49ers sign Darnold as veteran insurance for Purdy and Lance
The San Francisco 49ers have their insurance policy at quarterback, having agreed a one-year deal with Sam Darnold.
San Francisco last season saw their Super Bowl hopes derailed by injuries at the game's most important position, literally running out of healthy players at quarterback in their NFC Championship Game defeat to the Philadelphia Eagles.
That game saw Brock Purdy suffer a torn elbow ligament on the first offensive series for the 49ers. Josh Johnson was then concussed in the second half.
Purdy, the final pick in last year's draft, had previously improbably led the 49ers to the Conference Championship.
He won all five of his starts in the regular season after taking over from an injured Jimmy Garoppolo in Week 13 to lift them to a 13-4 record and the second seed in the NFC, and he then helped San Francisco to playoff victories over the Seattle Seahawks and Dallas Cowboys.
Purdy last week had surgery to repair his torn ligament, giving 2021 third overall pick Trey Lance, whose season-ending ankle injury suffered in Week 2 forced the Niners to turn to Garoppolo, a chance to stake his claim for the starting job during the offseason programme.
Yet with Garoppolo departing in free agency for the Las Vegas Raiders, the 49ers needed an experienced third-stringer, and they have turned to 2018 third overall pick Darnold.
Darnold has failed to live up to his draft slot in spells with the New York Jets and Carolina Panthers, though he did go 4-2 as a starter for the latter in 2022.
That relative success came with Steve Wilks serving as interim head coach. Wilks has since replaced new Houston Texans head coach DeMeco Ryans as San Francisco's defensive coordinator.
In 2022, Darnold delivered an accurate, well-thrown ball on 83.2 per cent of his pass attempts, 13th among quarterbacks with at least 100 attempts, according to Stats Perform data.
Those are encouraging numbers, but the 49ers will hope Purdy and Lance can display the durability to ensure Darnold is not asked to replicate that level of accuracy in 2023.