At a time when potential trade packages have been discussed for franchise quarterbacks with three first-round picks as the starting point, it’s important to realize that the 49ers will indeed be making that kind of transaction, one month from Monday.
The 49ers have packaged three-first round picks — the 12th overall in 2021, and first-rounders in 2022 and 2023 — plus a 2022 third-round pick to move up to No. 3. To move up to select one player.
A potato/potahto debate always emerges when trades like this happen. Some will insist that the 49ers have invested only two first-round picks in the player they will draft. The truth is that it’s three.
It’s three because every first-round pick used on a player amounts to a first-round pick traded for that player. That’s what using a first-round pick is. It’s an exchange of that selection for the player obtained with it.
Teams can exchange their first-round picks for a rookie, or they can exchange their first-round picks for a player already in the league — like the Steelers did early in the 2019 season, when they exchanged their 2020 first-round pick for Minkah Fitzpatrick.
Thus, every first-round pick that ever gets used by a team constitutes a trade of a first-round pick for that player. Given the number of first-round picks that routinely fail, it’s odd that teams place so much significance in first-round picks. But a first-round pick before it’s used has unlimited possibilities; it can be the key to a Hall of Fame player who becomes the cornerstone to the franchise.
That’s the bizarre dichotomy that gets ignored in the months preceding every draft, when every prospect gets hyped and no one ever points out that half of the first-round picks that eventually will be made eventually will fail. Before the lottery ticket gets scratched, it can be a jackpot. Once the metallic paint is rubbed off with the edge of a quarter, everyone begins to find out what the player can be.
Sometimes he’s good, sometimes he’s not. In this specific case, the 49ers believe that whoever they get in exchange for the third overall pick in the draft — a pick they secured by exchanging three first-round picks and a third-round pick — will be a lottery ticket that, once scratched, will say something other than better luck next time.