Many NFL insiders and draft pundits predicted that the 49ers would go with Alabama’s Mac Jones from the get-go. Everyone from Kyle Shanahan’s close friend — former NFL QB Chris Simms — to ESPN’s Adam Schefter said they believed Jones would be the selection.
Shanahan hopped on The Athletic’s Tim Kawakami’s podcast and was asked about what he thought about all the Jones hype leading up to the draft day (h/t NBC Bay Area).
“I do laugh at ... that everyone thinks that they know exactly what I want at quarterback because I thought we had a chance to get the number one free agent quarterback who was going to be on the market in our second year,” Shanahan told Kawakami on “The TK Show.” ”And since we did, people just assume that’s how I would draw it up, which if you draw it up, obviously you’re going to give the guy everything. I do believe that you have to be able to win from the pocket in this league as a quarterback or it will catch up to you. But holy cow, if you can run, it makes playing from the pocket a lot easier because those defenses are going to change and stuff.”
The free agent that was available after the 2017 season is QB Kirk Cousins. However, the 49ers didn’t make a run at the veteran after trading for Jimmy Garoppolo during Shanahan’s first season as head coach.
Many analysts believed Jones’ ability as a pocket passer and football IQ had Shanahan salivating leading up to the draft. Las Vegas oddsmakers also thought the 49ers would go with the Alabama product, which proved to be untrue when the Niners selected North Dakota State’s Trey Lance.
Once the 49ers made the trade, the writing was on the wall for Garoppolo’s long-term future with the club. After missing 23 starts in the past three seasons, Jimmy G’s inability to stay healthy was one of the major reasons why the 49ers made the deal. Both times Garoppolo got hurt, San Francisco’s season tanked.
Shanahan and general manager John Lynch did their homework on seven-time Super Bowl-winning QB Tom Brady following the 2019 campaign but ultimately decided to run it back with Garoppolo.
Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk believes Shanahan and Lynch “freaked out” after missing out on Patrick Mahomes and Deshaun Watson in the 2017 NFL Draft, and those decisions led to a panic-move this offseason.
Personally (and at the risk of Kyle finding this annoying), I think the 49ers have freaked out a little bit (or a lot) after whiffing on Mahomes in 2017 and Tom Brady (who wanted badly to play for his hometown team) in 2020. They decided they can’t trust Jimmy Garoppolo to stay healthy, so they ultimately invested three first-round picks and a third-round pick in the ability to select Jones or Justin Fields or Lance. The fact that knowledgeable people (including Chris Simms, a former college teammate and close friend of Shanahan’s) believed it definitely was Jones means it definitely could have been Jones before Shanahan was persuaded by others in the organization to go all in with Lance.
The talk about the great smoke screen reached a fever pitch in the days leading up to the draft. Shanahan met with the media following the first round and said the 49ers were perfectly fine with letting the rest of the NFL world believe they were going with Jones.
“We weren’t going to work to correct that. But to see how much this matters to so many people was just unbelievable. It really taught me a lot about people. And I guess it’s awesome for our league, all the attention.”
For his part, Florio wasn’t impressed with how the 49ers handled all of the Jones rumors.
Right or wrong, the ill-advised guessing game when there was no risk of being leapfrogged invites speculation that it was Jones before it was Lance — especially since the team did nothing to push back on the perception that it was Jones once people like Simms started saying it was Jones. Shanahan may have thought (as he’s said) that it all was an interesting case study in human dynamics. That may be the case, but it was also a piss-poor exercise by the franchise in crafting fan and media expectations.
THERE WAS NO NEED TO BE SECRETIVE, unless they traded up without truly knowing which player they planned to take. And if that’s the truth, then they did allow the Mahomes and Brady misadventures to cloud their judgment, because they could have stayed put at No. 12 and gotten Lance or Jones — especially since no one would have expected them to take either guy.
There were no benefits for the 49ers to push back on the perception that Jones would be the pick. Shanahan and Lynch didn’t even let some of their highest-ranking staff members know who they would select third overall. Jones went 15th to the New England Patriots, but saying Lance would have been available at 12 isn’t close to guaranteed.
I sent out a tweet sharing my thoughts on Florio’s take, and he responded.
You’re proving my point. They enjoyed the mystery when they had no reason to let it exist. Unless of course Shanahan actually wanted Jones and was eventually talked out of it, as some believe.— ProFootballTalk (@ProFootballTalk) June 14, 2021
We may eventually find out what happened in the lead-up to the draft, but ESPN’s Todd McShay also reported that he heard Shanahan was at odds with the scouting department regarding the pick.
“I’m told that many in the 49ers’ personnel department have pushed for North Dakota State QB Trey Lance but that coach Kyle Shanahan wants to draft Alabama’s Mac Jones,” McShay writes. “One person I spoke to even heard that Shanahan might ‘acquiesce’ to the scouting department on the selection, but others have said that seems unlikely. At this time of year, there is a lot of seed planting with the rumor mill, and it could certainly be the case here.”
Florio and McShay’s opinion contradicts what Shanahan said about Lance following the draft. The 49ers head coach said he began watching Lance’s college game tape back in January and was impressed with what he saw.
“We can go back to January for the timeline which we don’t have enough time to go through,” Shanahan said following the first round. “But this is something that started since our season ended and our evaluation of people, starting with where we thought people were going to be available, whether we thought people were going to be on the trade markets, everything. We’ve been very high on Trey from the beginning. From Day 1.
“When we made the trade, we knew exactly where we were going and what we were doing,” Shanahan said. “Now, we wanted an opportunity to go look at everybody.”
Lynch says that the 49ers have known for a couple of weeks that the pick was Trey Lance. He said the team "put a bow on it" this past Monday.— Niners Nation (@NinersNation) April 30, 2021
Shanahan also routinely said there were five QB prospects he liked leading up to the draft, with Lance, Jones, Trevor Lawrence, Zach Wilson, and Justin Fields likely being in that group. To say Jones was the clear-cut favorite for Shanahan is speculation at best.
The 49ers were in a good position to make a bold move this offseason. With Nick Bosa, George Kittle, Trent Williams, and Fred Warner leading the charge, the team has one of the deepest rosters in the NFL and is capable of winning the Super Bowl.
Shanahan and Lynch re-signed several of their own veteran free agents to team-friendly deals and had the flexibility to make a deal with the Dolphins.
Still, Florio thinks the organization bungled this offseason.
I know that this take will prompt 49ers fans to say I hate their team, just as the fans of every other team I ever criticize will say. And that’s fine. But it sure feels like the 49ers have f–ked this up, and it feels like (given the likelihood that Garoppolo will be the Week One starter for the 49er and given the very real possibility he’ll stay healthy all year like he did in 2019), they may f–k it up some more.
To say the 49ers have “f-ked” this up is a stretch. Although they would have likely taken a first-round pick for Garoppolo, Shanahan and Lynch have been steadfast that they made the trade with the Dolphins with the intent of keeping Jimmy G for the 2021 season.
Shanahan explained to Kawakami why he’s confident Garoppolo will be under center for Week 1.
“I definitely see it as Jimmy’s the starter,” Shanahan said while acknowledging that Lance will get every chance to win the starting job.
“But like I kind of said before this happened, it’d be really hard for any rookie quarterback. Jimmy is a very good player. He’s not just coming in trying to beat out a guy who hasn’t done it before. When Jimmy’s played, he’s played at a very high level.”
The 49ers went 13-3 when Garoppolo was healthy for all 16 games in 2019 and came within minutes of winning the Super Bowl. So the franchise looks to be in a good spot when it comes to the QB situation both for the short and long run.
If Garoppolo can stay healthy and lead another juggernaut as he did in 2019, the 49ers will compete for a championship. Garoppolo only has two more seasons left on his contract, so the Niners could move him next offseason for a high pick or even run it back one more time in 2022.
If Jimmy G can’t stay healthy or doesn’t perform up to expectations, Shanahan will have his hand-picked replacement waiting in the wings.
The 49ers have options, which is never a bad thing in the NFL. They don’t have to rush the 21-year-old Lance and give him time to develop and learn the pro game behind the veteran Garoppolo.
What do you think of Florio’s take that the 49ers messed up the QB situation?