On Friday, the San Francisco 49ers turn the NFL world on its head. The runner-ups in the last pre-plague Super Bowl traded their #12 pick (along with two future seconds and their Robert Saleh-induced compensatory pick) for the #3 pick in the draft. Now, cards on the table, I am a 49ers fan. I have had season tickets for them since I moved to the Bay Area and could afford them, 2011 or so. Now, I’ve seen a lot of dumb stuff run through this franchise. It’s exactly how you build two completely unrelated Super Bowl runs inside of a decade. You take big swings and see what happens. This is a big swing and one that will likely make-or-break Kyle Shanahan and John Lynch’s tenure in San Francisco. Either they don’t see the end of their next contracts, or they’re both there until 2035.
But, who do the 49ers take there? Before today, the odds-on favorite was Justin Fields. Fields and Kyle Shanahan had an opportunity to cross paths at the QB Collective camp earlier this month. Everyone threw up wide eye and think face emojis at this tweet, but it was all harmless fun because the 49ers picked at 12. There was no way that Justin Fields would be there:
But now, with Trevor Lawrence locked into the #1 pick, and the Jets seemingly locked into Zach Wilson at two, that leaves Justin Fields right in the San Francisco 49ers’ lap. That is, unless they go somewhere else. I think Justin Fields could be great, but people love to hoot about the Ohio State QB Curse. There’s also Trey Lance out of North Dakota State, who plays a lot like Josh Allen. He has the highest upside and the lowest floor, so it would be insane for a Super Bowl contender to trade the farm to move up to three for a guy who could play them out of games more than their existing quarterback.
The Mac Jones thing also doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to me, either. Mac Jones is easily the fifth-best quarterback in this class. As soon as the 49ers made the trade, the front office seemingly started cashing in favors. Every talent evaluator in the media suddenly liked Mac Jones to the 49ers at 3. But none of them really had Mac Jones going to the Niners in their top-12 picks beforehand, now did they? The 49ers, after making the trade, attended Mac Jones’ Pro Day.
The Vegas odds put Mac Jones first, at +125 (Fields & Lance are +175). Now, you have to ask yourself: is it more likely this is real, or a smokescreen? Would a team trade up to three to get Mac Jones then go to his Pro Day? Absolutely not. People are making a big deal about Shanahan skipping Fields’ Pro Day, but he already had a whole quarterback camp with Fields. What would he learn?
To be honest, I don’t know if I am trying to convince you or me that it won’t be Mac Jones. I’m a Sacramento Kings fan, and I kept screaming to everyone that it would be insanely stupid for them to draft Marvin Bagley over Luka Dončić in the 2018 NBA Draft. Not only did they take Bagley over Luka, they also drafted him over budding superstar Trae Young.
And that’s what I fear with this Shanahan and Lynch situation. I fear they traded for “their guy” over two players with much higher ceilings. I don’t fear this because of the Kings, that would be silly. The 49ers have done a good job of talent evaluation, after all, they built a Super Bowl team in three years. Unfortunately, talent valuation eludes them. That is, they know who they want, but they can’t figure out what to pay them. Cap genius Paraag Marathe keeps them from blowing the salary cap up, but some of the first things this front office-coaching tandem did were give $50 million combined to Malcolm Smith (LB) and Kyle Juszczyk (FB), draft C.J. Beathard with a third-round pick and famously have the table pounded for Joe Williams (he never played a snap in the NFL).
Shanahan and Lynch get tunnel vision on “their guys” and damn the world. It works sometimes, getting Fred Warner and George Kittle outside of the top-65 picks, for example. A lot of times, they give out head-scratching contracts that Marathe builds trap doors into, preventing catastrophe. But the valuation problem is still there. And to be honest, that’s all that makes me worry that Mac Jones will be a 49er in April.
Now, the 49ers have to move on from Handsome James Garoppolo. They’re on the hook for $25 million for him this season, and you can’t change horses midstream, though the 49ers made the Super Bowl the last time they did that. Trading up for 3 isn’t just trading for a new quarterback. The move also clears up cap space to divert to Fred Warner and Nick Bosa’s looming extensions.
Ultimately, I think the 49ers have never really been sold on Jimmy Garoppolo as their quarterback. He sort of fell into their laps (remember the persistent “Kyle Shanahan wants Kirk Cousins and will literally sacrifice several barnyard animals to make it happen” rumors?). The move up to three is a massive swing for the franchise that was one overthrown ball from winning the Super Bowl. Will it be Justin Fields? Trey Lance? Mac Jones? We will see, and we will see if it was the right decision.
But if one thing is clear, 49ers fans shouldn’t be worried. Kyle Shanahan has a great record with getting “his guy”
For more of me frantically trying to talk myself out of the 49ers taking Mac Jones at three, check out the links below:
Header Source: https://twitter.com/BayKobe/status/1346202799672012802/photo/1