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Ctrl+Z: 4 key decisions 49ers might “undo” if given the chance

Marc Adams
Apr 6, 2024 at 11:21 AM

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No one is perfect. Each of us makes mistakes. I do for sure. Peruse your way through the many articles I've written for 49ers Webzone and you'll see plenty of mistakes. Whether it's a typo or some prediction I offered that didn't go as I had thought.

The San Francisco 49ers are no different. John Lynch and Kyle Shanahan have made their share of mistakes. Fortunately for all of us, they hit on more than they miss. But I wonder if we were able to catch them in a moment of complete transparency if they might admit to wanting to hit the Ctrl+Z and "undo" some moves.

I doubt they will admit to such mistakes anytime soon, but fear not—I'm here to do it for them. Yes, I could write on the best decisions Lynch and Shanahan have made, but there are so many, it would be hard to narrow them down. There are a lot less bad ones than good ones. Here are four decisions the current 49ers regime has made that they might reconsider if they had the chance:

1. Drafting Solomon Thomas instead of Patrick Mahomes (2017)

This one is almost too easy to mention. If the 49ers had drafted QB Patrick Mahomes in 2017 instead of DL Solomon Thomas, Shanahan and Lynch would have likely led the team to multiple Super Bowl wins by now. But the 49ers admittedly didn't even scout Mahomes. In their defense, there weren't many teams high on him at the time. It just goes to show how hard it is to predict which college players will be stars in the NFL.

So while Thomas, who missed 16 games in his four seasons with the 49ers, wasn't terrible, he wasn't worthy of the number three overall pick. He started 30 games for the 49ers in four seasons but never managed to make much of an impact. During his time in San Francisco, Thomas had one fumble recovery, five sacks, and 23 QB hits.

Mahomes has already won three Super Bowls and played in a fourth. He will someday land in Canton, possibly being regarded as the best quarterback to ever play. Thomas, meanwhile, is no longer with the 49ers.

Did this decision cost the 49ers at least one Super Bowl? Yes. And it may continue to do so.

2. Choosing Arik Armstead over DeForest Buckner (2020)

In his final game with the 49ers, which happened to be Super Bowl LIV, DeForest Buckner had 1.5 sacks, six tackles (including one tackle for loss), and three QB hits. The 49ers rewarded that performance by trading the star defensive tackle to the Indianapolis Colts. They replaced Buckner by drafting DT Javon Kinlaw.

In trading Buckner, the 49ers decided to keep DT Arik Armstead over him. And though the Buckner trade allowed the 49ers to keep Amrstead and safety Jimmie Ward, as well as draft Kinlaw and Brandon Aiyuk, Armstead and Kinlaw were never able to match Buckner's production. Consider this:

  • Buckner has missed only three games in his entire career. Armstead missed more than that (five) last season. Kinlaw was healthy in 2023, but before that, missed 26 games.
  • Buckner is a three-time Pro Bowler and has been named All-Pro twice. Neither Amrstead nor Kinlaw has done so.

The 49ers could have used Buckner the past three seasons, especially deep in the postseason. And now both defensive tackles the 49ers chose over Buckner have moved on.

Did this decision cost the 49ers at least one Super Bowl? Perhaps, but it's hard to say for certain.

3. Using multiple first-round picks on Trey Lance (2021)

I'm still not ready to label Trey Lance a bust. I don't believe he's been given much of an opportunity to prove himself yet. But since Lance is no longer with the 49ers, he has to go on this list, especially considering the amount of draft capital the 49ers surrendered to draft him. The 49ers used three first-round picks and a third-rounder on Lance. Three years later, Lance is in Dallas and Brock Purdy is now the 49ers quarterback.

Missing on a QB is bad enough, but Purdy got the 49ers off the hook with that one, so to speak. But those two years without a first-round pick may catch up to them a year from now when salary cap cuts may be made. And that's not even mentioning that the 49ers likely could have stayed where they were and drafted QB Justin Fields or LB Micah Parsons. Imagine Parsons and Nick Bosa getting after the quarterback.

Did this decision cost the 49ers at least one Super Bowl? Probably. If Parsons played in Super Bowl LVIII with the 49ers, Mahomes' two comebacks are not as likely to happen. And with Parsons on the team, Matthew Stafford likely doesn't have the game he had against the 49ers in the 2021 NFC Championship Game.

4. Choosing Jimmy Garoppolo over Tom Brady (2020)

After the 2019 season, it was reported that legendary QB Tom Brady wanted to play for the 49ers. Shanahan and Lynch chose to stick with the younger Jimmy Garoppolo instead. Garoppolo had just led the 49ers to within seven minutes of winning the Super Bowl, and Brady hadn't looked like himself in 2019.

I was one of the ones who felt like San Francisco should stay with Garoppolo. I was wrong. And so was Lynch and Shanahan.

Brady went to Tampa and led the Buccaneers to a Super Bowl win. Maybe the 49ers wouldn't have won the Super Bowl in 2020. They were plagued with injuries that season, including a season-ender to Bosa. But it's safe to say that the 49ers likely win the Super Bowl in 2021 with Brady.

Garoppolo now plays for the Los Angeles Rams, and Brady is retired.

Did this decision cost the 49ers at least one Super Bowl? Yes, most likely. The dropped Jaquiski Tartt interception in the 2021 NFC Championship Game might not be as big of a deal with Brady running the offense.

Again, we all make mistakes for which we would love to hit Ctrl+Z and undo our mess. We can all use a do-over, or a mulligan, occasionally. The 49ers are no different. But a few of these mistakes may have cost the team multiple Super Bowls. And that makes some of them hard to swallow.
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