What Brock Purdy’s UCL injury means for 49ers, Jimmy Garoppolo and Tom Brady rumors

what brock purdy's ucl injury means for 49ers, jimmy garoppolo

The 49ers’ hopes of playing in the 2023 NFC Championship game were dashed when starter Brock Purdy left after just a few games due to an elbow injury.

Now the team hopes the injury won’t impact the 2023 season.

Purdy was diagnosed with a fully torn ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) in his throwing arm following an MRI on Monday. The 49ers had initially hoped his elbow was only a partial tear, which would allow him to rest, recover and return after a six-week absence.

Instead, Purdy is staring at a possible six-month absence, and that leaves the 49ers with uncertainty in the quarterback room.

MORE: Latest updates on Brock Purdy’s injury as he seeks a second opinion

Purdy hopes to be available for training camp, per NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero, but will San Francisco be able to count on him? Even a minor setback could delay his return and jeopardize his availability for the start of the 2023 season.

And if Purdy ends up needing full, reconstructive UCL surgery – aka Tommy John surgery – instead of a “repair,” it could further complicate his return schedule.

As such, the 49ers face big quarterback questions as they near the 2023 offseason. The signs had pointed to Purdy as the team’s preferred long-term starter; but given its 24/7 availability, can San Francisco count on it? And if not, what other options are there?

Below is a breakdown of the 49ers’ quarterback dilemma as they try to re-establish themselves as a Super Bowl contender in 2023.

MORE: George Kittle, Kyle Shanahan lament QB injuries after loss to Eagles

49ers QB depth chart

First, it’s important to establish exactly what the 49ers have at quarterback position. They currently have four players in the position but only two of them will be signed in 2023: Brock Purdy and Trey Lance.

Both of the team’s veteran quarterbacks — Jimmy Garoppolo and Josh Johnson — are scheduled to be free agents in 2023. As such, her future with the team is in the balance.

It was originally thought that San Francisco would be happy with Purdy and Lance as its top two quarterbacks. They would build a cheap, high-profile tandem, and if the 49ers felt they were too inexperienced, they could bring in another lower-cost, more experienced option to compete with the team for a back-up job.

Now, however, Purdy’s uncertain status could change San Francisco’s calculus. The 49ers need to be prepared for potentially playing without him, so they need to rely on their back-up plan as quarterback.

It’s worth wondering if that will be Lance or someone currently unsigned for 2023.

Can the 49ers trust Trey Lance after Brock Purdy’s injury?

Lance probably represents the most likely insurance policy of the 49ers behind Purdy. It’s easy to forget, but the No. 3 overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft started the 2022 season as San Francisco’s pick. The team was ready to trade Garoppolo and roll with Lance while the raw, high-up quarterback adjusted to the NFL.

However, disaster struck Lance in Week 2 when he sustained a season-ending ankle injury. He has since had two surgeries to fix the problem and is expected to be ready for the start of the 2023 season.

The 49ers will eventually have to see what they have in Lance, so this could be the perfect time to evaluate him in Purdy’s absence. The team could field Lance as their top quarterback in the offseason and see if Purdy can overtake him if he’s healthy.

MORE: Will Brock Purdy start for the 49ers or face Trey Lance in 2023?

Of course, there are a few questions about this plan. The first concerns whether Lance will be healthy enough to take on this role in the organization. He’s currently expected back for OTAs after his second ankle surgery in late December, but a setback could put San Francisco in trouble with Purdy also out.

The second is about who the 49ers would add to quarterback space to add depth behind Lance and Purdy. The team’s larger swings at quarterback would come with the built-in insurance of having the two young quarterbacks on the list. But if the 49ers want to trust Lance and Purdy, they’d likely need to sign an experienced backup like Jacoby Brissett or Case Keenum to ensure they’re well-equipped at the position should Purdy fail to return before the regular season.

The 49ers would almost certainly be up for it. So it all boils down to one final question: Are the 49ers confident enough that Lance can take the next step and lead the 49ers to a Super Bowl? That will ultimately determine whether they go down this route or pursue a potential veteran stopgap.

Jimmy Garoppolo

Will the 49ers re-sign Jimmy Garoppolo?

Garoppolo would be a veteran stopgap, and he’s familiar with the 49ers’ organization. He’s been in San Francisco since a midseason trade in 2017 and has largely done well with the team.

Garoppolo led the 49ers to an appearance in Super Bowl 54. While they didn’t win that game, they did win far more often than not with Garoppolo in the middle. He has a 38-17 record in 55 starts with the team and averaged 4,056 yards, 24 touchdowns and 13 interceptions in 17 games played with the team.

The 49ers know Garoppolo is at least capable of leading them to victory and getting them into a Super Bowl. So if they’re worried enough about the Purdy/Lance combo, they could try to bring the veteran back on a one-year contract.

Of course, there’s no guarantee Garoppolo would accept that. Keep in mind that the 49ers tried to trade him in the 2022 offseason as he wanted a starting opportunity he wasn’t originally going to get in San Francisco.

Given the organization’s trust and investment in the younger quarterback, it’s hard to imagine the 49ers opting to start Garoppolo over Lance. So keeping him goes a long way – unless he can’t find a team willing to let him fight for a starting job, which seems unlikely, unless his foot injury is worse than it first seemed.

Tom Brady

Could Tom Brady pass the 49ers?

This option, too, seemed unlikely for a while. With Purdy playing well on the track, the chances of Tom Brady ending up in San Francisco seemed to be drying up.

But now that the young quarterback is beaten up and the 49ers are addressing quarterback issues, a door may have opened that could allow Brady to return home to the Bay Area.

Brady would be a good fit for the 49ers on paper. He’s a smart, efficient quarterback who reads the field well. He should be able to pass the ball effectively to Christian McCaffrey, Deebo Samuel, Brandon Aiyuk and George Kittle and should handle Kyle Shanahan’s offense very well.

Additionally, both Purdy and Lance could learn from the all-time great while he’s in the quarterback room. That could be especially beneficial for Purdy, who drew comparisons to Brady during his run to the NFC Championship game.

There are obviously some concerns with Brady. He will turn 46 before the start of the 2023 NFL season and could eventually slow down considerably. Still, he was solid last year despite playing behind a tight offensive line and throwing for 4,694 yards, 25 touchdowns and nine interceptions; He should do better on a more trained offensive line like the one in San Francisco.

MORE: Why the Raiders are a perfect landing spot for Tom Brady

The only other issue in pursuing Brady would be compensation. The 49ers have just under $16.4 million in cap space, according to OverTheCap.com, but they’ll need more to land Brady on a one-year contract. However, they also have several other key players who will be given a free hand, including Mike McGlinchey and defender Jimmie Ward, so adding Brady could make that more difficult to do.

Still, the NFL’s salary cap is flexible, so the 49ers would likely be willing to do salary-cap gymnastics to capitalize on their wide-open Super Bowl window.

The 49ers might prefer to just roll with their young quarterbacks and not block them with a guy like Brady. But since San Francisco doesn’t have any glaring question marks outside of the quarterback, it should consider adding Brady to the group.

That would give Brady the chance to end his career like a fairy tale: battling for a Super Bowl title with his childhood favorite team.

Dave Gallo

Dave Gallo is a pioneering sports analytics expert, renowned for his revolutionary work in AI-driven sports simulations, projections, and advanced statistical analysis. With a profound passion for sports and technology, he crafts cutting-edge computer models that accurately predict outcomes. Dave's game-changing insights have reshaped strategy, player evaluation, and decision-making across various sports. His dynamic presentations make complex analytics accessible and inspiring, ensuring his legacy as a visionary in sports analytics. Check out Dave's Pick Record.

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