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49ers CEO recalls moment Kyle Shanahan told him the 3rd-string QB was best QB on roster

Brock Purdy and Kyle Shanahan celebrate
Brock Purdy celebrates Kyle Shanahan after defeating the Detroit Lions 34-31 in the NFC Championship Game. | Source: Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

San Francisco 49ers CEO Jed York has always appreciated coach Kyle Shanahan’s honesty, starting from the time of his first interview when he called the team’s roster the worst in the NFL.

So York didn’t know what he would hear when Shanahan told him he needed to talk about a week into 2022 training camp.

“He’s like, ‘I think our third-string quarterback is our best quarterback,’” York recalled Thursday as his team prepares for the Super Bowl. “I’m like, ‘OK. What does that mean?’”

It meant a lot considering the 49ers had traded three first-round picks to draft Trey Lance third overall a little more than a year before that and still had Jimmy Garoppolo and his more than $20 million salary on the roster after he had helped the team reach the Super Bowl in the 2019 season and the NFC title game the previous year.

READ MORE: See scenes from the field after the 49ers punch their ticket to the Super Bowl

“One thing that owners don’t love to hear when they’ve invested money and/or draft picks or both into people is that the last pick in the draft is the guy that we think is the best,” York said. “That’s generally not great news. But he’s honest, and he let it play out the right way.”

The Niners went into that season with Lance as the starter, Garoppolo back as the No. 2 QB on a reduced salary and the overlooked Purdy as third-stringer.

Lance got hurt in Week 2, leading to Garoppolo taking over. Purdy got a brief cameo in a Week 7 loss to Kansas City, throwing one interception and another errant pass into the stands.

“I may or may not have had some sarcastic comments here for Kyle postgame,” York said.

Jimmy G and Trey Lance chat
Trey Lance and Jimmy Garoppolo chat during a game between the San Francisco 49ers and the Chicago Bears in September 2022 at Soldier Field in Chicago. | Source: Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

But when Garoppolo then went down in Week 13, Purdy stepped in and has never relinquished the job.

He won his first seven starts to get the Niners to the NFC title game before his injured elbow on the opening drive derailed that game against Philadelphia.

That didn’t shock York, who had been prepared for the possibility months earlier.

“When Brock took over last year, I think we had a calm about us, but there was a sense that nothing catches you by surprise,” York said. “You might not love everything that Kyle tells you, but he’s always open and honest, especially in the moment.”

That performance firmly established him as the starter, with Lance getting traded to Dallas in August for just a fourth-round pick.

Purdy came back from the elbow injury and played at an even higher level this season, leading the league in passer rating (113) and yards per attempt (9.6) and setting a franchise record with 4,280 yards passing.

That earned him a spot as an MVP finalist and helped give York’s Niners a shot at the Super Bowl title that has eluded him since taking over the day-to-day operations from his parents late in 2008.

The 49ers lost Super Bowls following the 2012 and 2019 seasons and fell four other times in the NFC title game before getting back to the Super Bowl this season in hopes of delivering the franchise’s first championship in 29 seasons.

Brock Purdy and Jed York
Team CEO Jed York and 49ers quarterback Brock Purdy shake hands in the tunnel after the game against the Seattle Seahawks at Lumen Field in December 2022 in Seattle. The 49ers defeated the Seahawks 21-13. | Source: Michael Zagaris/San Francisco 49ers/Getty Images

York called losing in the NFC championship game “the worst feeling in the world,” but his Super Bowl appearances haven’t been much easier.

The Niners were 5 yards away from the go-ahead score in the final two minutes against Baltimore in Super Bowl 47 and then had a double-digit lead in the fourth quarter against the Chiefs in Super Bowl 54 before losing 31-20.

“When you’re up by 10 points against a team in a Super Bowl, thoughts are going through your head like, ‘Wow, we’re going to have a parade. Somebody’s going to Disneyland. This is going to be awesome,’” York said. “Then you don’t. That’s part of playing in the NFL.”

The Niners get another shot at Kansas City on Feb. 11 in Las Vegas and York is savoring the opportunity.

“You never know when you’re going to have the opportunity to be here,” he said. “You have to make the most of it. You have to celebrate it.”