Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports


Why the 49ers made the move to No. 3

Apr 12, 2021 at 12:01 PM0


Patrick Mahomes. Jared Goff. Carson Wentz. Cam Newton. Russell Wilson. What do these names have in common? Well, all of these quarterbacks were first-string quarterbacks on Super Bowl teams (Wentz was injured, but was QB1 on the Eagles).

Most importantly, they were all on their rookie contracts during the year their teams made the Super Bowl.

On March 26, the San Fransisco 49ers sent a boatload of picks: the No. 12 pick, their next two first-rounders, AND a third-round compensatory selection in 2022 for the No. 3 pick this year. Given the magnitude of the trade and the amount the 49ers gave up, many were questioning whether the trade up to presumably grab a quarterback was worth it for the franchise.

Recent History


Well, recent history proves that it could very well pay off for the 49ers. Out of the last eight Super Bowls, seven of them have involved a quarterback on a rookie contract. Over recent years, teams have realized that the best way to put together championship rosters is to draft a quarterback to a rookie contract, so that money can be allotted to other essential positions like the offensive and defensive lines.

With huge contracts expected for upcoming free agent LB Fred Warner, and star DE Nick Bosa, and with big money already allocated to TE George Kittle (5 years, $75 million), DE Arik Armstead (5 years, $85 million), and Trent Williams (6 years, $138 million), the 49ers need to look at shedding salaries to remain in championship contention. With the trade up to No. 3 overall, the 49ers are in prime position to secure that franchise quarterback on that rookie contract, ultimately saving money at a key position that can be allocated elsewhere.

The 49ers need to capitalize on their current championship window and following a similar route of other successful franchises could propel them back into the Super Bowl over the next few years.

The Kansas City Chiefs


The most recent case of a quarterback making the Super Bowl while playing under his entry contract: star QB Patrick Mahomes, who just made back-to-back Super Bowls. When Mahomes first entered the league, he was not put under the spotlight immediately, but rather played as the backup to QB Alex Smith for a season before taking over as the starter in 2018. Look for the 49ers to follow the same method as they have remained adamant about keeping incumbent starter Jimmy Garoppolo for the upcoming season.

While fans have remained hesitant about Garoppolo due to his extensive injury history and mediocre play at times, he could serve as the perfect bridge quarterback, as he led the 49ers to the Super Bowl just two years ago, before handing the reins to the franchise quarterback. Jimmy Garoppolo's contract has no more guaranteed money and could be a prime trade candidate next offseason to secure more draft capital, while also allowing the cap-stricken 49ers to shed salary.

The Quarterback Fallacy


In the NFL Draft, many teams assume drafting their franchise quarterback will solve their problems immediately, which is why the position is considered the most important in all of football.

However, recent quarterback picks have proven that assumption wrong. In the 2020 NFL Draft, Joe Burrow was drafted as the plug-and-play starter for the Cincinnati Bengals with the No. 1 pick. However, his season, and essentially that of the Bengals, was cut short due to his ACL injury, stemming from poor offensive line play. In addition, Tua Tagovailoa was taken at No. 5 in the 2020 Draft but failed to produce NFL numbers due to a variety of factors like poor offensive line play, poor wide receiver separation, and internal mistakes. Similarly, in the highly-touted 2018 NFL Draft, quarterbacks Sam Darnold and Josh Rosen were taken as plug-and-play starters with picks No. 3 and No. 10, respectively, but failed to live up to expectations due to the lack of talent surrounding them.

The point is that younger quarterbacks need a stable system in order to function, and with the 49ers retaining many free agents, along with having a strong core of players, they are in a prime position to provide the quarterback of their choice with that stable system in order to succeed. This specific reason made it an easy decision for GM John Lynch and HC Kyle Shanahan to pull the trigger on the trade and move up nine spots to pick No. 3.

The Loss of Draft Picks


While the loss of first-round picks may sting the 49ers, the impact may not be as significant as initially believed. During the next two years, whether Jimmy Garoppolo or another quarterback is under center, the 49er roster should be good enough to propel them into the playoffs, lowering the value of those draft picks.

In addition, the 49ers have had much success with their mid-round picks in recent history, suggesting that their eye for talent has been successful in those spots. Over the last four years, they have found C.J. Beathard and Fred Warner in the third round, George Kittle, D.J. Reed, and Dre Greenlaw in the fifth round, as well as D.J. Jones and Justin Skule in the sixth round.

All of these players have started at least once for the 49ers, with Fred Warner and George Kittle blossoming into All-Pro players. Kyle Shanahan and John Lynch's eyes for talent have been proven through their mid-round selections and, with no reason to believe this will stop in ensuing drafts, this will minimize the impact of the loss of draft picks.

Future Implications


The move up to No. 3 almost certainly signals a quarterback change in 2022, when the 49ers can move on from Jimmy Garoppolo without any cap penalties.

If Garoppolo can rebound from his injury-riddled 2020 campaign and put together a solid 2021 season, his trade value could increase, leading to a potential trade in the 2022 offseason. If Garoppolo either fails to remain healthy for the duration of the season or if he underperforms and cannot gain any trade traction, look for the 49ers to cut him and move on from his hefty salary.

However, the presumed change at quarterback signifies much more than just the quarterback change.

Trading up to the third pick almost certainly takes the 49ers out of the Deshaun Watson sweepstakes, but raises another question for the 49ers: will they extend Fred Warner? The rumors regarding Watson occasionally involved Warner given his upcoming contract extension and the hefty price that will come with it. The extra cap space that is most likely preserved with the quarterback switch could be used to extend Warner or star DE Nick Bosa.

However, with the amount of money tied up in the defensive line with Dee Ford and Arik Armstead, the 49ers may be reluctant to allocate even more money to both Bosa and Warner. They followed the same agenda last year when choosing to extend Armstead over DeForest Buckner and instead shipped Buckner to the Indianapolis Colts for the No. 13 pick in the 2020 NFL Draft.

Along with the cap implications, the presumed change at quarterback also stresses the importance of hitting draft picks over the next few years to fill in rotational holes that could open as a result of players hitting the open market. While the 49ers were able to re-sign many of their key free agents, like Jason Verrett, K'Waun Williams, D.J. Jones, and Jaquiski Tartt, to one-year deals, their ability to do so again may be limited in future years due to the expanded cap. Therefore, it is extremely important for them to have solid draft classes to supplement their talent in order to keep their Super Bowl hopes alive.

What if the Move Goes Wrong?


Kyle Shanahan and John Lynch's futures as the head of the 49er front office are likely dependent on the third pick of the draft. Given the bold move to trade three first-round picks, the pressure is on the duo to hit on the pick, especially with such a highly-regarded quarterback class.

In addition, if the pick turns out to be a miss, the 49ers could be forced to hit the reset button as many of their younger and aging players are set for high-priced extensions, which the Niners may not want to pay if they are not in championship contention.

Another issue that could potentially stem if the 49ers miss on their No. 3 pick is the lack of future capital to keep the team stable. After trading up, the 49ers are without a first-round pick for the next two years, throwing away their chances at drafting cheap talent in the first round to fill out their roster. They also lose their third-round compensatory pick, which could have significant implications as the 49ers have previously hit on their mid-round picks in past years.

Overall Thoughts


The Niners are in an interesting situation as they pick third in the upcoming draft. After securing their quarterback, they have much to think about on their future. However, the move to No. 3 makes a lot of sense for this franchise seeking to get back to the Super Bowl and could potentially pay off if it makes the right selection.
The views 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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