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NY Post
New York Post
22 Jul 2023


NextImg:49ers’ quarterback competition among NFL’s top 10 training camp storylines in 2023

What do the movie “There’s Something About Mary,” the television franchise “The Bachelor” and the upcoming 49ers training camp have in common?

NFL quarterbacks and too many suitors for one position.

Brett Favre ultimately lost out when five men vied to be the boyfriend of actress Cameron Diaz’s character in the 1998 romantic comedy.

Jesse Palmer failed as a contestant looking for love with 25 single women, but later wound up hosting the popular reality series.

And now we wonder what will become of Brock Purdy, Trey Lance and Sam Darnold.

Those three injury-plagued quarterbacks will be battling to become the 49ers’ starter when camp opens Tuesday.

If this were a Hollywood script, Lance, for whom the 49ers chased away Super Bowl quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, would be cast as the golden boy.

Trey Lance is one of three quarterbacks with a chance to start for the 49ers this season.
Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Purdy, who went from the last pick of the 2022 draft to an Offensive Rookie of the Year candidate when he went 7-1 as a starter, would be the lovable underdog.

And Darnold, once a can’t-miss prospect, who now brings a 21-34 record to his third franchise, would be the party-crasher.

Purdy is the favorite, but it is not known if he will practice before the end of camp as he recovers from surgery to repair a torn UCL in his throwing elbow, suffered during the NFC Championship game.

Brock Purdy, pictured last season, has been recovering from offseason elbow surgery.

Brock Purdy, pictured last season, has been recovering from offseason elbow surgery.
AP

In the battle between two former No. 3-overall picks, the 49ers surely prefer Lance to emerge ahead of Darnold to justify their decision to trade a boatload of draft capital to draft him.

But Lance, who is coming off a fractured fibula last season, has thrown just 420 competitive passes since graduating high school in 2018, so his development is behind the curve.

And that leaves the free-agent addition Darnold, who rode a roller-coaster over five seasons with the Jets and Panthers.

What exactly is at stake?

The winner of the battle will get to lead a team with six All-Pros and legitimate Super Bowl aspirations.

“It’s the most interesting preseason quarterback competition I can remember because of what’s on the line,” one NFL coach told The Post. “They could challenge the Eagles atop the NFC, if they have the right guy. Or quarterback could drag down the whole promising season.”

Aside from Aaron Rodgers’ transformation of the Jets, the 49ers are the NFL’s most interesting storyline of training camp, but here are nine others outside of New York to follow, too:

Just 222 days after he suffered cardiac arrest and was brought back to life by a quick-acting training staff on the field in front of a “Monday Night Football” audience, the Bills safety is expected to make his next true tackle.

Damar Hamlin throws out the first pitch at Yankee Stadium on July 3.

Damar Hamlin throws out the first pitch at Yankee Stadium on July 3.
Corey Sipkin for the NY Post

Hamlin already gained medical clearance to join non-contact organized team activities and minicamp and is expected to be part of physical training-camp practices, but the greater nation should be aware when the Bills face the Colts on Aug. 12.

It is likely Hamlin will take a hit or deliver a hit similar to his fateful collision with Bengals receiver Tee Higgins as he fights — like any other backup — to earn a spot when the roster cuts from 90 to 53.

A slimmed-down Wilson needs a savior after his Hall of Fame-trending career blew up with career lows in completion percentage, yards per attempt and passing touchdowns in 2022 during his first season with the Broncos.

Payton came out of a one-year hiatus looking to prove that his success isn’t all tied to Drew Brees and that he can win with multiple quarterbacks (like Andy Reid) instead of just one (like Bill Belichick).

Wilson’s reputation as a teammate and leader also needs damage control.

Russell Wilson will have a chance to work with former Saints head coach Sean Payton this season in Denver.

Russell Wilson will have a chance to work with former Saints head coach Sean Payton this season in Denver.
AP

Wilson has wanted to play for Payton since trying to force a trade from the Seahawks to the Saints in 2021.

Will Payton’s offense look the same with another undersized quarterback?

As the Jets get accustomed to an NFL universe revolving around Aaron Rodgers as its sun and filmed by “Hard Knocks,” the Jordan Love era begins in Green Bay.

The last full season in which the Packers’ primary starting quarterback wasn’t Hall of Famer Brett Favre or future inductee Rodgers was 1991, with Mike Tomczak and Don Majkowsi.

Jordan Love will start for Green Bay to begin its post-Aaron Rodgers era.

Jordan Love will start for Green Bay to begin its post-Aaron Rodgers era.
AP

Just because Love was a first-round pick, like Rodgers, and just because he sat the bench for his first three seasons, like Rodgers, doesn’t mean Love will be as good as Rodgers.

Then again, the Packers wouldn’t have traded Rodgers without excitement about the possibilities that Love generated with his behind-the-scenes work.

The NFC North race is wide open.

The anti-running back sentiment has gone too far.

Free agent Dalvin Cook, 27, averaged 4.4 yards per carry, totaled 1,468 yards from scrimmage and made a fourth straight Pro Bowl last season, but was released by the Vikings.

It is thought the Dolphins, who already have signed three running backs and drafted another this offseason, and the Jets, who are awaiting Breece Hall’s return from a torn ACL, are the main bidders for Cook.

Could he tilt the balance of power in the AFC East?

Former Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott remains unsigned as training camp begins.

Former Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott remains unsigned as training camp begins.
Getty Images

Other big-name players who might have less in the tank, but remain free agents include running back Ezekiel Elliott, defensive end Jadeveon Clowney and quarterback Teddy Bridgewater.

Watson’s legal status and football availability were the dominant stories entering each of the past two training camps and resulted in 700 days between his playing in NFL games.

The three-time Pro Bowler looked nothing like his old self last season in six games (58.2 percent completions and seven touchdowns to five interceptions) after returning from a suspension stemming from sexual misconduct allegations.

Deshaun Watson was suspended at the end of last season due to sexual misconduct allegations.

Deshaun Watson was suspended at the end of last season due to sexual misconduct allegations.
Diamond Images via Getty Images

Watson is rarely mentioned with the elite quarterbacks nowadays, slipping to No. 28 (out of 32) in NFL.com’s rankings.

But one NFL coach told The Post that the Browns are his pick for a NFL sleeper team because “Watson should be more comfortable,” and new defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz is pushing the right buttons.

Lamar Jackson wants a big contract?

Sign him for five years, $260 million after a drawn-out, two-year negotiation.

He wants better receivers?

Sign Odell Beckham Jr. and draft Zay Flowers.

Now the pressure is on Jackson to stay healthy and return to his 2019 MVP form while adapting to a new play-caller.

Will Todd Monken adopt a lot of the run-pass option concepts his predecessor as offensive coordinator, Greg Roman, utilized?

Or will Jackson be asked to play more traditionally?

Odell Beckham Jr., pictured with the Rams, missed all of last season while recovering from a torn ACL.

Odell Beckham Jr., pictured with the Rams, missed all of last season while recovering from a torn ACL.
Getty Images

Beckham missed all last season after his second torn ACL.

If he is finally healthy, he is going to demand the ball. History says that if he doesn’t get it enough, he will create a distraction.

Let’s jam two ideas into one.

First, the Lions are the darlings of the league, headed toward a big stage in the NFL Kickoff Game against the defending champion Chiefs in Week 1.

David Montgomery and first-round rookie Jahmyr Gibbs running behind one of the league’s best offensive lines should be an old-school offense.

Second, five of the nine players suspended for part or all of this season for violating the NFL’s gambling policy played for the Lions last season.

Jameson Williams was one of the Lions' players suspended for violating the NFL's gambling policy.

Jameson Williams was one of the Lions’ players suspended for violating the NFL’s gambling policy.
Getty Images

Only one (receiver Jameson Williams) was expected to play a big role.

But the Lions should be an example to all teams to better emphasize the finer points of the complicated policy with their players and staffers during camp.

Which — if any — of the three quarterbacks drafted within the top four picks of the first round this year will win his preseason battle against a veteran and become a Week 1 starter?

It’s Bryce Young versus Andy Dalton for Carolina, C.J. Stroud versus Davis Mills for Houston and Anthony Richardson versus Gardner Minshew for Indianapolis.

Bryce Young could win the Panthers' starting job over Andy Dalton as a rookie.

Bryce Young could win the Panthers’ starting job over Andy Dalton as a rookie.
Getty Images

Tennessee’s rookie second-round pick Will Levis has to first beat out 2022 third-rounder Malik Willis as the primary backup.

But if either of those two youngsters outplays Ryan Tannehill, the Titans could look different after camp because Tannehill can be cut for $17.8 million in savings.

Unless he changes his mind about unretiring for a second time, this will be the first training camp of the millennium without Tom Brady on a field.

Baker Mayfield will compete with Kyle Trask to become Tom Brady's replacement in Tampa Bay.

Baker Mayfield will compete with Kyle Trask to become Tom Brady’s replacement in Tampa Bay.
Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

For the Buccaneers, that means a quarterback battle between Baker Mayfield and Kyle Trask, and a plummet from national relevancy.

For the Saints, it means a chance to reclaim NFC South supremacy.

But the real winner might be Rodgers, who, at 39 years old, is finally the most accomplished active quarterback in the NFL — having outlasted recently retired contemporaries Brady, Brees, Matt Ryan, Eli Manning, Ben Roethlisberger and Philip Rivers.