Niners trade QB Trey Lance to Cowboys after former 3rd overall pick misses out on backup duties

After missing out on backup duties behind Brock Purdy with the San Francisco 49ers, it looks like Trey Lance will be backing up Dak Prescott.

The Dallas Cowboys are acquiring Lance in exchange for a fourth-round draft pick, according to ESPN's Adam Schefter. Niners general manager John Lynch confirmed the deal Friday in an interview during the team's preseason game against the Los Angeles Chargers.

The Cowboys will reportedly cover all of Lance's $940,000 salary for this season and $5.3 million for next year, while also making the decision on his fifth-year option for 2025.

Lance, the third-overall pick of the 2021 NFL Draft, was headed for a trade after the Niners selected former New York Jets starter Sam Darnold over him as the No. 2 quarterback behind Purdy. The decision was a stunner considering how much the Niners gave up to acquire Lance in the first place, trading their first-round picks in 2021, 2022 and 2023 plus a 2022 third-rounder to the Miami Dolphins for the third pick.

Since trading away that fortune in draft value, the Niners have seen Lance appear in eight games with four starts. Calling him a draft bust doesn't capture the whole story, as he simply hasn't played enough where anyone can honestly say we've seen his full ability as a quarterback. After spending most of his rookie year backing up Jimmy Garoppolo, he broke his ankle two games into his first season as a starter last year.

Lynch discussed the trade during Friday's broadcast of the Niners' preseason game, heaping high praise for Lance's character:

"Really hard day, such a wonderful young man. We took a shot and it didn't work out. We own that. We take accountability for it ... His story is still very much unwritten. I'm excited for Trey. Dallas stepped up and really wanted him. They came after him. I think it's going to be a great landing spot for him.

"I can tell everybody it wasn't for lack of effort on Trey's part or on our part that didn't work. Circumstances took hold and he struggled through injuries.

Of course, Lance wasn't posting encouraging numbers when he was on the field, with a 54.9% completion rate, five touchdowns, three interceptions and 7.8 yards per pass attempt in his career, but the Cowboys are hoping there's more to that story.

What will Trey Lance be for the Cowboys?

The Cowboys were entering this season with Prescott as their starting quarterback with veteran backup Cooper Rush and 2019 third-round Will Grier behind him. Lance's arrival upsets that balance.

With only two weeks to go before the Cowboys' season opener against the New York Giants on Sept. 10, it's unlikely Lance immediately takes backup duties. What makes the third string different in Dallas, however, is that Lance might have a better path to stardom than he would have had in San Francisco.

Lance could take over backup duties during the season and, at that point, it's probably worth noting that Prescott is a) 30 years old, b) missed five games with a thumb injury last season and c) could hit free agency after the 2024 season, per OverTheCap. The Cowboys aren't acquiring Lance only because they need an upgrade in backups this season. They pegged Lance as a second-round draft prospect in 2021, NFL Network's Jane Slater reported.

There are plenty of things that need to happen before you're penciling Lance in as the Cowboys 2025 starter, but he'll at least be able to compete without the specter of three first-round picks no longer hanging over him.