One of the untold stories in the 2017 San Francisco 49ers season was the story behind why the 49ers, with Bryan Hoyer and Matt Barkley as their quarterbacks, did not take Pat Mahomes—or any quarterback— in the first round. They had the second pick and a need. So, what happens?
Kyle Shanahan was asked about not taking Mahomes in the draft and explained Kirk Cousins was what kept him from taking the evaluation seriously:
“I didn’t look into him as much as I should have. We definitely looked into him, studied all his tape. Was just a freak, could make any throw. Had the ability to do anything. It was a little bit situation for us. We had the second pick in the draft. Did not feel like from all the intel you get and stuff that he was going to go that high. And it was a little different situation for us because, I think it’s pretty well documented of just the relationship I had with Kirk being in Washington and everything. I felt very confident that he wasn’t going to stay there. When you go into a season knowing that a franchise quarterback is going to be available the next year, it made me a lot more picky with what we were looking at.”
The fact the 49ers were holding out on Kirk Cousins isn’t shocking news in the slightest. It’s the worse kept secret from 2017 and sheer redundancy we’re mentioning this. There are plenty of reports suggesting Shanahan was waiting for Cousins to come available from Washington. Washington knew the plan and, rather than give Cousins a long term deal, slapped him with the franchise tag a couple of times just to keep him out of Shanahan’s reach (Dan Snyder and the Shanahans don’t play nice if you remember). The 49ers made the trade for Garoppolo in October of 2017, and you know what happened after that.
But, Kirk Cousins not only was an expectation but affected the 49ers draft plans in 2017. The 49ers had the second overall pick and traded with the Chicago Bears to move back one spot. The Bears made the trade to secure the rights to Mitch Trubisky. While it seems strange, another team could have (and might have been negotiating to) traded into the spot and leap-frogged the Bears, that’s why the trade happened.
With Trubisky gone, Shanahan had the pick of what were some great quarterbacks. Deshaun Watson was up for grabs, as was Pat Mahomes. The 49ers instead drafted Solomon Thomas. A pick that many may consider disappointing, but made sense on draft day. The 49ers then traded back into the first round to draft Reuben Foster. Two defensive players, no quarterbacks.
Shortly after the 2017 draft, Shanahan said in an interview with Rich Eisen that he didn’t see any Day 1 starters. Again, had he not been planning on picking Cousins up, he probably would have studied tape a bit more. Right? Well, Shanahan brought up another point:
“We saw a bunch of talented guys in that draft. But it’s very tough when you watch college systems and stuff. You don’t really know until you get someone in the building. You can see ability you can see talent, but how’s the mind? How do they play in the pocket? How do they process? That’s not just an I.Q. score that’s some stuff that I don’t think you can totally test. You gotta go through that with them. There’s always a risk with that when you spend a first round pick on a quarterback. And with the situation we were in, we didn’t want to be that risky, especially with the second pick in the draft.”
Shanahan has a point. Yes, hindsight is always 20/20, but how many times have you heard about quarterbacks who can make all the throws and were athletic, but you can’t truly figure out the mental game until they get in the league. Giovanni Carmazzi is a great example of this; the 49ers took him to be the next Steve Young in the 2000 NFL Draft, and he turned out to be an absolute bust. There’s just no telling how Mahomes could have done in Shanahan’s system, the 49ers, or the NFL at large with how complex the pro-game is.
There’s also something brought up yesterday, and I can’t find who it was, but there have been several comparisons between Mahomes and Brett Favre. Kansas City Chiefs head coach Andy Reid coached Favre when the two were in Green Bay. Experience with the type of quarterback Favre/Mahomes is had to have a hand in how Mahomes was developed with the Chiefs. Could Shanahan had molded him the same way? There’s no telling, but Shanahan’s system is built on doing what he asks and less on improvisation. He might not have gotten everything he could have out of Mahomes (yes, just a hot take).
But for those of you who wanted Mahomes on the 49ers, it’s all Kirk Cousins’ fault. I guess. Here is the full answer: