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Is Kyle Shanahan making the same mistake he made in 2017?

Tunnel-vision can be a terrible thing

San Francisco 49ers Training Camp Photo by Michael Zagaris/San Francisco 49ers/Getty Images

There’s an old saying that those that fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it. In 2017, Kyle Shanahan knew exactly what he wanted to do at quarterback. In his mind, the 49ers were going to sign Kirk Cousins in free agency and build the team around him. So locked on Cousins was Kyle that he admittedly didn’t do his due diligence in the pre-draft process when it came to Patrick Mahomes and Deshaun Watson. Michelle Magdziuk posed an interesting question on today’s Niners Nation podcast: What if he did the same thing this year with Trey Lance?

Despite reports contrary to when the 49ers set their sights on Trey Lance, we know that Kyle’s fascination with him began early in 2021. Then, on Tuesday, we got more information from Lynch about Kyle’s enthusiasm for the North Dakota State passer:

That revelation caused Michelle to speculate about Kyle’s evaluation process in today’s podcast. “When I heard that, it just made me feel again like we’re back in 2017 where Shanahan was like, ‘Nope, I don’t care about anyone else, I already have it in my head I want Kirk Cousins.’ I think he went to Justin Fields’ pro day and was like, ‘No, I want Trey Lance’ and didn’t give Fields a shot that day.”

I know we’re well past the draft now, but I spend every day thinking about the 49ers, and I honestly had never considered that question before.

Remember how John Lynch started the final press conference before the draft?

In the face of [the pandemic] we attended 176 games and practices despite COVID and travel restrictions this year. We saw essentially every player of note that didn’t opt out play live this fall. We took part in nearly 400 Zoom calls with schools, made countless calls and texts to gather background information. Interviewed nearly 600 players in person by phone or by Zoom. That’s a collective effort of myself and Kyle, to scouts, to coaches doing those. We covered 128 separate pro days.

It was an odd thing to pat yourself on the back about. Other teams thought so, too. I said at the time that Lynch and Shanahan were clearly trying to establish the narrative that they had learned from 2017 and turned over every rock before making the biggest personnel decision in their tenures. The strategy would have been an especially savvy move if the team was about to make the unpopular selection of Mac Jones because it would have been an end-around against the criticism that Kyle has a type when it comes to quarterbacks.

But it’s also possible that the 49ers thought Lance would be the unpopular selection and were trying to prepare their defense of him. That’s also a reason to allow all the Mac Jones speculation to go uncorrected. Fans would be so relieved Jones wasn’t the pick at three that they wouldn’t criticize the selection of Lance.

Some of you may be thinking that this is all a moot point now because the pick has been made, and there’s no way to change it. While that is true, it’s our job to evaluate what they do, and we can’t do that effectively if we don’t try and figure out how the people in charge make decisions.

We obviously don’t know for sure if things went down this way, and I’m not saying that they did. I’m saying it’s at least fair to wonder whether history is repeating itself. Trey Lance could be the next great quarterback in the NFL. As a lifelong fan of this team, I certainly hope that he is. And I also hope the people in charge are taking an honest look at all possibilities when determining the direction of the franchise.