The question I have been asked the most during this incredible Niners run with Brock Purdy as the quarterback isn’t “can they win the Super Bowl?”
No, it’s “what happens at quarterback next year?”
Well, Purdy has answered that question for all of us over the last seven games.
No matter what happens from this point in the playoffs onwards, Purdy has proven himself to be the 49ers’ quarterback of the future. Of course he is. You saw his performance over the Seahawks on Saturday, where he threw for 332 yards and accounted for four touchdowns, right?
It doesn’t matter if Purdy wins the Super Bowl — the strange, arbitrary barometer suggested by countless fans over the last few weeks. No, Purdy has already passed the test. When he has played, he has made the 49ers better.
And while no one expected Brock Purdy to be the man in Santa Clara — save for perhaps Brock Purdy — the reality of the scenario is inescapable: The Niners’ grand Trey Lance plan is dead. They’re on the Purdy Plan from here on out.
That leaves the team with a bit of a mess. But the 49ers should feel fortunate. They stumbled into the most enviable quarterback situation in the NFL — a situation so advantageous that it previously only existed in thought exercises.
Of course, there are the two other quarterbacks that started games for the 49ers this season. How do they fit into The Purdy Plan?
There are a few ways this can go, but I expect that heading into training camp next summer, Purdy and Lance will be in “competition” for the top quarterback job.
But the truth is that Purdy will have a massive head start in that competition. He has put together far more — and far better — game tape, and Lance is coming off a massive injury that will likely put some limitation on his involvement in the Niners’ offseason workout programs.
No, the “competition” will be lip service from Kyle Shanahan. He did the same thing in 2021, even though Lance had little chance of starting the season as QB1. By calling it a competition, Shanahan sends a message to the rest of the roster that no one’s job is guaranteed in camp. It’s also a bit of cover in case Lance returns as the second coming of Josh Allen.
For now, with Lance still unproven — a talented but underwhelming enigma — the selection to draft Purdy might have been the smartest move the 49ers have made under Shanahan and general manager John Lynch.
Then there’s Jimmy Garoppolo.
Garoppolo is an unrestricted free agent, and with eight teams guaranteed to be in the market for a starting quarterback this offseason and another half-dozen possibly joining the fray, he’s going to have suitors. Garoppolo’s 2022 season might have started and ended with injury, but he was pretty good when he was on the field. Someone is going to pay handsomely for his services.
The Niners can’t pay Garoppolo as much as the market will. They also can’t guarantee him a starting job, like other teams will. They probably can’t get rid of Lance to make room for Garoppolo on the roster, either.
So Garoppolo is gone.
To be fair, the Niners — as in 2021 — could do much worse than Lance at backup quarterback. Being a backup wasn’t the 49ers’ original plan for Lance — they traded three first-round picks to draft him at No. 3 overall — but that’s the beauty of the NFL, you have to stay nimble and live in reality in this league.
Given how much the Niners have needed their backup quarterbacks under Shanahan, they’d be foolish not to invest in that position.
No matter what happens Sunday in the Divisional Round and beyond, Purdy is now the most valuable player in the NFL. I mean value in how we use the word when we shop at Target: his performance dramatically outpaces his cost.
It’s one of my favorite NFL questions being answered in real-time. What would happen if a team went all-in and built a roster around a solid, but super-cheap quarterback?
Again, the Niners didn’t plan on any of this. Purdy’s selection was a lark. The team already had three quarterbacks — including its quarterback of the present and future — when he was picked.
And with that last pick in the NFL draft came the NFL draft’s smallest contract.
Every rookie drafted enters the league with a defined salary commensurate with his pick. Had Purdy been an undrafted free agent, the free market likely would have put him in a position to demand a larger contract and a shorter term than the one he landed with the 49ers.
Instead, Purdy signed a prescribed four-year deal worth $3.7 million.
That’s the total, not per year.
The NFL salary cap was $208.2 million this season. Purdy was paid $724,253 per OverTheCap.com. He’s one of the only guys on the team who will truly notice when the playoff bonus direct deposits hit checking accounts.
And next season, even after this incredible run, Purdy will make $889,253 — 0.4 percent of the cap.
Purdy won’t make more than $1 million in base salary ($1.11 against the cap) until 2025, the final year of his rookie contract.
Having the most important player on the field also be so inexpensive puts the 49ers in a position never before seen in the NFL. The team with arguably the NFL’s best roster now has immense financial flexibility.
They could move on from Lance and find a cheaper backup option. But even if the Niners maintain the original plan for 2023 — Lance and Purdy as the team’s two quarterbacks, albeit in flipped roles — it will only cost the team $10.1 million against the salary cap.
For reference, five quarterbacks are set to make $40 million-plus next season. And half of the starting quarterbacks in the league are set to make more — individually — than the entire 49ers’ quarterback room in 2023.
The Niners are estimated to have $17.6 million in salary cap space heading into next season, per OTC. Add in a few contract restructurings and extensions — Trent Williams, Christian McCaffrey, George Kittle, and Fred Warner stand out there — and the Niners will be in a prime position to bring back free agents Mike McGlinchey, Jimmie Ward, Jake Brendel, and Emmanuel Moseley with ease, and sign upgrades at backup tight end and defensive end.
Purdy made the Super Bowl or bust 49ers a better team this season.
And while Purdy as the starting quarterback was never the plan, his emergence as the team’s QB1 puts the Niners in a position to be even better next season.
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