The 49ers crafted a gratuitous mystery when they moved from No. 12 to No. 3 in the 2021 draft, given that they knew they ran the board after Trevor Lawrence inevitably went to the Jaguars and Zach Wilson inevitably went to the Jets.
More than a month later, coach Kyle Shanahan finds humor in the fact that they successfully caused people to believe that they made the move to get Mac Jones, not Trey Lance.
“I do laugh at . . . that everyone thinks that they know exactly what I want at quarterback because I thought we had a chance to get [Kirk Cousins], the number one free agent quarterback who was going to be on the market in our second year,” Shanahan told Tim Kawakami of TheAthletic.com, via NBC Sports Bay Area. “And since we did, people just assume that’s how I would draw it up, which if you draw it up, obviously you’re going to give the guy everything. I do believe that you have to be able to win from the pocket in this league as a quarterback or it will catch up to you. But holy cow, if you can run, it makes playing from the pocket a lot easier because those defenses are going to change and stuff.”
He’s right. And he could have had a guy like that in Patrick Mahomes, with the second pick in the 2017 draft. But Shanahan was so hell bent on signing cousins in 2018 that he ignored both Mahomes and Deshaun Watson.
Personally (and at the risk of Kyle finding this annoying), I think the 49ers have freaked out a little bit (or a lot) after whiffing on Mahomes in 2017 and Tom Brady (who wanted badly to play for his hometown team) in 2020. They decided they can’t trust Jimmy Garoppolo to stay healthy, so they ultimately invested three first-round picks and a third-round pick in the ability to select Jones or Justin Fields or Lance. The fact that knowledgeable people (including Chris Simms, a former college teammate and close friend of Shanahan’s) believed it definitely was Jones means it definitely could have been Jones before Shanahan was persuaded by others in the organization to go all in with Lance.
Right or wrong, the ill-advised guessing game when there was no risk of being leapfrogged invites speculation that it was Jones before it was Lance — especially since the team did nothing to push back on the perception that it was Jones once people like Simms started saying it was Jones. Shanahan may have thought (as he’s said) that it all was an interesting case study in human dynamics. That may be the case, but it was also a piss-poor exercise by the franchise in crafting fan and media expectations.
THERE WAS NO NEED TO BE SECRETIVE, unless they traded up without truly knowing which player they planned to take. And if that’s the truth, then they did allow the Mahomes and Brady misadventures to cloud their judgment, because they could have stayed put at No. 12 and gotten Lance or Jones — especially since no one would have expected them to take either guy.
I know that this take will prompt 49ers fans to say I hate their team, just as the fans of every other team I ever criticize will say. And that’s fine. But it sure feels like the 49ers have f–ked this up, and it feels like (given the likelihood that Garoppolo will be the Week One starter for the 49er and given the very real possibility he’ll stay healthy all year like he did in 2019), they may f–k it up some more.