All eyes are on the San Francisco 49ers heading into the 2021 NFL Draft. After rising from # 12 to # 3, the NFL media is focused on which quarterback general manager John Lynch and head coach Kyle Shanahan will pick.
We’ve heard several draft experts and NFL insiders share their views since the trade, and many of them believe the Niners Alabamas will take Mac Jones. But Justin Fields and Trey Lance remain fascinating options that could be the QB of the future for the franchise.
The anticipation for the draft of April 29th continues to grow and we will finally receive an answer on this date. But that’s just the beginning of a couple of years of full pressure for Lynch and Shanahan.
San Francisco is entering its fifth season, with the duo in charge. Lynch and Shanahan were playing for housekeeping when they took over in 2017, with a squad that ran out of talent thanks to former general manager Trent Baalke.
Fans knew they had to be patient as Lynch and Shanahan rebuilt the roster and culture. The 49ers took a 6-10 lead in 2017 – largely thanks to Jimmy Garoppolo, who won his last five starts of the season – and expectations rose the following season.
All hopes for a playoff spot were gone after week 3 of the 2018 campaign when Garoppolo suffered a torn ACL. The Niners went 2-14, but their consolation prize was the opportunity to pick a phenomenal defender in Nick Bosa.
With a healthy Garoppolo and Bosa, San Francisco grew into a juggernaut in 2019, went 13: 3 and ran to the Super Bowl. Since then, expectations of the franchise have changed.
The success of the 2019 campaign put the 49ers in the top tier of the NFL and they were viewed as the Super Bowl favorites for the 2020 season. Unfortunately, thanks to an unprecedented number of injuries, the team never had a chance to defend their NFC crown.
The Niners were among the busiest teams in the off-season. Lynch and Shanahan have signed several key freelance agents including Trent Williams, Kyle Juszczyk, Jason Verrett, Emmanuel Moseley and Jaquiski Tartt. They also went outside the building to sign former all-pro center Alex Mack and pass-rusher Samson Ebukam.
It looked like the plan was to run it back with a healthy Garoppolo and several players from the 2019 squad still in action. That changed, however, on March 26th when the Niners closed the deal with the Miami Dolphins to climb to # 3. San Francisco abandoned their No. 12 pick this season, 2022 and 2023 in the first round, as well as a third-place finisher in 2022.
The move was taken to select the QB of the future and signaled that Garoppolo is not part of the team’s long-term plans.
With the trade, the pressure has increased on Lynch and Shanahan to host a championship in the coming seasons. The 49ers gave up significant assets to acquire their future QB that they cannot afford to blow the selection.
Lynch will be signed until 2024, while Shanahan’s contract expires a year later. If Jones, Fields, or Lance turn out to be broke, we probably won’t see any of them close down their deals.
Jed York gave the duo expansions because they clearly believe in the direction the team is headed for, but that could change if we don’t see which rookie QB they pick turns into a top 10 NFL signal caller.
Recent history has not side with Lynch and Shanahan when it comes to teams that have acted. Shanahan and his father Mike were with the Washington Football team when the organization faced Robert Griffin III in 2012. After a spectacular season of rookies, Griffin fell back to earth due to injuries and various other reasons. Washington left at 3:13 in 2013, and most of the coaching and front office staff were laid off.
Both the Los Angeles Rams and Philadelphia Eagles rose in 2016 to choose their future quarterbacks. Les Snead orchestrated the deal to make the best pick for Jared Goff, who was sold to the Detroit Lions against veteran Matthew Stafford last off-season.
Jeff Fisher was the Rams head coach for 13 games during Goff’s rookie campaign before he was fired. Snead has stayed as GM, largely due to the fact that LA has made the playoffs for three of the past four seasons, including a trip to the Super Bowl in 2018.
The Eagles switched from head coach Doug Pederson after last season, though the team won the Super Bowl in 2017 and was in the postseason for two of the following three seasons. Philadelphia also cut ties with Carson Wentz and traded him for the Indianapolis Colts.
It will be interesting to see what happens to Lynch and Shanahan when their choices stall and turn out to be a failure. The New York Jets ended the Sam Darnold experiment just three years after moving up to # 3 in 2018. The franchise itself is a mockery of the NFL teams and cleaned the house after a 2:14 win last season.
Snead and Howie Roseman are the only GMs staying with their teams, while none of the coaches who were promoted to the top 3 at the time their organization rose to last more than five seasons.
If Jones, Fields, or Lance are unsuccessful, it’s hard to see how Lynch and Shanahan will fare through their current contracts. It looks like the Niners are committed to keeping Garoppolo for at least one more season, but that could change if another team offers a high draft pick for the QB in the coming weeks.
When it does, the pressure on Lynch, Shanahan, and any rookie who takes on QB immediately mounts. With Williams, Bosa, George Kittle and Fred Warner on the roster, the 49ers are built to win now. Without a competent QB, San Francisco has little chance of winning the elusive sixth Lombardi trophy.
It will be fascinating to see how this plays out in the years to come. Lynch and Shanahan are clearly pleased with this year’s harvest of QB prospects, and given the capital they have given up, they’d better be right or we could see another house clean within a few years.
How many seasons do you think Lynch and Shanahan will be if number 3 turns out to be a broke?