get to OTAs and practice, get to training camp and just let itself play out."

Should Purdy win the job in convincing fashion, the 49ers will suddenly have a glut at the position. No general manager will be content with allowing a former top pick -- especially one a team moved up to select -- languish on the bench behind a player who isn't much older.

With this in mind, San Francisco won't eliminate any scenario in which they might trade Lance. They're just not especially eager to make a move now, not with so much of their future under center still unsettled.

"We listen to anything, but we like Trey on our team," Lynch said. "We're very excited about the way he's progressing, about his opportunity. I think he's chomping at the bit to get back out there."

Provided they're both healthy, the two will square off soon enough. The 49ers' future depends upon the outcome.

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