This could go down as the 49ers’ most important draft move ever. It certainly goes beyond picking first in 2005, when everyone guessed between Aaron Rodgers and Alex Smith.
Thursday’s pick is magnified tenfold.
The 49ers are in win-now mode. That 2005 roster was ghastly for Smith. This year’s roster is ready to roll – likely for Mac Jones, unless Jimmy Garoppolo loiters through 2021 and is not imminently traded.
Kyle Shanahan and John Lynch are entering Year 5. That’s an eternity for NFL job security without a Super Bowl win.
By Year 6 or 7, it’ll be confetti booms or ba-bye.
Their urgency to win Super Bowl LVI — in Los Angeles on Feb. 13 – likely will summon Jones into the 49ers’ spot at No. 3 overall. His pro-ready aptitude and pocket-passer style must appeal to Shanahan more than rawer but more mobile options. If that’s greeted as the 49ers’ most unpopular draft pick ever or at least of the social media age, so be it.
This isn’t the roster or time to develop a quarterback, a la Trey Lance.
Shanahan isn’t going to overhaul his offense, not at this critical stage, for any dual-threat quarterback. We think. We guess. We hear.
He wants a quarterback who’ll win now. The franchise’s Lombardi Trophy drought has aged 26 years, longer than an expensive bottle of Macallan (Scottish for “Mac Jones”).
INSIDE MAC JONES’ STATS
Super Bowl-winning quarterbacks must excel against elite, deceiving defenses, and a great measuring stick on handling that is how they fare on third down and in the red zone.
Jones didn’t just complete 77.4 percent of his passes (402) last season for an NCAA record. He also completed 77.4 percent in the red zone (41-of-53, 19 touchdowns, no interceptions, one sack).
Better yet, Jones completed 81.3 percent of his passes (75) with nine touchdowns and no interceptions in Alabama’s two playoff wins in January.
On third downs last season, Jones completed 71.6 percent of his passes (708) with eight touchdowns and two (of his season-total four) interceptions.
Who ranks No. 1 in 49ers history with a 67.5 completion percentage? Garoppolo.
LIVE WITH CONSEQUENCES
When I described Jones as a wildly unpopular choice among 49ers fans on social media – I did say such harvesting can be both foolish and prudent — I wanted Shanahan to explain Monday why that should not be the case and then have him extol Jones’ virtues.
Those completion-percentage and red-zone analytics are what I hoped Shanahan might relay. After all, he did some preemptive damage control at other times Monday as a late addition to the pre-draft press conference, his first in five years.
Instead, he seemingly put that off until draft day. He discussed the 49ers’ trade and draft process, culminating in this everlasting quote: “It’s up to us to live with the consequences.”
THE GM AMENDMENT
John Lynch invoked what we’ll call the GM Amendment on Monday’s witness stand, making sure not to fully incriminate himself if the wrong quarterback is picked. Lynch said the draft falls under his powers, but, seeing how Shanahan is the offensive play caller, he’ll defer to him on the quarterback call. That wasn’t breaking news. But it’s now on the court reporter’s transcript.
“The draft is mine,” Lynch said, “but I told Kyle from the beginning that this is, he and I are doing this together. When it comes to quarterbacks, I’d be foolish, I believe, we have a head coach who’s also our offensive play caller. I will always defer to him.
“What’s cool about that is that Kyle, I think, respects my opinion enough. He always wants it, and ultimately, we arrive at decisions, and come Thursday, we’ll have a pick that hopefully makes everyone proud, but that will be judged in years to come.”
What would I do if I was the 49ers’ draft czar? That was the fantasy proposed to me by 95.7 The Game’s “The Morning Roast” crew on Tuesday. Rather than blabber on about this draft’s quarterbacks, I sought to make amends for 2005: Con the Green Bay Packers into trading Aaron Rodgers to their NFC rival, in exchange for the No. 3 pick and whatever else is required for last season’s NFL MVP.
It won’t happen. But, with Rodgers’ future and financial situation still in limbo, I maintain that these next couple days could be fascinating if any sensible team makes a sneaky bid for him.
Of the incoming rookies, Jones might fit best for Shanahan among the available draft options. Justin Fields was my choice for much of the past month. Trey Lance is who I’m fascinated to watch — after just 318 college passes and only 30 last year.
Teddy Bridgewater commanded only a sixth-round draft pick in moving to the Denver Broncos from the Carolina Panthers, but perhaps more pertinent to the 49ers’ cause is the money exchanged. The Panthers reportedly will cover $7 million of Bridgewater’s salary, after he took a pay cut to $11.5 million.
If the 49ers reverse course and trade Garoppolo, perhaps they’ll be more willing to eat some of his $25 million payout this year. It’s hard to see them accepting anything less than a second-round pick, although a sixth for Bridgewater doesn’t enhance that theory.
Also, this eliminates Bridgewater as a 49ers backup in a post-Garoppolo world, so what veteran could they get to back up, presumably, Jones? Sam Darnold should be more locked in with the Panthers after the Bridgewater trade. Gardner Minshew from Jacksonville? Denver’s Drew Lock, who was a 2019 rookie with now-49ers QB coach Rich Scangarello?
Otherwise it’ll be Jones and a combination from Nate Sudfeld, Josh Rosen and Josh Johnson. As for Denver, I didn’t mock a quarterback to them, instead opting for linebacker Micah Parsons.
— Trey Lance only attempted 318 passes at North Dakota State, and just 30 in his only game last year. So that limited sample, combined with possibly learning from the sideline as an NFL rookie, makes for a lengthy and scary time away from game action. It’s not as if he wanted NDSU to opt out of the 2020 season.
“A lot of people think it was easy for him. That was just the opposite,” said his father, Carlton Lance. “It was a great ride for us as family to see him play well and win a national championship (in January 2020). We were excited to see him play again this whole (2020) year.”
When Lance told his dad that the speed of the game had slowed down for him as he mentally prepared in camp last summer, everyone got super excited, until the COVID-19 opt-out intervened.
“It got cut short, but he’ll have another opportunity here,” Carlton Lance, a 1994 49ers training camp defensive back, said of the NFL.
— Jacksonville Jaguars coach Urban Meyer left out Jones when he told the NFL Network that they’d narrowed their choices for the No. 1 pick to Trevor Lawrence, Zach Wilson and Fields. Sure. And the 49ers should keep that receipt for when they, and presumably Jones, face Jacksonville and undoubtedly Lawrence later this season.
— Steve Mariucci knows a thing or two about quarterbacks, including those from BYU. On Zach Wilson, the New York Jets’ projected No. 2 pick, Mariucci said: “He’s got everything. Whole package. If you like Aaron Rodgers and Mahomes and the way they create and do things crazy and differently, you like Zach Wilson, but he can play in the pocket, too.”
— Guard Tom Compton returned on a one-year deal Wednesday, adding depth behind Daniel Brunskill, Colton McKivitz and whatever rookie arrives via a probable Day 3 pick.