Shanahan Must Give Up Final Say When It Comes to Picking the Quarterback of the 49ers

Levin T. Black
Feb 8, 2021 at 6:00 AM


There are a lot of things San Francisco 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan does extremely well. Picking the quarterback to lead the franchise isn't one of them and his failures at doing so have already cost the the team one Super Bowl.

It is wildly believed Shanahan was given final say over the decision. He can overrule general manager John Lynch and likely has at times since the two came together to turn around a flailing franchise in the post-Harbaugh era. The key to any offense is the quarterback and the duo leading the 49ers knew finding the right quarterback was going to be the biggest decision they faced following Colin Kaepernick's departure in the same offseason Lynch and Shanahan were hired.

Despite the impossible-to-overstate importance of the quarterback, the 49ers, and specifically Shanahan, have failed time and again to get a quarterback who excels in the phenomenal system Shanahan runs. Instead, for four seasons, the offense has been held back and limited due to the quarterback.

Make no mistake, Shanahan is a great coach and overall a big positive for the franchise. This is NOT a column starting the fire Shanahan bus, but Shanahan should be fired from choosing the quarterback of the 49ers. Let's recap.

It has been well chronicled that Shanahan was enamored by Kirk Cousins, a quarterback he helped mold when they were both with the Washington Football Team (pick a name already). His love for Cousins gave him tunnel vision. So resolute in being able to get Cousins when he became a free agent following the 2017 season was Shanahan that he failed to truly consider taking a quarterback at the top of the first draft he and Lynch were in control of.

Here's a video of Shanahan fully admitting he had tunnel vision and didn't look at the top quarterbacks available like Kansas City Chiefs Patrick Mahomes.


For those who can't watch the video here's a transcript of the key part:

"I didn't look into (Mahomes) as much as I should have. We definitely looked into him, studied all his tape. Was just a freak, could make any throw. Had the ability to do anything. It was a little bit situation for us. We had the second pick in the draft. Did not feel like from all the intel you get and stuff that he was going to go that high. And it was a little different situation for us because, I think it's pretty well documented of just the relationship I had with Kirk being in Washington and everything. I felt very confident that he wasn't going to stay there. Anytime you go into a season knowing that a franchise quarterback is going to be available the next year, it made me a lot more picky with what we were looking at."

Hate to say it but it needs to be said. That comes off very amateurish, like somebody ill-prepared to have final say in a draft. You do your due diligence and keep an open mind going into the draft, especially when it comes to trying to find a franchise quarterback.

Never count your chickens before they hatch also comes to mind. Was it a guarantee Cousins would choose the 49ers in free agency? Nothing is guaranteed. You can't be that naïve. How often does your team get to pick No. 2 overall, as the 49ers were in that first draft, AND have first choice of quarterback because the team picking first was going defensive line? The 49ers should have seized the opportunity.

It's inexcusable to not look into the top quarterbacks as much as you should have in the situation the 49ers were in, but it gets worse. Lynch answered some questions following his election to the Pro Football Hall of Fame over the weekend. Lynch revealed the 2017 NFL draft haunts him because he saw the potential in Mahomes.


Again if you can't watch, I'll summarize. Lynch said he attended Mahomes' Pro Day as a smokescreen but was so impressed he called Shanahan and said they should reconsider the decision to not take a quarterback in the first round. Obviously, the 49ers didn't reconsider. They took Solomon Thomas and passed not only on Mahomes but DeShaun Watson as well. Where would this franchise be if it had either one of those quarterbacks? Quest for Seven at the very least.

The 49ers did end up taking a quarterback in that first draft. C.J. Beathard was selected in the third round. It was not a popular selection then or now. Here's what ESPN's Nick Wagoner wrote at the time.

Beathard was considered a late-round pick by various draft analysts, and this looks like a reach from the outside. However, it's notable that Shanahan wanted to trade up for Beathard. Shanahan's history with quarterbacks should earn him the benefit of the doubt when it comes to evaluating the position, and since the Niners aren't drafting Beathard to be their franchise signal-caller, it's worth waiting to see what Shanahan can do with him.

This is just another example of Shanahan not being good at evaluating quarterbacks. What he thinks he needs is apparently not what is actually needed. Worse yet, he believes so strongly in his evaluation that he trades up for a quarterback not expected to be taken until later rounds. He's also stubbornly stuck by his choice of Beathard despite the quarterback showing little potential.

The 49ers did manage to get Jimmy Garoppolo. It's popular to bash the quarterback right now but the trade for him has clearly been a success. He's been a multi-year starter and helped the team to make a Super Bowl.

Is he a great starter? No. He's an average starting quarterback. There is a reason the team is looking at other options. I will say though, if Garoppolo had no injuries in 2018 and 2020, the 49ers probably wouldn't be looking elsewhere. Injuries matter. That's especially true if you're simply average when healthy.

So where are the 49ers now? Stuck in the mud. They didn't want to take a quarterback in that first draft because they felt it was too big of a risk; too much of an unknown. They played it safe and got burned. They've continued to play it safe. Now is the time the team must act and go out on a limb.

It's no secret that there is an abundance of veteran quarterbacks on the trade market. The team wasn't willing to pay the price for Matthew Stafford. I agree with that choice. I've long been one of the low guys on Stafford. However, they should pay the price for someone.

Sticking with Garoppolo represents the safe choice. The team doesn't have to trade and fully commit to anyone. But it MUST do something more than simply praying for Garoppolo to stay healthy.

Watson should be the first choice. Trade four first round picks if you have to. If the Houston Texans simply won't trade Watson, be aggressive in your pursuit of Dak Prescott. Heck, trading for Sam Darnold AND keeping Garoppolo would be fine. Of course there's the non-vet route, too.

If the 49ers can't get a veteran quarterback, they need to be aggressive in the NFL draft. In this scenario, Kyle shouldn't get final say. He's proven too risk averse in taking one at the top of the draft and his miss on Beathard shows he is likely simply not good at identifying the right quarterback. Lynch seemingly is. He saw Mahomes and knew he was special prior to that draft.

In order to get it right at quarterback, Shanahan, the offensive architect, needs to take a back seat. Seems crazy to say but the best coaches recognize their faults and allow smart men to step in. Lynch is a smart man. So is Vice President of Player Personnel Adam Peters.

Shanahan is a great talent evaluator at other positions. Quarterback simply isn't one of them.
The opinions within this article are those of the writer and, while just as important, are not necessarily those of the site as a whole.


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