When the San Francisco 49ers traded two future first and a future third-round pick to move up in the first round of the 2021 NFL Draft, it seemed pretty clear that the franchise would have limited flexibility to make moves in upcoming drafts. However, while the Niners do not currently have a first-round pick in the subsequent two drafts, they have quietly positioned themselves quite well to trade up and acquire impactful young players.
First round: None
Second round: SF
Third round: SF, Comp (Mike McDaniel)
Fourth round: SF
Fifth round: SF
Seventh round: Comp* (Solomon Thomas), Comp* (Kerry Hyder), Comp* (C.J. Beathard)
*Based on OverTheCap’s projected compensatory picks formula
First round: None
Second round: SF
Third round: SF, Comp (Martin Mayhew), Comp (Mike McDaniel)
Fourth round: SF
Fifth round: SF
Seventh round: SF, DEN
No team has benefitted more from the NFL’s new policy, which rewards teams with draft pick compensation if another team hires a minority head coach, general manager, or team president from their staff. The departures of Robert Saleh, Martin Mayhew, and Mike McDaniel have given San Francisco five compensatory third-round picks from 2021-2023.
Even after trading one of those compensatory picks in their move up last year, the 49ers still have control of five third-round picks over the subsequent two drafts. With full control of their own second and fourth-round picks, the Niners are already well-stocked in Day 2 and early Day 3 picks. And, they have some obvious ways to add even more to their stock.
49er's path to adding draft capital 1. Jimmy Garoppolo Trade
I am not going to pretend I know what the 49ers will receive in a trade for Jimmy Garoppolo. If I were a franchise’s top personnel decision-maker, I would not trade any draft capital for Garoppolo at his roughly $25 million cap hit when players like Teddy Bridgewater, Marcus Mariota, and Tyrod Taylor will likely cost less than half the price on the free-agent market.
With that said, I felt similarly about Sam Darnold and Carson Wentz last offseason, who ended up netting valuable draft pick packages via trade. All the 49ers need is one team to believe Garoppolo is their path to contention.
Darnold netted a sixth in 2021 alongside a second and fourth in 2022. Darnold was significantly younger and had some upside tracing back to his time at USC, but he was also one of the worst statistical quarterbacks in NFL history. So it’s understandable why the Niners might hold out for an offer that at least matches what the New York Jets received for Darnold. Still, even if the 49ers only receive a fourth-round pick in the two subsequent drafts, that would further solidify San Francisco’s stockpile of picks in rounds 2-4.
49ers' path to adding draft capital 2. Compensatory Picks
The 49ers are already projected to receive three compensatory seventh-round picks in this year’s draft, receiving three seventh-round compensatory picks for the departures of Kerry Hyder, Solomon Thomas, and C.J. Beathard. San Francisco has the potential to add even more capital through compensatory picks in 2023.
It’s important to remember NFL compensatory picks are assigned through a formula that incorporates losses and additions. Just because a departing free agent signs a contract in line with a compensatory pick, the team that loses them will not necessarily acquire that pick. NFL franchises can cancel out compensatory picks by signing other free agents.
For example, both cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon and wide receiver Kendrick Bourne signed contracts that could have qualified the 49ers to receive a compensatory sixth-round pick last offseason, but the Niners signed two players that met those specifications as well (Alex Mack and Samson Ebukam), which canceled out their losses.
Here’s a list of the average annual contract value for the compensatory picks that OTC expects to be handed out for last offseason:
Seventh round: $2.5 million to $3.5 million
Sixth-round: $3.5 million to $6.0 million
Fifth round: $6.0 million to $10.0 million
Fourth round: $10.0 million to $16.5 million
Third round: $16.5 million +
It would be a massive surprise if any of the 49ers impending free agents received contracts that paid substantially more than $10 million, which likely eliminates any chance of adding another compensatory third-round pick. However, many of the Niners' top free agents should still have robust enough markets to receive sizable contracts on the open market.
Left guard Laken Tomlinson is the surest bet to allow the 49ers to acquire at least a fifth-round compensatory pick if he departs in free agency (something our own Jordan Elliott has advocated). Given the recent spike in the market for guards, it’s not out of the question that Tomlinson could receive a large enough contract to net the Niners a fourth-rounder.
Still, several other tiers of Niner free agents could give the organization some opportunities to add more picks. Interior defensive lineman D.J. Jones, safety Jaquiski Tartt, and defensive lineman Arden Key fall in the large middle-class of free agents that could receive a wide range of contracts. Each could land multi-year deals that easily reach the threshold for a fifth-round compensatory pick but could also be forced to settle for smaller one-year contracts that leave San Francisco empty-handed.
Slot corner K’Waun Williams, running back Raheem Mostert, and offensive lineman Tom Compton are a final few wild cards who could end up getting moderate short-term contracts that could net the Niners a late-round compensatory selection as well.
It’s generally good to be conservative in projecting how many compensatory picks an NFL team will receive. The 49ers will obviously re-sign some of the players I have mentioned while likely making an addition or two that cancel out some departures. However, the 49ers' cap situation gives them a limited number of options.
If the Niners prioritize re-signing players like Tomlinson and Jones, it’s hard to imagine them adding many players that would cancel out the potential loss of players like Key and Tartt. Targeting free agents on other teams will likely lead players like Tomlinson to sign more lucrative deals elsewhere. Even with all the moving parts, the 49ers look like they will add at least another compensatory pick in 2023.
How can the 49ers utilize their collection of picks?
The 49ers are no longer rebuilding. They are not struggling to put together a talented roster but instead are trying to put the finishing pieces on a championship core. As a result, a quantity of draft picks is far less valuable to them now than it might have been when head coach Kyle Shanahan and general manager John Lynch were first hired back in 2017. With that said, their collection of picks will give them flexibility.
For one, proven veteran talent always seems underpriced on the trade market. The Niners now have plenty of mid and late-round picks to dangle to rebuilding teams shopping their quality veterans. On the other side of the trade spectrum, it also should give them substantial flexibility to move up in the draft and acquire the players they most covet on Day 2. They will still be limited without a selection until the end of the second round (barring an exceptional return for Garoppolo), but armed with at least two second, five third, and two fourth-round picks in 2022 and 2023, the Niners should be able to move up in picks 40-100 with ease this year.
After trading so much to move up in the draft and select Trey Lance last season, the 49ers seemed to lose their chance to add premium talent in future drafts. However, the NFL’s new rules rewarding teams for developing top minority coaches and executives, the impending Jimmy Garoppolo trade, and a sizable free-agent class have quietly restocked the coffers in San Francisco.