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Kawakami: Lamar Jackson on the 49ers would make NFL defensive coordinators panic

Mar 11, 2023 at 2:43 PM--

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The Athletic's Tim Kawakami knows the San Francisco 49ers are starving for a championship. The Bay Area squad has fallen just short in three of the last four seasons. They can almost taste it.

The Niners came close in 2019, reaching the Super Bowl but collapsing late in the game. The team has reached the NFC title game in the last two seasons, both times believing they were the better team but coming up empty.

This past season, San Francisco went through four quarterbacks—Trey Lance, Jimmy Garoppolo, Brock Purdy, and finally, Josh Johnson. All suffered injuries. Lance went down in Week 2. Then, Garoppolo in Week 13. Lastly, Purdy and Johnson in the NFC Championship Game.

Garoppolo and Johnson will become free agents on Wednesday. Purdy just underwent surgery to repair the ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) tear in his right elbow. Lance should be full-go when the 49ers take the practice field for organized team activities (OTAs) in May.

Head coach Kyle Shanahan seemingly has a lot of confidence in Purdy after watching the second-year signal-caller emerge as last year's surprise rookie sensation. The team insists it still has faith in Lance, who has started just four games in two NFL seasons. However, it's too early to declare a verdict on the former No. 3 overall pick.

Then you have Lamar Jackson. The Baltimore Ravens placed the non-exclusive franchise tag on the former NFL MVP, giving them the right to match any offer from an interested team.

Kawakami believes the 49ers are (or were) intrigued by the possibility. At the very least, they probably haven't dismissed the idea, and the writer doesn't believe they should.

"I checked around myself on Wednesday and was told that the 49ers are looking at everything, as always," Kawakami wrote.

He notes that the 49ers were not included in a list of organizations seemingly ruled out of a potential Jackson sweepstakes—teams like the Carolina Panthers, Atlanta Falcons, Washington Commanders, and Miami Dolphins.

There are problems, though. The 49ers cannot offer the Ravens a first-round pick in this year's draft, along with another in next year's, should Baltimore opt not to match a contract offer. That comes with the territory of the non-exclusive franchise tag. San Francisco's first pick in the year's draft doesn't come until late in the third round.

Kawakami did note something interesting. What if the 49ers waited until after the draft?

"After that delay, the 49ers would give up their 2024 and 2025 first-rounders if the Ravens don't match the offer," wrote Kawakami.

Of course, the 49ers can offer less. The Ravens would just need to be OK with whatever is presented.

The money would be an issue. Adding Jackson would take up much of the Niners' salary cap space. According to, San Francisco owns just $6.7 million in available funds.

Kawakami says the 49ers getting involved in talks for Jackson depends on four things. First, the outcome of Purdy's surgery. That ended up going well, and the quarterback can begin his ramp-up period of throwing in three months, with a full recovery expected in about six months. Still, there is uncertainty there.

Second, the Ravens would have to be interested in Lance as a potential QB1 and value him as an equivalent to a first-round pick. If that happens, he may be packaged in a deal that only includes one first-round pick.

Third, the Ravens must believe their relationship with Jackson is beyond repair. If that is the case, they would prefer to get something for him now rather than watch him leave next year and get nothing in return.

Lastly, Jackson would have to be OK with making some concessions in a new contract.

"This also would take some 49ers sleight of hand, because the 49ers wouldn't want to give Baltimore the opportunity to match a moderate deal that Jackson might only want if it got him out of Baltimore," wrote Kawakami. "The 49ers would have to negotiate the trade simultaneously to the contract and only finalize the contract terms after they've agreed to trade terms with Baltimore."

Kawakami doesn't envision a Jackson-to-49ers deal coming to fruition. Still, it is a hot topic in the days leading to free agency. Why?

Kawakami explains, "Because the idea of Jackson lining up alongside Christian McCaffrey, Deebo Samuel, George Kittle and Brandon Aiyuk in 2023 would send jolts of panic through every defensive coordinator in the league. Because Jackson is still only 26 and has already achieved a lot, but has never played in this kind of offense run by this kind of offensive mind."

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