The elbow injury Brock Purdy suffered during Sunday’s season-ending loss to Philadelphia in the NFC championship game further complicates an already intriguing quarterback situation for the San Francisco 49ers.
It’s possible that Purdy, who guided the 49ers to seven straight victories and the franchise’s third appearance in the NFC title game in the past four seasons, will be ready for training camp. But can Coach Kyle Shanahan and General Manager John Lynch count on that?
And that’s merely where the variables begin. There are plenty more.
Trey Lance will return from the ankle injury that cut short his second NFL season. Jimmy Garoppolo is eligible for free agency, but he no longer appears to be an option after Shanahan announced Wednesday that he will not be brought back. And in what promises to be another offseason of movement among high-profile quarterbacks, the Green Bay Packers could trade Aaron Rodgers, who has deep ties to the Bay Area.
It was only a few days ago that Purdy’s out-of-nowhere development represented one of the feel-good stories of the NFL season. He had gone from being the final player chosen in last year’s draft to resembling a star in the making, doing all that was asked of him and more in Shanahan’s well-designed offense after the 49ers lost Lance and Garoppolo to injuries.
The 49ers made a win-now trade in October for tailback Christian McCaffrey to add him to a star-laden cast on offense that included wide receivers Deebo Samuel and Brandon Aiyuk, tight end George Kittle and left tackle Trent Williams. They had the league’s most fearsome defense. They were on the doorstep of a Super Bowl appearance, unbeaten since Oct. 23 and on a 12-game winning streak.
It all came crashing down when Purdy was injured on the 49ers’ first series Sunday. He was forced to reenter the game in the second half after journeyman backup Josh Johnson suffered a concussion; the 49ers had no other quarterbacks available. But Purdy was incapable of throwing the ball more than five or 10 yards, he said. The Eagles overwhelmed the 49ers, 31-7.
“My arm just felt like it stretched out,” Purdy said after the game. “It just felt like really a lot of just shocks all over, from my elbow down to my wrist, front and back. Just pain, really, all over.”
The 49ers were rendered uncompetitive in a game they felt they had a good chance to win.
“I’m just frustrated,” Purdy said, mentioning some of his veteran teammates. “But it’s more sad for those guys than anything because they deserved to go, to win and to win the whole thing. And so when that happened, man, I’m just more frustrated with that and sad for them.”
The harsh reality of offseason retooling will arrive soon for the 49ers, with defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans leaving for a head coaching opportunity with the Houston Texans. Lynch and Shanahan face some difficult choices, none bigger than deciding what to do at quarterback. It is the final — but also the most crucial — piece to the Super Bowl puzzle.
“I was just thinking about how hard it is, how it takes every little thing to align the right way to win, to go all the way,” Purdy said Sunday. “I was thinking back to early in the season, what happened with all the injuries and stuff, and then we get hot, and we’re winning games and how tough even those games are to win. … As a rookie, you can say, ‘Oh, you’ve got your whole career.’ But, man, these [veteran players] have told me it’s rare to get here.”
Purdy would face a six-month rehabilitation process following a prospective surgery. If all goes well, he could be ready for training camp and could open the season as the 49ers’ starter. But there is a string of “ifs” involved there.
The 49ers could return to their plan entering this season and go with Lance, the third player chosen in the 2021 draft. But that somehow feels even riskier now.
Rodgers might be on the move if he opts against retirement. The New York Jets have emerged as a potential trade partner with the Packers for Rodgers after they hired Nathaniel Hackett, a close Rodgers ally, as their offensive coordinator.
Whatever the 49ers decide, they face a long and arduous path to try to get back to where they just were: one victory from the Super Bowl.
“It has to do with how hard we work and the team we build and staying healthy and going back to square one and fighting through the offseason, fighting through a whole regular season and getting to this moment again,” Shanahan said Sunday, “and hope we get a little bit better draw and hope we play a little bit better.”