The Dallas Cowboys dropped a bombshell on Friday night when they traded a fourth-round pick to the San Francisco 49ers for quarterback Trey Lance. It was a deal that brought opinions from all over social media, football bloggers, and analysts, who are divided over the trade.
There are pros and cons to adding Lance, who was selected third overall in the 2021 draft, and for whom the 49ers traded a boatload of picks to acquire before unloading him at a much cheaper cost. This was the third deal the Cowboys have done this offseason, all for Day 3 draft picks and all for players with first-round draft pedigrees.
Lance has been a source of angst for the 49ers ever since he was drafted, now that tension shifts to the Dallas. Here’s what comes with that territory for the Cowboys with the young signal caller.
Pro: Lance has elite traits
NFL teams don’t just trade three first round picks for players with average ability, and the 49ers expected Lance to succeed because of his high-level traits. Lance has the size, athletic ability, and arm strength franchises covet.
— Ari Meirov (@MySportsUpdate) August 15, 2021
Despite his natural talents Lance hasn’t put it all together yet, but that doesn’t mean he can’t. Lance was a starter for the 49ers last season before an ankle injury ended it just five quarters in. He lacks experience but just turned 23-years old in May.
Injuries and a team that appeared to give up on him quickly doesn’t mean Lance doesn’t have ability, it might just mean he wasn’t in the right situation.
Con: 49ers moved on quickly
The 49ers have one of the NFL’s best offensive minds in head coach Kyle Shanahan. During his time in the league, Shanahan’s proven that he can win with just about any QB under center. Last season the QB whisperer turned a seventh-round pick, and Mr. Irrelevant, into one of the best stories in the league, taking the 49ers to the NFC Championship game.
However, Shanahan not getting results with a player so highly skilled as Lance speaks volumes. Lance is more talented than Brock Purdy but wasn’t able to attain the same success.
Why are the 49ers and Shanahan so quick to pull the plug on a young QB who they gave up the farm to acquire? It’s a valid question that is cause for concern with Lance.
Pro: He has time to develop
Lance was thrust into the spotlight when he was drafted third overall and he was deemed a star in the making. However, Lance was inexperienced and wasn’t ready for the role.
At North Dakota St., Lance played in just 19 games and threw just 318 career passes. Since arriving in the NFL, Lance has seen even less time on the field, playing in just four games, and throwing just 102 passes in two seasons.
The 49ers tried to bring him along quickly but were not able to accelerate his learning curve because of injury and ineffectiveness.
That won’t be an issue in Dallas because they have their starter in Dak Prescott. Lance will be expected to learn behind Prescott and develop into a quality backup. The Cowboys don’t need Lance to be the man, they already have that QB in house.
Con: Draft capital and cost given up
It’s funny to see so many people mention it’s a low-risk trade because the Cowboys “only” gave up a fourth-round pick in next year’s draft. It may not seem like much, but with the team being one of the better drafting teams in the league, given away any draft capital hurts.
These are the notable hits for the Cowboys in the fourth round over the past 9 drafts (not counting this year):
2022: Jake Ferguson (appears to be on his way to being a hit)
2020: Tyler Biadasz (Pro Bowl player)
2019: Tony Pollard (Pro Bowl player)
2016: Dak Prescott (kind of a big one here)
2015: Damien Wilson
2014: Anthony Hitchens
That’s eight fourth rounders who have been solid players over the course of nine drafts. Those are quality guys who all had, or continue to have, an impact on the Cowboys. Most of those on the list earned second contracts with the organization. Those are the types of players who are the backbones for teams.
That’s what the team is risking by trading a fourth-round selection for a QB who hasn’t seemed to translate well at the pro level.
Also, Lance’s contract comes at a cost of over $6.3 million over the next two seasons, which the Cowboys will now pay. That’s more than the entirety of the cost for a fourth-round pick over the course of four years. This year’s fourth round selection for the Cowboys, Viliami Fehoko, will earn just over $4.5 million on his four-year deal.
If the Cowboys wind up picking up Lance’s fifth-year option, they cost goes much higher.
Pro: Lance helps in other ways
The acquisition of Lance gives the Cowboys an ability to upgrade their backup QB position. Current option Cooper Rush is a decent backup, but he has limited physical ability and doesn’t have the attributes Lance provides.
Given some time, having a fresh start, and learning behind Prescott might do Lance some good. If the young QB can find his way again, the Cowboys will have two good starting quarterbacks in a league starving to find 32 viable options. In an optimal world, that could mean the team can trade Lance for more than they paid for him.
That’s how forward-thinking organizations think and play the game. They acquire players who have elite skill sets, but just haven’t worked out, at a lower cost and try to boost their value.
Lance also helps because he has elite mobility. The Cowboys play in a division with two of the league’s best rushing QBs in Jalen Hurts and Daniel Jones, Lance can help the defense prepare for those challenges.
One of the benefits to adding Lance, you can now prepare better for running QBs. The Cowboys have 2 good ones inside the division. Not the only reason to do it, but it helps.
— Ben Grimaldi (@BenGrimaldi) August 26, 2023
Trading for Lance means the team will surely keep three QBs on the roster and Lance can help prep while also learning on the job.
The Cowboys could use Lance’s mobility for certain packages as well. The team has been hesitant to use Prescott’s legs in the offense, but Lance can provide that rushing ability to keep defenses guessing. Mike McCarthy can surely put in a group of plays designed to take advantage of Lance’s unique skills.
Lance can open up a new chapter in the Cowboys’ playbook.
Con: Prescott haters have new ammunition
Perhaps the worst thing about this trade is that it gives Prescott haters a reason to continue to spew nonsense. In an offseason that has seen the Prescott criticism reach a ridiculous high, those who attack him will believe this move makes Prescott vulnerable. They will say the Cowboys don’t believe in Prescott and are bringing in competition to eventually allow the team to walk away from him when his contract ends because he can’t get the job done.
In reality that isn’t close to being the case. Prescott is owed an absurd amount of money next year, so trading or cutting him isn’t an option over the next two years. The team and Prescott are trying to get an extension before the 2024 offseason to avoid the team paying that cost, and trading for Lance doesn’t change those efforts.
However, adding Lance does add a little leverage for the Cowboys, who had almost none prior.
Trading for Lance doesn’t change anything for Prescott and his standing in with the team. Prescott is still the starter, and the future at the position, Lance isn’t a threat to his job.
That won’t stop the garbage from the garbage men who will try to pile on Prescott. It’s going to be childish, painful, and sad, but it’s coming.