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Gold Standard: Why this year’s draft will matter more than you think

We know, this year doesn’t feel the same as 2021.

Despite being just two weeks away, this year’s draft just doesn’t have the juice of last year’s draft. How could it? Last year the 49ers stunned the NFL world by surrendering three first-round picks (and more) to move all the way up to number three and then kept everyone guessing who the pick would be for about a month.

While the buzz may be diminished this year, this draft is no less important to the team’s overall success. On today’s Gold Standard podcast, Levin Black and I explained why.

The 49ers have big decisions to make. First, they have to decide if they want to give Deebo Samuel $25 million per year. They have to decide if they’re going to meet Nick Bosa’s unprecedented asking price. And they have to decide when to cut bait on a $25 million quarterback.

But those aren’t the only calls they’ll have to make.

Mike McGlinchey is on his fifth-year option right now. Brandon Aiyuk may want a new deal after the 2022 season. Jimmie Ward’s contract will have to be addressed next year as well. The NFL machine never stops rolling along, and in order to sustain success, teams have to balance all of these decisions against one another. In a salary cap league, you’re never going to be able to pay everyone.

If the 49ers are going to maintain one of the best rosters in the entire league, they’re going to have to continue to find diamonds in the rough of the NFL Draft. Throughout its history, the draft has always been a team’s greatest source of cheap labor, and success there can make roster decisions a lot easier.

We already saw this with Laken Tomlinson and Aaron Banks. The 49ers’ willingness to pay Tomlinson was impacted by their faith that Banks will be able to start this season. Likewise, it’s a lot easier to set your price on Brandon Aiyuk if you know you have Receiver X from the 2022 draft waiting right behind him.

If you don’t have to break the bank to keep Brandon Aiyuk, maybe you can afford to give Jimmie Ward a little extra money to convince him to stick around. And on and on it goes.

So while the 49ers might not have a first-round pick this year, the choices they make with the nine selections they do have are going to have massive repercussions down the road - including as early as next offseason.