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In the weeks leading up to the 2021 NFL Draft, the San Francisco 49ers traded with the Miami Dolphins to move into the third overall pick. After that, Mac Jones was rumored as their target prospect. The former Alabama quarterback was cited “according to sources” throughout national media as being a slam dunk to come off the board at that spot to replace current Niner starter Jimmy Garoppolo…until Trey Lance out of North Dakota State was called on stage by NFL commissioner Rodger Goodell.
Gasps and shock filled the NFL fan landscape. San Francisco’s general manager John Lynch pulled off yet another mind-bending move to try and return the 49er faithful to their previous glory while still retaining Garoppolo on the roster for now, but the evidence was there all along that this would be the case.
How do I know? I have been saying it for weeks on the Beyond The Buzzer podcast for anyone who would listen. Here were the clues that Mac Jones was never going to don a Red and Gold Jersey on draft day:
The Moving Target In The Media And Press
There are two fundamental things that are easy to forget as a consumer of sports headlines during this or any time of year. That teams will only leak stories that serve their purpose at a particular moment and that sports franchises are not obligated to leak the truth to their contacts in the press and the public by proxy.
If an executive within a professional sports league wants competitors to remain in the dark about something – or even mislead them – public relations is a valuable tool through which to do this. There are also no NFL rules preventing such activity (and if there were, it would be a strenuous thing to enforce).
Perhaps that’s why the initial rumors of Mac Jones as the target for the third overall selection shifted so quickly to Justin Fields during the weeks of Ohio State’s Pro Day. Fields’ performance, as impressive as it was, definitely makes for solid headlines and trending tweets, but it shouldn’t be enough to have enticed San Francisco to change their minds.
Because an NFL team’s front office would be crushed by the fans if they are confirmed to be wavering in such a fashion after giving up the hefty price tag of three first-round picks (2021, 2022, 2023) and a third-round pick (2022) to pick third overall this year. And that would have been over and above the fan’s bellyaching that came when headlines stated…
The Niners Said They Weren’t Trading Jimmy Garoppolo
While there have been plenty of times in the past where a franchise has said, “this quarterback is our guy” only to unceremoniously remove him from the roster within the same offseason, Garoppolo is a separate case.
The former Tom Brady back up in New England is 22-8 as a starter with a 67.5% completion rate while averaging over 237 yards per game in a run-first offense. He’s two years removed from leading the Kansas City Chiefs for 3.5 quarters during Super Bowl LIV in a game where he would have been an MVP candidate had they won.
Comparatively, draft experts and scouts have cited that Jones is similar to Garoppolo in playstyle and intelligence with an ability to read defenses and make good decisions. But if the Crimson Tide’s former man under center is just more of the same, why would a general manager as smart as Lynch risk having to break in a new starter and endure potential cap issues for the remaining two years of guaranteed money on a veteran quarterback contract?
The most staggering concern is Garoppolo’s injury history in San Francisco. Having been with the club for four seasons and the primary signal-caller for three of them, he still has fewer than two seasons of starts under his belt. But if that’s the reason why you’d think Jones is a good replacement, maybe one should consider…
Quarterback Mobility Is A Must In Today’s NFL
Now granted, this is more based on circumstantial evidence, but consider the following:
The past three NFL MVPs (2018-2020) were Patrick Mahomes, Lamar Jackson and Aaron Rodgers. And that doesn’t even account for guys who have carried their franchises to playoff appearances in that time such as Russell Wilson, DeShaun Watson and Josh Allen. While they are all prolific passers, the key thing that these top performers have in common is that they are all legitimate running threats.
49er head coach Kyle Shanahan has already been to two Super Bowls as an NFL coach and was mere minutes away from winning both of them. Over and above that, he’s seen around the league as an offensive guru throughout his 17-years on a professional sideline. In addition to that, he won the AP NFL Assistant Coach of the Year in 2016. Does it seem like Shanahan is the kind of coach that would ignore this trend in an environment that is referred to as a “copy-cat” league?
Sure, Garoppolo and Matt Ryan as Shanahan’s most successful quarterbacks are not well known for their mobility despite leading conference championship campaigns in the NFC. But especially considering Jimmy G’s injuries, it stands to reason that a man under center with some ability to escape is the best way to upgrade past a player who is seen as injury-prone.
At The End Of The Day…
It is perfectly possible that the Niners as an organization may have changed their minds after they traded up and that Lance’s selection was part of an elaborate smokescreen. But to move from a prospect whose school hasn’t produced a successful NFL passer in recent memory isn’t necessarily a bad thing, especially if the proliferation of hybrid quarterbacks and more-athletic pass rushers chasing them continues. From that standpoint, it only increases the chances of success for Lance and his offense if and when he takes the reins as a professional.