As the 49ers created the impression that they’d allowed a presumably decisive, all-in move to No. 3 to become a neurotic shell game they were playing against themselves, Simms and I made a prediction on PFT Live: Once the pick is made, they’ll bust their asses to get out the word that whoever they take was their guy all along.
That’s precisely what they’ve done. It’s precisely what they should do, even if it’s not the truth.
A new item from Jim Trotter of NFL Media gently suggests that it’s not the truth. Per Trotter, the 49ers made the move to No. 3 with the goal of performing “deep dives on [Trey] Lance and [Justin] Fields and . . . confident of getting either, if that’s where the evaluation process took them.” Per Trotter, “Jones was considered a safety net, if you will, someone they could win a title with but not necessarily a transcendent talent, because he lacks the mobility to consistently turn off-schedule plays into something positive.”
That seems to be what coach Kyle Shanahan is now looking for, even if he had to be persuaded to look for it. Four years after he didn’t give Patrick Mahomes or Deshaun Watson the time of day, ostensibly due to Shanahan’s belief that he’d sign on-schedule-only quarterback Kirk Cousins the following spring but possibly because Shanahan only wants quarterbacks who run the play that’s called without improvisation, Shanahan decided (perhaps after seeing what Mahomes did with seven minutes left in Super Bowl LIV) to embrace the notion of improvisation.
Still, plenty of people around the league believe Shanahan went into the process wanting Jones and eventually being persuaded by one or more of his colleagues to pivot to Lance.
The pivot to Lance was influenced in part by input from a former 49ers running back. Owner Jed York told Trotter than York sought an assessment from Frank Gore. Per Trotter, “weeks passed” after video was sent to Gore, and then Gore suddenly responded to York, with all-caps urgency.
“You don’t give up all that for a pocket passer,” Gore told Trotter. “You don’t give up all that and still need to call a perfect play for a guy. This guy can make plays even when the call ain’t perfect. He has a chance to be special in that offense.”
To justify giving up three first-round picks and a third-round pick to get Lance, he needs to provide more than a chance of being special. Especially since, given the way the board fell, they quite possibly would have gotten him at No. 12, keeping a pair of first-round picks and the third-rounder.
While it’s impossible to prove that Lance would have still been there (maybe the Bears would have taken him instead of Fields, for example, after trading up to No. 11), the 49ers paid a hefty price for certainty. That fact — coupled with the Wednesday night wild-hair effort to trade it all and more for Aaron Rodgers — puts even more pressure on Lance to be the guy the 49ers now hope he will be, and on Shanahan to make Lance into that guy.