All eyes are on the San Francisco 49ers going into the 2021 NFL Draft. After moving up from No. 12 to No. 3, the NFL media is focused on which quarterback general manager John Lynch and head coach Kyle Shanahan will select.
We have heard several draft pundits and NFL insiders share their opinions since the trade took place, and many of them believe the Niners will take Alabama’s Mac Jones. But Justin Fields and Trey Lance remain intriguing options that could be the QB of the future for the franchise.
The anticipation for the April 29 draft continues to build, and we will finally get an answer on that date. But that is just the beginning of what will be a pressure-full few years for Lynch and Shanahan.
San Francisco is going into its fifth season with the duo calling the shots. Lynch and Shanahan were playing with house money when they took over in 2017, with a roster that was left barren of talent thanks to former general manager Trent Baalke.
Fans knew they had to be patient as Lynch and Shanahan rebuilt the roster and culture. The 49ers went 6-10 in 2017 — mainly thanks to Jimmy Garoppolo winning his final five starts of the season — and the expectations grew going into the following season.
Any hopes of a playoff berth were gone after Week 3 of the 2018 campaign when Garoppolo suffered a torn ACL. The Niners went 2-14, but their consolation prize was the opportunity to select a phenom defensive lineman in Nick Bosa.
With a healthy Garoppolo and Bosa, San Francisco grew into a juggernaut in 2019, going 13-3 and making a run to the Super Bowl. Since then, the expectations for the franchise have changed.
The success of the 2019 campaign thrust the 49ers into the NFL’s upper echelon, and they were considered among the Super Bowl favorites going into the 2020 season. Unfortunately, the team never had a chance to defend its NFC crown, thanks to an unprecedented amount of injuries.
NFL 2020 regular season injury plot. Games missed to injuries versus team wins. Bubble size represents cumulative quality of players lost (Lost-av metric) https://t.co/eXiKLhzvNh pic.twitter.com/ENfk81Tj3I— Man Games Lost NFL (@ManGamesLostNFL) January 7, 2021
The Niners were among the busiest teams of the offseason. Lynch and Shanahan re-signed several key free agents, including Trent Williams, Kyle Juszczyk, Jason Verrett, Emmanuel Moseley, and Jaquiski Tartt. They also went outside the building to sign former All-Pro center Alex Mack and pass-rusher Samson Ebukam.
It looked like the plan was to run it back with a healthy Garoppolo and several players from the 2019 squad still in place. But that changed on March 26 when the Niners completed the trade with the Miami Dolphins to move up to No. 3. San Francisco gave up its No. 12 pick this season, 2022 and 2023 first-round picks, plus a 2022 third-rounder.
The move was made to select the QB of the future and signaled that Garoppolo isn’t a part of the team’s long-term plans.
With the trade, the pressure on Lynch and Shanahan to deliver a championship in the coming seasons has been turned up. The 49ers gave up significant assets to acquire their QB of the future, so they can’t afford to blow the selection.
Lynch is signed through 2024, while Shanahan’s deal expires a year later. If Jones, Fields or Lance turns out to be a bust, it’s likely we won’t see either of them finish up their deals.
Jed York gave the duo extensions because he clearly believes in the direction of the team, but that could change if we don’t see whichever rookie QB they select develop into a top-10 NFL signal-caller.
Recent history isn’t on Lynch and Shanahan’s side when it comes to teams who have traded up. Shanahan and his father, Mike, were with the Washington Football team when the organization traded up to select Robert Griffin III in 2012. After a spectacular rookie season, Griffin fell back to earth due to injuries and various other reasons. Washington went 3-13 in 2013, and much of the coaching and front office staff was let go.
Both the Los Angeles Rams and Philadelphia Eagles moved up in 2016 to select their quarterbacks of the future. Les Snead orchestrated the deal to acquire the top pick to select Jared Goff, who was traded this past offseason to the Detroit Lions for veteran Matthew Stafford.
Jeff Fisher was the Rams head coach for 13 games during Goff’s rookie campaign before being fired. Snead has stuck around as the GM, mainly due to the fact L.A. has made the playoffs in three of the last four seasons, including a trip to the Super Bowl in 2018.
The Eagles moved on from head coach Doug Pederson after last season, despite the fact the team won the Super Bowl in 2017 and was in the postseason in two of the following three seasons. Philadelphia cut ties with Carson Wentz as well, trading him to the Indianapolis Colts.
It’s going to be interesting to see what happens with Lynch and Shanahan if their selection falters and turns out to be a bust. The New York Jets ended the Sam Darnold experiment just three years after moving up to take him at No. 3 in 2018. The franchise itself is a laughing-stock among NFL teams and cleaned house after a 2-14 finish last season.
Snead and Howie Roseman are the only GMs to remain with their teams, while none of the coaches that were in place when their organization moved up to into the top three lasted more than five seasons.
If Jones, Fields or Lance doesn’t pan out, it’s tough to see how Lynch and Shanahan will be around through their current contracts. It looks like the Niners are committed to keeping Garoppolo for at least another season, but that could change if another team offers a high draft pick for the QB in the coming weeks.
If that’s the case, the pressure on Lynch, Shanahan, and whichever rookie takes over at QB instantly rises. With Williams, Bosa, George Kittle and Fred Warner on the roster, the 49ers are built to win now. Without a competent QB, San Francisco will have little-to-no chance to capture the elusive sixth Lombardi Trophy.
It will be fascinating to see how this plays out over the coming years. Lynch and Shanahan are clearly comfortable with this year’s crop of QB prospects, and considering the capital they gave up, they better be right, or we could see another house-cleaning within a few years.
How many seasons do you think Lynch and Shanahan will be around if the No. 3 pick turns out to be a bust?