It goes without saying that the 2023 NFL season is a big one for Trey Lance.
The 49ers quarterback, drafted No. 3 overall in 2021, faces an uphill battle in earning the starting job over Brock Purdy despite uncertainty surrounding the latter's upcoming elbow surgery.
Lance's second NFL season was cut short by a season-ending ankle injury suffered in Week 2, but he's expected to be ready by OTAs -- with little room for error, as Sports Illustrated's Albert Breer recently explained.
"I think, really, as much as anything else, this is a critical year for Trey because [the 49ers have] got to make a decision on a fifth-year option after this year," Breer told 95.7 The Game's Damon Bruce and Ray Ratto on Friday (h/t 49ers Webzone)."And what history tells us is if you get past that point, you get past year three, and the fifth-year option hasn't been picked up, an extension hasn't been done, generally, those guys are on their last legs with the teams that they're with.
"So I think this is a critical year because of where he is in his contract. And I think this is a critical year in that if he doesn't deliver, and if Brock doesn't deliver, then they have to look at other options outside the organization because of how good their roster is."
Lance has only four NFL starts under his belt since the 49ers traded away major draft capital to move up and select him two years ago. Breer compared the pressure Lance faces in 2023 to Miami Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa last season, who came into the third year of his rookie contract with a stacked roster and high expectations.
"The difference is Trey is going to have to fight to get on the field, too," Breer said. "And I'd say, right now, he's going to have to fight his way past Brock Purdy, not the other way around."
Purdy sustained a torn ulnar collateral ligament in his throwing elbow during the NFC Championship Game and is scheduled to undergo surgery Feb. 22. With the 23-year-old out until training camp at the least, Lance will need to take advantage of the reps he'll get this offseason in Purdy's absence.
But there's a reason the 49ers drafted Lance -- he's a hard worker, smart and incredibly athletic. Coach Kyle Shanahan saw those traits and opted to draft the young quarterback over others on the board, like Mac Jones and Justin Fields.
"Mac Jones could run Shanahan's offense," Breer said. "Trey Lance could help them grow Shanahan's offense and change it and evolve it. And I think that part of it is what he can be athletically, what he can do athletically to threaten the defense.
"I just think that there are some things like that you hope he can work on and get better at."
RELATED: Schrager: 49ers 'out for blood,' will knock Eagles off NFC throne
The jury remains out on Lance and what he could achieve as the 49ers' starter.
But after Purdy's spectacular rookie year, it's certainly true that this season is Lance's most critical yet.