The San Francisco 49ers made a bold move on Friday when they traded the No. 12 pick in the 2021 NFL Draft, first-and-third round picks in 2022, and a first in 2023 to the Miami Dolphins for the No. 3 selection in this year’s draft.
Going into their fifth season at the helm, general manager John Lynch and head coach Kyle Shanahan have decided to go all-in for their franchise quarterback. It looks like the Jacksonville Jaguars are locked into taking Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence No. 1 overall, and depending on what the New York Jets do at No. 2, the Niners will have the option of taking either Zach Wilson, Trey Lance, Justin Fields or Mac Jones at No. 3.
San Francisco still has Jimmy Garoppolo on the roster, and it looks like the team will go with him as the starter in 2021 unless the rookie outshines him during training camp.
Many teams over the past decade have traded up into the top-three for a signal-caller, and the results haven’t been great. Here is a look at how the five QBs selected at the top of the draft did for the team that traded for them.
2012: Washington trades its first-round picks in 2012, 2013, and 2014 plus a 2012 second-rounder to the Rams for the second overall selection in 2012.
Washington took Robert Griffin III at No. 2, and the decision paid immediate dividends. Griffin completed 65.6 percent of his passes for 3,200 yards, 20 touchdowns, and five picks. He was named the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year and helped Washington win the NFC East with a 10-6 record.
Griffin suffered a sprained LCL late in the season but returned in time for the final two games. He was dealing with some knee issues and was seriously hurt during the Wild Card Weekend loss to the Seattle Seahawks.
Griffin’s rookie season went down as the pinnacle of his career. He never regained his form from 2012, and injuries marred the rest of his time in the nation’s capital. Griffin went 5-15 as Washington’s starter the next two seasons and was released following the 2015 campaign.
2016: The Rams trade their 2016 first-round pick, two 2016 second-round picks, 2016 third-round pick, and first-and-third-round picks in 2017 to the Tennessee Titans for the No. 1 overall selection, plus fourth-and-sixth-round picks.
Los Angeles took Jared Goff No. 1 overall, who spent the first 13 games of his career with head coach Jeff Fisher. Goff was named the Rams starter after nine games and went 0-7 the rest of the way. Although he didn’t exactly set the world on fire during his rookie campaign, Goff turned the corner when LA hired Sean McVay to replace Fisher.
Goff went 24-7 over the next two seasons, helping the Rams make it to the Super Bowl in 2018. But his lack of consistency and limitations frustrated McVay over the past two seasons. LA went 19-13 over the past two years and decided it was time to move on from Goff.
The Rams included Goff as part of their package to acquire veteran Matthew Stafford from the Detroit Lions. Goff finished his time in LA with a 42-27 record and made the playoffs three times.
2016: The Philadelphia Eagles trade their first, third, and fourth-round picks in 2016, a first-round selection in 2017, and a 2018 second-rounder to the Cleveland Browns for the 2016 No. 2 overall pick and a 2017 fourth-rounder.
The Eagles traded up to take Carson Wentz second overall. He had a solid rookie year, throwing for 3,782 yards, 16 touchdowns, and 14 picks as Philadelphia went 7-9. The 2017 season was a coming-out party for Wentz.
He threw for 3,296 yards, 33 touchdowns, to just seven interceptions over the first 13 games, leading the Eagles to an 11-2 record. Wentz’s 101.9 rating was fourth among all NFL quarterbacks when he suffered a torn ACL against the Rams in Week 14. Wentz was replaced by veteran Nick Foles, who led a loaded Philadelphia team to a Super Bowl title.
Wentz has never been the same since. He went 17-21-1 over the past three seasons leading the Eagles electing to trade him to the Indianapolis Colts this offseason.
2017: The Chicago Bears traded the No. 3 selection in the 2017 draft, two third-round picks, and a fourth-rounder to the 49ers for the No. 2 overall pick.
A trade San Francisco fans remember well. Lynch traded back one spot in his draft as the Niners GM and went with Solomon Thomas at No. 3.
The Bears went with Mitchell Trubisky, whose tumultuous time with the franchise came to an end this offseason when he signed with the Buffalo Bills as a free agent. Trubisky sat behind Mike Glennon for the first four games of his rookie year before then-head coach John Fox elected to go with him as the starter in Week 5.
Trubisky’s limitations as a passer were evident from day one. He completed less than 60 percent of passes during his rookie season and threw for just 2,193 yards, seven touchdowns, and seven interceptions as Chicago went 4-8 over the final 12 games.
Chicago’s defense took a step, and so did Trubisky in Year 2. He threw for 3,223 yards, 24 touchdowns, and seven picks, going 11-3 in 14 starts during the 2018 campaign. The Bears went 12-4 overall and won the NFC North.
Trubisky put Chicago in a position to win its Wild Card matchup against the Eagles, but kicker Cody Parkey’s famous “Double Doink” cost the Bears the game. It looked like Trubisky was on his way to a solid career as a starter, but things went downhill after that.
Trubisky went 14-10 over the past two seasons and lost his job to Nick Foles during the 2020 campaign. He regained his spot after Foles got hurt and helped Chicago make the playoffs last season, but the organization had seen enough. The Bears didn’t pick up his fifth-year option and allowed him to walk in free agency.
2018: The New York Jets trade the sixth-pick in 2018, plus two 2018 second-rounders and their second-round pick in 2019 to the Colts for the No. 3 selection in 2018.
The Jets moved up to select USC’s Sam Darnold, but the franchise has remained amongst the worst in the NFL since.
Darnold went 4-9 during his rookie season and completed 57.7 percent of his passes for 2,865 yards, 17 touchdowns, and 15 picks. New York performed much better in 2019. Darnold went 7-6 his sophomore season and improved his numbers across the board. He got mono early in the season and missed three games, all of which the Jets lost.
There was a reason for optimism going into last season. But without any legitimate offensive weapons around Darnold — unless you count LaVeon Bell — New York majorly regressed, going 2-14, which resulted in the firing of head coach Adam Gase.
San Francisco’s former defensive coordinator, Robert Saleh, has taken over for Gase and the Jets hold the second pick. It looks like they will move on from Darnold this offseason and go with a new QB to kick off Saleh’s tenure.
The results from the five quarterbacks should give the 49ers some caution about proceeding with a rookie. Griffin was the only one to lead his team to the postseason during his first year, but the other four took a significant leap in their sophomore season.
All of the QBs (if indeed Darnold is traded this offseason) have in common that none of them played more than five seasons with the team that drafted them. Darnold’s been with New York for three seasons, Griffin and Trubisky lasted four, while Goff and Wentz were traded after their fifth-year.
One significant difference between the franchises listed above is that none were two years removed from a Super Bowl appearance. The Niners have a ton of talent on the roster with a championship nucleus comprised of Nick Bosa, George Kittle, Trent Williams, and Deebo Samuel. The five teams also didn’t have an offensive-genius like Shanahan steering the ship and working with their rookie QBs in Year 1.
It has been pointed out a million times since the trade was completed, but no rookie QB has ever led his team to the Super Bowl, so San Francisco would be hoping that whoever it takes at No. 3 makes history if he gets the starting job.
With Garoppolo still in the fold, the Niners have a veteran who has won 72.7 percent of the games he has started for the franchise. With a loaded-roster, Lynch and Shanahan know their squad is built to win now.
The rookie QBs who backed up a veteran in recent history include Patrick Mahomes, Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees, and Philip Rivers. Three of them went on to win a Super Bowl, while Rivers went 134-106 as a starter during his 17-year career.
The Kansas City Chiefs were a playoff team in Mahomes’ first season, as he sat behind Alex Smith. Rodgers didn’t start a single game over this first three years behind Brett Favre and has gone on to become one of the greatest QBs of all time.
No one is saying Wilson, Lance, or Fields will be the next Mahomes, Rodgers, or Brees, but allowing the rookie QB time to develop and learn while backing up Garoppolo seems like the best option given what we have seen in recent history.
Of course, this doesn’t mean that whichever rookie QB comes in should sit at all cost. If one of them comes in and outperforms Garoppolo during training camp, Shanahan shouldn’t hesitate to go with a first-year signal-caller.
It’s going to be a fascinating few months leading up to the season. All we know for now is that San Francisco is banking on either Wilson, Fields, Lance, or Jones to be the face of the franchise for years to come.