FRISCO, Texas (AP) — Trey Lance didn't have a nameplate in the locker room the first day it was open to reporters after the quarterback's trade to the Dallas Cowboys.
His new No. 15 was there the second day, without Lance's name. Baby steps for the player who, in his own words, was at “square zero” on his first day with his new team.
Lance is starting over with the Cowboys two years after he was looked at as the next franchise QB in San Francisco, which traded multiple first-round picks to move up and draft him third overall.
Dallas gave up a fourth-round pick in a deal reached not long after Lance, who wore No. 5 with the 49ers, lost out to Sam Darnold for the backup job behind Brock Purdy.
Lance topped the depth chart for just two weeks in San Francisco — at the start of the former North Dakota State player's second year in 2022 before a season-ending ankle injury.
His four starts in two seasons are the fewest for any quarterback taken in the top five of the draft in the common draft era for the team with which he made his debut.
“It’s not how I expected it to go. It’s not how I think a lot of people expected it to go,” Lance said. “But I believe that everything happens for a reason. I think I’m here for a reason. Regardless of what it is, just want to try to find a way to help the team.”
At the moment, Lance is the third-stringer with the Cowboys behind Dak Prescott and Cooper Rush, who went 4-1 filling in last season after Prescott broke his right thumb in the opener.
If Prescott doesn't get hurt, Lance's Dallas resume figures to look like the QB he replaced. Will Grier spent two seasons at No. 3 without taking a snap in the regular season.
Because Lance is just starting to learn a new playbook, questions about where and how he fits are way down his list.
“I’m square one right now,” Lance said Tuesday. “I was kind of square zero yesterday. Going to try to win every single day and try to learn and continue to progress.”
Prescott's spirits were down the first time he talked to reporters about Lance the day after the trade. But that was because it was moments after Grier played the entire preseason finale while knowing the 31-16 victory over Las Vegas probably was his final act with the Cowboys.
Grier, who was released on cutdown day, is now on Cincinnati's practice squad.
Going into his eighth season after starting since the opener of his first, Prescott said his selfless nature wouldn't change in welcoming Lance despite his disappointment over Grier's fate.
Lance said he hasn't seen anything to the contrary.
“He welcomed me with open arms,” Lance said. “This morning (Tuesday) was the first time I ran into him, but that meant a lot to me. This business is crazy. He’s a guy who has obviously played at a very high level for a very long time. Nothing but tons of respect for him.”
The Cowboys will be challenged to find time to develop Lance. For example, coaches were heavy into game-planning for the Sept. 10 opener at the New York Giants on Lance's first day at headquarters.
Coach Mike McCarthy said Lance would be a big part of post-practice sessions designed specifically for younger players, simply to give him more time.
As far as Lance replacing the popular Grier, McCarthy can draw on the experience of coaching Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers in Green Bay soon after Rodgers was drafted in the first round when Favre was the face of that franchise.
“It's so important to have the quarterback room chemistry, have it right,” McCarthy said. “And we definitely have that right. It's always tough when there is change. But Trey, everything we've been told about him has been A-plus.”
Lance is going from one storied franchise to another, and he is on the other side of a long playoff rivalry that includes victories for the Niners each of the past two postseasons. Lance was a spectator for both.
“I really tried to not expect anything one way or another,” Lance said of awaiting his fate in a trade. “But I can say that when I heard Cowboys, I had a big smile on my face.”
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Schuyler Dixon, The Associated Press