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Niners HC Kyle Shanahan on Trey Lance's QB3 demotion: Doesn't mean 'he can't be with us or someone else in the future'

Trey Lance was noticeably absent from practice Wednesday following news that Sam Darnold had won the San Francisco 49ers' second-string quarterback spot.

Head coach Kyle Shanahan said Wednesday night that it was his call to give Lance the day off, while adding he doesn't believe this is necessarily the end of the road for Lance in San Francisco -- or elsewhere.

"We had such a light practice today," Shanahan told KNBR’s Tolbert & Copes, "watching how Trey was when we talked, we thought it was better to, 'Hey, take the day off, clear your head some, we'll talk later in the afternoon and get you back in there tomorrow.'"

NFL Network Insiders Ian Rapoport and Tom Pelissero reported earlier in the day that Darnold, signed this offseason, would go into the season as Brock Purdy's backup, pushing Lance, who the Niners memorably paid a small fortune to have the opportunity to draft, to the No. 3 spot.

Consequently, Lance's future in San Fran is murky at best, but Shanahan believes Lance -- who is still only 23 years old -- could find his way in the league.

"I also don't think Trey, this means that he can't be with us or someone else ever in the future," Shanahan said. "I mean this is just where camp went right now."

The 49ers picked Lance No. 3 overall in the 2021 NFL Draft, acquiring the pick when they sent three first-round choices to the Miami Dolphins. Lance has started one more game in his two years than San Francisco gave up first-round picks for him.

Having been dealt a litany of injury problems, Lance has gone 2-2 as a starter over two seasons and eight total appearances. He suffered a broken finger in the 2021 preseason, later sprained his knee in his rookie campaign and last year broke and dislocated his ankle in Week 2. Following his ankle fracture, Lance ceded the starting reins to Jimmy Garoppolo, who was later injured, as well. Garoppolo's injury set the stage for Purdy's improbable emergence from being the last pick of the 2022 draft to the 49ers' starter.

Shanahan noted that he believes Lance's finger injury ahead of his rookie campaign was really a telling blow that set forth an unfortunate series of events.

"When he broke his finger it really kind of messed him up and took away his first year for him," Shanahan said.

Though the day centered on the 49ers' QB2 spot, Shanahan also made it clear that Purdy, who's coming back from offseason elbow surgery, has been the squad's unquestioned starter.

"It actually blows my mind that there's confusion because I feel like we've said that 100 percent consistent since Day 1," Shanahan said. "But there is confusion I guess so I'll keep saying it."

With Purdy as the undisputed QB1, the battle between Darnold and Lance was an arduous one by Shanahan's account, but Darnold, who was also a No. 3 overall pick in the 2018 draft by the New York Jets, ultimately prevailed.

"It was a very tough fight, but in the long run, Sam ended up winning it," said Shanahan, who noted over the past 10 days that Darnold had separated himself. "Once I knew that was the case, wanted to make sure I told Trey as fast as I could."

In a pair of preseason games, Darnold went 16-of-22 passing for 193 yards and a touchdown with 18 yards rushing and two sacks. Lance was 22 of 33 for 285 yards, two TDs, an interception and no rushing yards on five carries. But the eye test showed Lance struggle mightily.

What lies ahead in the immediate future will be both Darnold and Lance playing in the team's Week 3 preseason game Friday against the Los Angeles Chargers, Shanahan said.

After that is the question. Lance is due just $940,000 in base salary this season, but set to count $9.3 million against the salary cap and another $10.85 million against the cap next year.

There's no way the Niners will recoup what they gave up to draft Lance, but just what a Lance market commands is uncertain, though unlikely to be fruitful.

It was a tough Wednesday for Lance that has no doubt led to an unclear future.

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