Give credit to San Francisco 49ers general manager John Lynch and head coach Kyle Shanahan. Whenever a big-name player has been available, the Niners have seemingly popped up as a possible destination.
We heard reports that the 49ers were involved in the pursuit of players such as Tom Brady, Odell Beckham Jr. and Matthew Stafford. Another former All-Pro the Niners were apparently in on this offseason is wide receiver, Julio Jones.
Jones put up fantastic numbers during the two seasons Shanahan was his offensive coordinator with the Atlanta Falcons. Jones set career-highs in receptions (136), yards (1,871) and yards per game (116.9) in 2015 and was a big part of why the Falcons made it all the way to the Super Bowl in 2016.
The Falcons faced a major cap crunch this offseason. The economic fallout of the pandemic caused the salary cap to decrease by roughly 8 percent, which forced the Falcons to seek a trade partner for Jones and the remaining three years and $38.2 million in base salary on his contract.
The 49ers were mentioned as a possible landing spot for Jones, but given the fact that the team had given up a ton of draft capital to acquire the No. 3 pick in this year’s NFL Draft, the Niners seemed like a longshot.
Jones was dealt along with a sixth-round selection to the Tennessee Titans in exchange for a second-rounder and a fourth-round pick.
Shanahan was on Los Angles Rams head coach Sean McVay’s podcast and discussed the 49ers’ pursuit of Jones.
“That’s [was] our biggest fear in Julio, is that Sean’s going to go for him,” Shanahan said to McVay and Peter Schrager on the Flying Coach Podcast. “My first choice is, ‘Man, I just wish Julio would go to the AFC, but if he’s going to the NFC West, we’ve got to make sure we get him,’ because it almost ends up being an arms race. I know the job Sean does. I know how good of a job (Seattle Seahawks head coach) Pete [Carroll] does. I know how good of a job (Arizona Cardinals coach) Kliff [Kingsbury] does. And everyone’s got quarterbacks.
“That’s actually the most frustrating thing for me. I always say, ‘Let’s do it the right way,’ which, there’s no right way or wrong way, but you don’t want to have to risk your future to compete in one year. And that’s the hardest thing about being in our division because I know how Sean rolls. That’s very similar to me. And I can see that in the two other guys (Caroll and Kingsbury) in our division.
“Julio would have helped everybody, but you know what it’s doing to your organization for that year and the years to come. That’s a really risky thing, but man, if Sean’s getting him, I’m going to risk that. I know that’s how he thinks. That’s how we all think because you’ve got to compete with your division first.”
The Rams haven’t been afraid to mortgage the future in order to acquire All-Pro-level talents. They have given up two first-round picks to land quarterback Matthew Stafford this offseason and gave up a pair of first-rounders in their 2019 deal with the Jacksonville Jaguars to get cornerback Jalen Ramsey.
The NFC West is going to be a bloodbath once again next season. All four teams are considered legitimate playoff contenders but oddsmakers have the 49ers and Rams as the top two teams in the division.
Most NFL teams appear to have their rosters set heading into their training camps. But if another big name does become available, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see all four NFC West teams making a run to add another talented piece.