© Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports
This was the best chance the 49ers were going to get. After perhaps the most brutal, unpredictable season that could have been conceived, Kyle Shanahan and John Lynch finished with a draft pick they thought they’d never again be in range for.
In a quarterback-desperate league, the 49ers, sitting at No. 12, pulled the trigger and initiated the greatest gamble they’ll ever make on their future, trading their next three first-round picks and next year’s extra third-round pick to Miami for No. 3 overall. That gamble also seemed to start a clock that’s long been ticking on Jimmy Garoppolo.
Shanahan, who wanted Kirk Cousins and ended up with Garoppolo said the 49ers, who had discussions about moving up to No. 5 (Cincinnati) or No. 4 (Atlanta), felt they wanted to get as high as they could given the massive interest and desperation teams have for a franchise quarterback.
“Our feeling is these guys (quarterbacks) were gonna go a whole lot higher than people realize,” Shanahan said. “And when you have two guys sitting at one and two, possibly three and four, then you hear a lot of teams, all the way through the draft have a situation where they really want a quarterback and they don’t have someone close to what we have with Jimmy, that means those five guys are gonna disappear pretty fast. So we had to feel confident in three to make this move, and that’s what we did. Now, we know there’s five players, who do you want to protect your future. We got a month to really work on that.”
It had to be now. Coming off a 6-10 season, which was, by every account, a fluke, there was no other opportunity better than this one. The combination of injuries, coronavirus complications and mid-season relocation should have been enough to send this team spiraling to the depths of the NFL’s underworld, but they remained competitive. If that’s not an indication of the strength of the coaching staff and core of the roster, nothing is.
The 49ers were aware of that.
Shanahan stated out what many onlookers have pointed out; good coaching is nice, but it’s a hell of a lot easier to win long-term, consistently, with an elite quarterback. In his view, there are only about five to 10 of those players in the NFL, and this move might just net them one. If they’d stayed at No. 12, the 49ers were going to be left in the dust.
“You got to take risks and this is a risk we were willing to take,” Shanahan said. “We looked at how our four years have gone. We looked at how we want the next four years to go. And we looked where we’re at in the draft and the options that are there. And that’s why sitting in there looking at this stuff since January and going all the way through the process, we felt pretty strongly we were gonna get left at the altar sitting there at 12.”
As for the cost aspect of the trade, two future first-round picks and a third-round pick is a monumental bet on whoever the 49ers draft. Lynch admitted the 49ers paid a premium, but that it was probably a necessary part of getting a deal done this early, and saved them the stress of moving up to the fourth or fifth spot where they’d be left sweating, wondering if they’d be usurped.
He harkened back to his old coach at Stanford and 49ers legend, Bill Walsh, who he said often told him, “you got to beat your opponent to the punch.”
What happens with Jimmy
There are many folks out there who saw this trade and immediately thought the 49ers would ship off Jimmy Garoppolo. From a certain point of view it makes sense. Garoppolo’s value now, with two years left on his deal, is likely to be higher than next year, on an expiring contract.
Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk provides an example of the “Garoppolo is overpaid” lens.
So the 49ers invest 3 first-round picks and a third-round pick in their next quarterback but they still intend to pay Jimmy G $25 million this year and let him be the starter? And people actually believe this?
— ProFootballTalk (@ProFootballTalk) March 26, 2021
Could Garoppolo still be traded? Of course. But when the reports came out that the 49ers were sticking behind Garoppolo for the year, it didn’t have the same vibe as the dreaded vote of confidence the Arizona Cardinals gave to Josh Rosen after drafting Kyler Murray.
Rosen was in his second year. Garoppolo is a veteran now, at age 30, and has proven he can win, while Rosen, ironically now the third-stringer on the 49ers, hadn’t proven anything. Nor has the rookie the 49ers will draft.
That take that Garoppolo is overpaid would have made sense if that cap was an issue. But somehow, the 49ers’ braintrust — “The Fed,” the nickname Lynch said was given to Paraag Marathe (EVP, football operations), Brian Hampton (VP, football administration), Richard Buffum (contract administrator), Jeff Diamond (salary cap manager) for the way they set the price of contracts around the league — managed to carve out enough space so that every positional need has been filled and the 49ers are operating with about $18 million in cap space with Garoppolo on the roster.
Unless they desperately wanted to add someone like Melvin Ingram, there’s no reason to trade Garoppolo unless there’s an offer that blows them out of the water. Right now, they keep the starting quarterback who they still genuinely believe is good enough to keep them competitive when healthy, and add an enticing young backup who will eventually take his job.
“We went to ownership and said, ‘Hey, things are looking good. We’d like to make this move,’ Lynch said. “But we also don’t want to say goodbye to Jimmy. We think Jimmy, we’ve shown we can get to a Super Bowl with him. We can play at a high level, and we don’t think those two things have to be mutually exclusive. So the opportunity to trade up and possibly get a guy that can be a big part of our future, and keep Jimmy, who we’re very high on and I think some positive things are happening this offseason for, that’s that’s kind of the plan we arrived at and we’re very excited.”
Maybe it all turns out to be bluster and the 49ers move Garoppolo. Shanahan said the 49ers, like with any other position on the roster, will consider trades if “someone blows us away,” and he’d probably trade himself if the price was right (they would not). But the signs point towards Garoppolo staying for now, and likely starting.
“It’s going to be hard to find a quarterback that gives us a better chance to win than Jimmy right now, especially even a rookie in the draft,” Shanahan said. “So that’s what you look into. Now if someone wanted something for that and it can make your team better in a lot of other ways you listen to that but also depends on how good you feel about that rookie, and we’re not there yet right now. And odds are, we probably won’t be. That’s why we’re happy that we don’t have to be that way. We got a guy in here who we know we can win with a guy that our players love, that we love. And we’re excited to have him this year and we’re excited to have a hell of a quarterback right behind him. Learning from him when the time’s his.”
Is $26.4 million a lot to pay a guy you’re planning to replace? Sure, but at this point, they are likely to be far more competitive with a known commodity (when healthy) at quarterback, than trying to get rid of him for some other asset. His contract is not an issue at this point with the roster filled out, and trying to frame it as a reason to trade him operates outside the realms of NFL logic.
There’s also one bonus from the move. Shanahan expects an angry Garoppolo, which he says is the best version of him.
“I’m sure Jimmy was a little pissed off from it just like I would be too,” Shanahan said. “But me knowing Jimmy, he’ll be fired up and come in and he’ll work his butt off. Knowing Jimmy, the more mad Jimmy gets, usually the better he gets. So if Jimmy just gets madder and he stays healthy, I mean this is going to be a good thing for Jimmy too, which could be a great problem for the 49ers.”
The three options (and you can stop yelling about Pro Days)
There was much made out of Peter King’s report that the 49ers were sending Adam Peters (VP, player personnel) to Justin Fields’ pro day, while Shanahan and Lynch were going to Mac Jones’ and Alabama’s pro day, which both take place on Tuesday. This is Jones’ second and discernibly final time throwing, after having an underwhelming throwing session last week.
But it’s not like Shanahan is skipping out on Fields, who he first met at the QB Collective and coached up a Fields who was then a junior in high school. Fields’ agent, David Mulugheta, has assured the team that they’ll be able to see Fields in person at a second pro day. Deep breaths folks.
Here’s some of what Shanahan said on quarterback archetypes and the limited amount he revealed about the top three options, with Zach Wilson likely to go to the Jets at No. 2.
What he looks for (in response to whether Kirk Cousins is his preferred archetype)
“You want an elite player, and of course if you can get a guy who’s elite with his arm and can play in the pocket and do everything, and still run around and make off-schedule plays I mean, that’s what you’ve seen with (Patrick) Mahomes. Everybody wants something like that.
“It’s not because that’s how you draw it up. If you’re going to draw it up, you’re going to draw the biggest, fastest, strongest and best quarterback in the pocket so I think that’s pretty ridiculous to say that [Kirk is my preferred archetype], but I also will tell you I love Kirk. I know I’m not allowed to talk about other players but Kirk’s a hell of a player and a lot of people would be lucky to have a quarterback like that.”
“That QB [Collective] thing, I’ve done it once and I think he was a junior in high school then which, it was really cool to go to that one. That was like seven years ago. But we talked to David Mulugheta the other day and he said that they’d be able to set up another one. That’s why we chose on Alabama, so I’m excited to see him eventually in person. Also got a lot of tape to go off too, which I know he’s gonna throw it really good in person and be really fast in person also.”
“It’s always hard when a guy didn’t play this year. Definitely. And he played one game so I don’t think people are going to go a ton off of one game. You got to go off his body of work and you know you got to play the whole season before, so of course, we’d all wish he could have one. We wish Wilson could have a full season too.”
Shanahan didn’t say anything concrete about Jones, but responded more to questions about Chris Simms, who is a close friend of Shanahan’s, and said he would be “shocked” if they didn’t draft Jones.
On Chris Simms:
Shanahan joked about Simms, sarcastically saying, “Yeah, I tell him everything.”
He said because Simms is in the media, he can’t tell him much, but he still watches Simms’ evaluation of quarterbacks.
“Chris talks about everything, therefore I haven’t been able to talk to him in a couple of years. Anyone who you’re friends with who speaks in the media and people think you’re friends with them, that means you’re not allowed to tell them anything. That’s why he doesn’t even ask me stuff because if he does ask me something and I tell him he can’t say it. But Chris does a good job with that stuff and I respect listening to him. That’s why I always do listen to his opinions because he’s not a guy who just calls people to get his opinions. Chris works at it.. he loves watching quarterbacks and doing that stuff so I always love to hear his evaluation.”