John Lynch indicated the 49ers may need to add a veteran quarterback. Rather than seek an experienced backup, the 49ers are landing a veteran starter to join their Brock Purdy–Trey Lance QB room.
Sam Darnold is signing with the 49ers, Adam Schefter of ESPN.com tweets. San Francisco will add the former No. 3 overall pick to a one-year deal. The 49ers now have two former No. 3 overall picks in the draft, in Lance and Darnold, though Purdy is the early favorite — depending on his post-surgery timetable — to stick as their starter.
Darnold will follow Josh Rosen as 2018 first-rounders to have joined the 49ers under the Lynch-Kyle Shanahan regime, and it will be interesting to see the former Jets and Panthers starter’s role on his new team.
The 49ers are in an unusual position, with both their top QBs coming off injuries. Lance is expected to be ready to return from his broken ankle by OTAs, but Purdy may not be fully cleared until September. Given the form Lance has shown so far, the 49ers entered free agency in an odd position. Darnold stands to provide intriguing insurance.
The Panthers had begun negotiations to keep Darnold, but their plans changed after pulling the trigger on a blockbuster trade for the No. 1 overall pick. Darnold, 25, will exit Carolina after two seasons. Those two seasons did not produce what the Panthers sought when they traded three draft choices — including a 2022 second-rounder — for him in 2021, but the USC product does bring considerable experience to this Purdy-Lance room largely devoid of it. Darnold has made 55 NFL starts.
During Matt Rhule’s third and final year with the franchise, the Panthers gave Baker Mayfield their starting job out of training camp. Darnold suffered a high ankle sprain late in the preseason but had already lost the job. It took the ex-Jets franchise-QB hopeful until midseason to return, but Darnold regained his starting job. He finished last season with an 8.2 yards-per-attempt number — by far the highest of his career — and threw seven touchdown passes compared to just three interceptions. This came with a 58.6% completion rate, but Darnold looked in better form compared to what he showed for most of the 2022 season.
Purdy did not need Tommy John surgery and is tentatively expected to begin throwing in June. His UCL repair will still mean extensive first-team reps for Lance, reopening the door for the former North Dakota State prospect. Purdy has been expected to hang onto his staring gig, but that cannot be considered a lock given the circumstances. Darnold’s experience may throw another wrench into San Francisco’s mix, which stands to be one of the more fascinating QB rooms in recent memory. It will be interesting to learn the 49ers’ offseason plans for their newest passer.