Time and time again, we’ve heard members of the 49ers organization talk about how important this year’s draft class is to the team’s future. Kyle Shanahan talked about it. John Lynch talked about it. New Assistant General Manager Adam Peters mentioned it this week. Clearly, the team has put a lot of stock into the idea that this year’s class of incoming cheap labor is just what they need to extend what they see as a championship window. But why is this year’s class so important? Because of the mistakes the team has made in the past.
In today’s Niners Nation Podcast, I spoke with Vish Kumaran, who many of you know from the Mondays with Vish Show with the infamous Grant Cohn. Vish mentioned something to me that I hadn’t previously put together when it comes to just how costly some of the 49ers’ draft misses have been.
“We’ve seen a pattern in this regime. Trade up two picks to get Dante Pettis. Dante Pettis doesn’t work out. Trade two picks to get Emmanuel Sanders. Can’t re-sign him, and then trade three picks to get Brandon Aiyuk. Now Brandon Aiyuk ultimately is the great pick, but you just lost, what, seven draft picks?”
I hadn’t really connected those dots before. Seven draft picks is an entire class for some teams. Not having those picks does affect your roster, which is only compounded if the player you trade the picks for doesn’t pan out. Even if you want to be generous and say that the 49ers needed Sanders’ veteran presence to help stabilize the receiving corps regardless of Pettis, that’s still five picks spent with only Aiyuk to show for it.
Those are five potential players under team control for years that aren’t on the roster. The effect is compounded when you consider they also traded two picks away to draft Reuben Foster, which created a need to pay Kwon Alexander in free agency when that didn’t work out.
Listen to the entire episode in the player below or wherever you get your podcasts.
Fast forward to now. Deshaun Watson becomes available, but to acquire him, you’re going to have to trade the Texans a ton of draft picks and possibly some established players as well. That’s definitely not a deal you can make lightly. However, it would be a lot easier to make that deal if the 49ers had seven more good-to-very-good players on the team under rookie contracts.
To be fair, I don’t mean to single the 49ers out. Every single team misses on draft picks. For the record, I am not against trading draft picks for proven players or even to move up in the draft. But those deals have consequences. You’ve got to get production out of them. As Jerry Jones likes to say, it’s okay to pay a premium as long as you get a premium in return. Too many times, the 49ers haven’t gotten enough in return when trading away draft picks, and it could cost them an opportunity to acquire one of the best players in the game.