Heading into the 2017 free agency, many reports suggested that Kirk Cousins would likely end up as the San Francisco 49ers quarterback. Washington was a mess, and the team didn’t want Cousins any longer. The 49ers didn’t have a quarterback and wanted to let Kyle Shanahan “get. his kind of quarterback that can run his kind of system.”
NFL Network’s Mike Silver all but confirmed San Francisco would trade for Cousins:
“However, when it comes to the quarterback position, I believe Kirk Cousins wants to be in San Francisco, I believe that Kyle Shanahan, who has been very, very high on Kirk Cousins since he was the offensive coordinator in Washington when they drafted Cousins, I believe that marriage wants to happen on both ends. It’s an expensive marriage, and we’ll see in terms of trade compensation that would take to get him, maybe something that happens in a year. But if I had to make a guess one way or another at this early stage, I would say it’s more likely than not that Kirk Cousins ends up being the 49ers quarterback.”
To acquire Cousins, the 49ers were going to swap first-round picks with Washington. Washington would have gotten No. 2 overall, while San Francisco got No. 17. Then a couple of other picks would have been thrown in to balance the deal out.
The trade never happened, the 49ers took Solomon Thomas after trading down one spot with the Bears. Washington took Jonathan Allen at No. 17. Cousins would play out the 2017 regular season before signing a deal with the Minnesota Vikings the following offseason. At the time, Cousins signed the first fully guaranteed, and was the highest-paying contract in NFL history.
Not trading for Cousins ended up working out well for the 49ers, who didn’t have to surrender a top-2 pick in the draft to get their guy. Let’s say the team does end up trading for Cousins, and they have to throw in some Day 3 picks. If it’s a fifth or a sixth-round pick, that means there’s no George Kittle or D.J. Jones on the roster.
Instead, the 49ers trade for Jimmy Garoppolo for the cost of a late second-round pick, a trade that left Shanahan “mourning” as it denied Shanahan to go after another quarterback. Here is what general manager John Lynch had to say about the trade:
“We made the [Garoppolo] trade, but then there were some days when Kyle Shanahan was, like, in mourning, because I think everybody knows his master plan was to have Kirk Cousins come in eventually,” Lynch said. “I was proud of Kyle because I think he knew this was the right thing for our franchise. And he didn’t hesitate. But then, even then, Jimmy had to really prove himself.”
Lynch was brutally honest, and you don’t usually hear that. We knew that Shanahan coveted Cousins but to the extent of mourning? Wow. Shanahan must have really liked what he saw from Cousins during his time in Washington. Shanahan was the offensive coordinator when Washington took Cousins in the fourth round of the 2012 NFL Draft.
Garoppolo proved himself in a way that even Shanahan likely didn’t imagine. The former Patriot quarterback threw a touchdown off the bench against Seattle. He won his next five starts of the 2017 season to give the 49ers hope they hadn’t had in years. When you acquire a franchise quarterback for a second-round pick, you win the trade. The position is too valuable. An ACL injury in 2018 put the parade on hold, but after going 13-3 in 2019, it’s safe to say the 49ers made the correct decision. I asked Garoppolo in the locker room after clinching the division in Week 17 if you would have believed me if I told you in August the season would turn out this way. He said, “no way. This is an unbelievable and surreal feeling.”
Shanahan was a fan of Garoppolo coming out of college, so even with the hesitation to pull the trigger on the trade, he knew there was potential for the trade to turn out the way it did. For the deal to work itself out in this fashion is another story. Rehashing all of this, it’s evident that trading for Garoppolo, and not Cousins, turned the 49ers franchise around.