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Why the 49ers should trade up if they want a QB in the second round of the 2017 NFL draft

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All about that fifth year option.

The San Francisco 49ers are likely drafting a quarterback sometime this week during the 2017 NFL draft, but when it happens remains to be seen. We’ve heard rumors connecting them to Mitchell Trubisky, and we’ve seen reports of the team doing due diligence on a whole host of quarterbacks. General manager John Lynch said the team does not feel like it absolutely has to draft a QB, but I think we all expect one.

The most interesting time for drafting a quarterback could come at the end of the first round and beginning of the second round. Mel Kiper and Todd McShay have consistently projected only one quarterback getting drafted in the first round. However, while others agree the QB class has its share of questions, they know that teams will make a move to grab a QB as soon as they can.

If the 49ers decide that they want a quarterback as pick No. 34 is approaching, it would be in their best interest to try and make a move up into the back end of the first round. Even if they were 100 percent certain nobody would get their guy before they arrive at 34, there is still an interest in moving up.

The 2011 NFL CBA instituted a rookie wage scale in order to bring down costs on first round rookie contracts. In doing so, they set all draft pick contracts at four years, and then added a fifth year option for first round picks. The fifth year option price for picks 1-10 is based on the transition tag for that player’s position. The fifth year option price for picks 11-32 uses the transition tag formula, but for the third through 25th highest paid salaries at the position.

This year’s quarterbacks are all viewed as requiring some additional development, even up to the first one taken. If the 49ers are looking at a QB at pick 34, it will likely be someone like DeShone Kizer, Patrick Mahomes (unlikely to be there), Davis Webb, or Nathan Peterman. All of them have significant questions, and would be viewed as long-term development projects.

The 49ers fully expect to start Brian Hoyer in year one, and he very well could start in year two as well. If a 2017 draft pick emerges as a realistic option, he is unlikely to see regular playing time for at least year, and maybe two years. As a second round pick, that would mean the 49ers get to see him playing for three years at most before he hits free agency. If they move up into the back end of the first round, they get an extra year for a price that would be valuable if the player has emerged as they might hope.

Last year, the fifth year option for a quarterback picked 11-32 was $11,357,000. The previous year it was $10,611,000. The figure will increase each year, but it is still likely to remain relatively inexpensive compared to whatever quarterbacks are making five years from now.

What would it cost to move from No. 34 to somewhere around Nos. 30-32? There are no exact matches in recent trade history, but we have some possible similarities. Last year, the 49ers moved up from No. 37 to No. 28 to draft Joshua Garnett. The 49ers sent their second, fourth (105) and sixth (178) round picks to the Kansas City Chiefs for that first and a seventh (249). In 2012, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers sent their 2nd (No. 36) and 4th (No. 101) round picks to the Denver Broncos for the latter’s 1st (No. 31) and 4th (No. 126) round picks.

Depending on how the quarterbacks go in the first round, there is a strong chance a couple other teams could have the same idea. That fifth round option is valuable, and all the more so when we’re talking about quarterbacks. I fully expect at least on trade to take place along these parameters in order to get a quarterback. The only reason it would not is if we have a run among QBs just among the teams already in place there. But if the 49ers like a QB at No. 34 and they can work a reasonable deal, it is well worth it to move back into the first round to land their QB.