"I really tried to not expect anything one way or another, but I can say that when I heard 'Cowboys,' I had a big smile on my face," Lance said. "I was very excited to be here."
When the Niners selected him with the third overall pick in 2021, giving up three first-round picks to the Miami Dolphins to move up from the No. 12 spot, Lance expected to have a long career in San Francisco. He played just eight games, the fewest a top-five pick has played for the franchise he made his debut with in the common draft era (since 1967 and excluding the 2023 draft class), according to ESPN Stats & Information. In two seasons, Lance completed 56 of 102 passes for 797 yards with five touchdowns and three interceptions.
"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."
After being informed the Niners were making Sam Darnold the backup to starter Brock Purdy, Lance was allowed time to gather his thoughts as the 49ers worked on a potential trade, eventually picking up a 2024 fourth-round pick from the Cowboys.
"I'm kind of really trying to move on, but yeah, it definitely took some time," Lance said. "That conversation obviously wasn't something I wanted to hear, but that's the reality of the situation. Nothing but respect and gratitude for everyone there -- coaching staff, locker room, athletic training staff, everyone I spent a ton of time with these last few years. Obviously, it was tough, but for me it was trying to figure out what was next and what's going to happen in the future."
Lance's immediate future is learning a new offense, which he acknowledged is much different from the scheme used by Kyle Shanahan in San Francisco. He will not be asked to do too much too soon behind Dak Prescott and Cooper Rush as he learns the Cowboys' offense under Mike McCarthy, who worked with Hall of Famers Joe Montana and Brett Favre and future Hall of Famer Aaron Rodgers before joining the Cowboys.
"It was a little bit surreal for me hearing I was going to come here knowing everything about this historic organization," Lance said. "Just compared to the 49ers, obviously you think of that as another one of the top-tier, historic organizations, but for me, just very excited to be here. Coach McCarthy and the entire coaching staff, man, nothing but knowledge being in all these meetings. It's been awesome for me. It's been fun. Kind of a breath of fresh air to learn a new offense and being around the guys the last two days. I feel like I've learned so much just ball."
Lance connected with Prescott for the first time on Tuesday, although they have met before. When Lance suffered a severe ankle injury last year, Prescott, who suffered a dislocated and fractured right ankle in 2020, reached out to him.
He said he is looking forward to learning "everything" from Prescott.
"The type of person he is, first and foremost. I think everyone knows that, with the Walter Payton Man of the Year and things like that, how he treats people, how I've seen him treat people just in the building these few days," Lance said. "The few conversations I had with him, just texting him when I had my ankle injury, things like that. Just the type of person he is. And obviously the football stuff kind of speaks for itself. I'm still trying to learn Day 1 install, so for me, obviously got a long way to go there. But definitely looking forward to being a sponge, just soaking up everything I can from him."
Lance won an FCS national championship for North Dakota State at Toyota Stadium in Frisco just a few miles from The Star. He also trained this offseason in Fort Worth with his personal coach, Jeff Christensen.
"Hopefully I don't bring any snow but, yeah, great memories in Frisco," Lance said. "Hopefully continue to make more."