It was April 27, 2017 and the San Francisco 49ers had an opportunity to draft Mitchell Trubisky, Patrick Mahomes, or Deshaun Watson at quarterback, any of whom would have made for a justifiable pairing with new head coach Kyle Shanahan. Instead, general manager John Lynch traded down from two to three, adding two thirds and a fourth before selecting Solomon Thomas with the third overall pick.
Instead of drafting a franchise quarterback, Shanahan and Lynch wait until Halloween of that same year, trading a 2018 second round pick to the New England Patriots for Jimmy Garoppolo, himself a former second round pick from the 2014 draft. Somewhat miraculously, the Patriots turned the 62nd overall pick in the 2014 draft to the 43rd overall pick in the 2018 draft simply because Garoppolo had a couple of pretty good games in place of a suspended Tom Brady prior to being injured.
The key phrase there being “prior to being injured.”
Because they traded for Garoppolo, the 49ers had the “good fortune” of turning a 1-10 start into a 6-10 finish. Garoppolo had gone 5-0 in his end-of-season stint and pushed San Francisco from potentially getting the number two pick in the draft into selecting ninth overall; which also meant that the 49ers had to pay Garoppolo a $124 million contract to keep him around despite only seven career starts; and it took them out of the running for drafting a quarterback in 2018.
That year, the Cleveland Browns selected Baker Mayfield first, the New York Jets picked Sam Darnold third, the Buffalo Bils picked Josh Allen seventh, the Arizona Cardinals took Josh Rosen 10th, and the Baltimore Ravens picked Lamar Jackson with the final choice in the first round. Shanahan may have preferred Darnold or Rosen to Allen, but in any case, San Francisco ended up with right tackle Mike McGlinchey.
Which feels pretty underwhelming when the names Mahomes, Watson, Josh Allen, Baker Mayfield, and Lamar Jackson start getting thrown around and Jimmy Garoppolo remains the most expensive player in NFL history to not yet play a half-season’s worth of games.
It also meant that San Francisco had no opportunity to reunite Shanahan with Kirk Cousins, a franchise tagged player in Washington in 2017 and a free agent in 2018 who might have been a clear and obvious fit for the 49ers. One who would have almost certainly been healthy in 2018, 2019, and 2020 given all we’ve come to know about Cousins.
Banking on Garoppolo, the Niners crashed in 2018 when he went on injured reserve after only 89 pass attempts, finishing 4-12 and getting the number two pick in the draft. Ironically, Garoppolo once again did just enough to keep the 49ers away from drafting a QB (Kyler Murray went first and a Week 2 win over the Lions was one reason San Francisco wasn’t picking ahead of Arizona) and instead they landed a premier edge rusher in Nick Bosa.
But every move looked justified in 2019 when the 49ers went 13-3 behind a completely healthy season for Garoppolo. It’s not that he’s a good quarterback necessarily, but the difference between Garoppolo and the next guy has turned out to be massive for Shanahan’s offense and all-around record: 22-8 when Jimmy is starting vs 6-17 when he isn’t.
Garoppolo hung in there all year and San Francisco reached the Super Bowl, which once again solidified Garoppolo as the starter despite plenty of red flags that would suggest that the 49ers should do anything in their power to refortify the position with an upgrade or a backup plan.
Instead, Lynch bypassed any opportunity to sign Tom Brady in free agency in 2020 and while it is still too early to say if this was the wrong move or not, decided to trade up for Brandon Aiyuk over Jordan Love in the draft last year. I can’t say what anyone else’s opinion is on Love vs the trio of Mac Jones, Justin Fields, and Trey Lance, but I can say that had the 49ers opted to pick the QB in 2020, they wouldn’t have had to deal their 2022 and 2023 first rounders for a prospect this year.
A prospect who might not even be that much more highly rated than Love was a year ago.
Of course, I’ve already said that I think the 49ers have made a major move already and that they’ll be competing for the Super Bowl next season because of it. But that doesn’t change the fact that ever since their first offseason together — from missing out on the 2017 quarterbacks in the draft, to trading for Garoppolo, to extending him and leaving themselves out of multiple free agent opportunities, to telling Brady to kick rocks in 2020 — Shanahan and Lynch have usually gone the wrong way at the quarterback position.
Will the 2021 NFL Draft be the first time that they do go in the right direction?
Who are the 49ers picking with the third overall choice?
This poll is closed