SANTA CLARA, Calif. – For San Francisco 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan, the biggest risk wasn't trading three first-round picks for the No. 3 selection where he could take a shot on the franchise quarterback of the future.
The chance he didn't want to take going forward anymore was going into a season without an elite quarterback who he believes can consistently carry a team to a Super Bowl.
“It’s a risk every single year you go into an NFL season without one of those top five guys,” Shanahan said Monday in his first public comments since last week's big trade for the No. 3 pick.
“It’s very tough to win in this league. There’s only a few quarterbacks that you’re going to win because of just the quarterback. Very few. Even those guys still need a good team around them. So you’ve got to take risks. This is a risk we were willing to take.”
This was by far the biggest chance the 49ers have taken since Shanahan and general manager John Lynch arrived in 2017. San Francisco traded the No. 12 overall pick, plus additional first-rounders in 2022 and '23 and a compensatory third-round pick in 2023 to Miami last Friday for the No. 3 selection in a quarterback-rich draft.
Lynch acknowledged that the Niners likely paid a premium to get the deal done a month before the draft but he followed an edict from Hall of Fame coach Bill Walsh to “to beat your opponent to the punch” and didn't want another team to swoop in and steal that pick away.
With Clemson's Trevor Lawrence almost assured of being picked first by Jacksonville and speculation that the New York Jets will take BYU's Zach Wilson second, Shanahan said the 49ers made the deal because they were comfortable taking at least three of the QBs in a class that also includes Ohio State's Justin Fields, North Dakota State's Trey Lance and Alabama's Mac Jones.
“We couldn’t make that decision before there were three guys. So we had to feel that way with three,” Shanahan said. “Now, I think there’s a chance to get there with four and five. There’s a chance. There’s five guys who are kind of at this party. People are talking about them going everywhere. They’re all over in the first round. Our feeling is these guys are going to go a lot higher than people realize.”
Now instead of being “left at altar” at No. 12 when looking for a quarterback, Shanahan believes he will be able to grab the players who will eventually replace Jimmy Garoppolo as starter.
Shanahan and Lynch will head to Alabama this week to watch Jones' Pro Day. They also have plans to see Fields in person before the draft.
Then some time before the first night of the draft on April 29, they will make the most consequential decision of their tenure and pick their quarterback of the future.
“It was a stated goal that we needed to come out with the quarterback position being stronger this year,” Lynch said. “I think we’ve put ourselves in a opportunity to make that happen with this move.”
Lynch and Shanahan maintain that the plan is still to stick with Garoppolo as the starter for now on a team they believe is talented enough to compete for a title.
Garoppolo helped the Niners reach the Super Bowl in the 2019 season, but he missed 23 starts the other two seasons because of injuries. San Francisco is 22-8 when Garoppolo starts compared to 7-27 with any other quarterback since Shanahan was hired.
But with Garoppolo owed more than $24 million in salary for this season with only a negligible dead cap charge if he is traded or cut, it's possible the team could choose to hand it over to the rookie if another team makes an attractive trade offer.
Shanahan called Garoppolo last week before the deal was made public to let him know and to assure him that he is still part of the team's plans for 2021.
“Jimmy was a little (ticked) off from it, just like I would be too,” Shanahan said. “But Jimmy, he’ll be fired up and come in and he’ll work his butt off. Knowing Jimmy, the more mad Jimmy gets, usually the better he gets. So if Jimmy just gets madder and he stays healthy, this is going to be a good thing for Jimmy, too, which could be a great problem for the 49ers.”
NOTES: The Niners also signed LB Nathan Gerry to a one-year deal.
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