Kyle Shanahan…..finally…..peels back the curtain on the conversations he's been having with John Lynch (since January) pic.twitter.com/rz3mvAZXMC
— KNBR (@KNBR) April 30, 2021
You were right to be concerned. We’re talking about a front office that passed on Patrick Mahomes (sure, use the Air Raid as an excuse) and Deshaun Watson for a chance at Kirk Cousins. They were, simply put, not above reproach.
But they got it right; at least, the process and decision are sound. Finally, Kyle Shanahan has his quarterback, which is a truly terrifying proposition for the rest of the NFL.
49ers leaned into speculation
There was too much buzz around Mac Jones, but it was all couched in rumors. It was a lot of speculation, tethered in an idea of what Kyle Shanahan wanted in a quarterback based on his past quarterbacks.
In the past, Shanahan has had success with not-so-mobile guys; Matt Ryan, Kirk Cousins, Jimmy Garoppolo.
But none of those players were hand-picked by Shanahan. What he clearly values above all else is processing, and basic in-pocket skills; footwork, vision, anticipation, timing, and a deep understanding of the playbook and situational adjustments. If you have those traits, as Shanahan made very clear Thursday night, then you can take advantage of everything else on the table.
And there is a hell of a lot left on Trey Lance’s table; a 6’4, 224-pounds frame, burner speed, top-shelf arm talent to attack every level of the field, and an intelligent, affable personality that’s worth quite a bit in a franchise quarterback.
Shanahan clarified that the rumors we’d heard were just that. It was Lynch and Shanahan under lock and key. No leaks. And you better believe when they saw the rumors about Mac Jones, well, why would they intervene and correct a false narrative that might benefit them?
“We’ve been very high on Trey since the beginning, since day one,” Shanahan said. “And yes, the person everyone else is speculating about, [Mac Jones], we liked him too. But honestly to go through this whole process where, no one has known — my friends, coaches, anybody — how John and I feel, and how we felt this whole time.”
That approach was by design. By withholding their preferences, the brass could get honest feedback from their scouts, coaches and outside sources. Despite keeping information to themselves, the rumors went wild. Within hours of making the trade up to three, Shanahan said he saw reports, or opinions framed as reports, that the 49ers were after Mac Jones.
“There’s at least two people who are out there speculating that their opinions are they think we’re taking Mac Jones, and ever since then I’ve kind of just watched every single person assume that that was accurate, and that those weren’t opinions, those were facts, and we didn’t feel that way from the beginning,” Shanahan said. “To kind of watch everyone just assume because a couple people say something that’s exactly how you feel, we weren’t going to work to correct that, at all. We thought that could be an advantage for us, especially when you look into stuff that just came out today (regarding Aaron Rodgers), stuff that — you never know with this league.”
As Shanahan put it, the 49ers lowered their head, working in a meritocratic way that ensured opinions could be shared without fear of being contrarian or against the grain. And the result, just as Shanahan had expected at the time of the trade, was Lance.
Why Shanahan fawned over Lance
As mentioned, there’s a ton to love about Lance. But much of what wasn’t clear about him, and perhaps the reason he wasn’t generally viewed as the 49ers’ preferred pick, was that you weren’t sure what was under the hood. According to Kyle Shanahan, Lance is one of the smartest prospects and likable people he’s had the pleasure of interacting with
What did Shanahan like?
- “The natural feeling he has for the quarterback position, which, that part entails getting the ball to the right spots. You try to figure out what plays they’re doing and does the ball go to where it should go to? When nothing is there, how quick are they to recognize and make it off schedule or to get rid of it, just not take a sack and don’t make it worse? You start to watch some of that stuff with him and I just, I loved his natural ability to play the position, which was very impressive.”
- “Then when you add on a type of running element, which I’ve always been intrigued with but when you’ve got a guy who’s got the skillsets, as far as speed and size to where you’re not going to make them a runner, but if you can get in certain formations where the defense knows you will run them, if they don’t honor them, now everything’s different. If you can ever get a guy like that and make 11 on 11 football, then I think you’ve got a guy who can change some things for you.”
- “Yeah, you can dabble in that but you better be confident they can do everything else. He’s played a year of football, it is at a smaller school, so it takes work and stuff and you’re not going to see it all. So, that’s why it is a hard process and that’s why there is no guarantees for any of us.”
- “Then you look at the skillset, all the height, weight and speed and that stuff that to me comes last.”
- “Then you try to get to know the person and that’s what was really cool about where we got that. I didn’t have to be sneaky with trying to know someone where he could know I was trying to get to know him. I could say a lot of stuff to him. I could be very upfront with him and I got to know him. He’s a guy that I think is a very good person, comes from a very good family. I think he is very impressive in terms of his intellect, how he deals with people, how he just handles the social situation and I looked at him as a CEO of a company.
Shanahan said he views accuracy as something that can be improved, and a characteristic that comes down to the individual, and which can be improved with footwork and eye positioning.
What happens with Jimmy?
He stays, for now. The 49ers definitely didn’t take Lance because they couldn’t move Garoppolo, but… they really can’t move Garoppolo at this point. Adam Schefter reported the Patriots were the only Garoppolo suitor, and they took Mac Jones. Denver acquired Teddy Bridgewater this week, leaving approximately no one as a viable suitor, unless Garoppolo, who has a no-trade clause, takes a pay cut.
While that may seem like a deeply unpalatable exercise, given the impending expiration of his time with the 49ers and the $26.1 million he is set to make this year, that’s all ethereal.
The reality is Garoppolo’s contract doesn’t matter because the 49ers retained and/or added the free agents at the positions they needed to, and still have a substantial amount of cap space (roughly $12 million, including Lance), plus eight more draft picks, with which to work.
Lance might get there by Day 1. But he’s thrown 318 career passes at a non-FCS school, and averaged about 18 passes per game. He’s toolsy, but raw, so it’s not at all out of the question for it to take him some time to get used to the offense and fine tune some parts of his game, like footwork or delivery. The 49ers aren’t going to completely overhaul his approach, but there are definitely elements of his game that can be amended.
For now, it does sound like Garoppolo will at least compete for the job. At some point this season, though, you’d bet Lance wins the job, whether that’s on Day 1 or Day 100.
“It would be a very tough situation if Jimmy’s not on our team,” Shanahan said. “I want Jimmy to be here and I want this kid to be brought along. I want to see how he does. If it turns into a competition, it turns into a competition. I’d be excited about that if he showed he was ready for it and stuff, but we know where Jimmy’s at.
“[Trey] hasn’t played football in a year. He hasn’t been to OTAs. I’d love to get him out here. It’d be very hard for me to picture a situation Jimmy’s not here on Sunday, because that would be, I think, very stressful for us because Jimmy is a very good player and I think we can win with him. So, we’ll play that by ear, but I expect Jimmy to be here and I’d be surprised if he wasn’t.”
So, Jimmy stays. The lack of significant trade compensation for him is a major factor here, but the explanation is also genuine. The 49ers have won with Garoppolo, and likely will again if he’s healthy. But their ceiling increases drastically with Lance.
Other notes: Rodgers, Shanahan’s existential answer, and Jed York’s trolling tweets
- 49ers inquired about Rodgers on Wednesday: Yes. A day before the 49ers drafted their quarterback of the future, they called the Green Bay Packers and asked about Aaron Rodgers. As John Lynch put it, that’s kind of just what you’d do when you hear the league MVP might be available. As he put it, “it wasn’t happening.”
“You’re talking about the MVP of our league last year, and I don’t know about you guys, but to me, when the MVP of the league might be available, and I didn’t know that, I’m just reading the tea leaves just like everybody else and saying, ‘Hold on, is something going on here?’ Yeah, we inquired and it was quick into the conversation, it wasn’t happening,” Lynch said. “As we’ve said, we’ve been convicted and excited for a long, long time. So, we went right back to where we’ve been, and that’s really excited about adding Trey Lance to the 49ers and we’re thrilled about that.”
- Emo Kyle was trying to be funny: Earlier this week, when asked if he could guarantee that Jimmy Garoppolo would be on the roster, Shanahan gave one of the most bizarre answers we’ve ever heard. He said on Thursday that he played back the quote in his head after the presser and realized how it sounded. He promptly called (FaceTimed) Garoppolo to explain that, in fact, he did not want him dead. The quote came out as a response to the question asker, the Chronicle’s Eric Branch. Shanahan said his relationship with Branch, who’s the comedian of the 49ers beat, was the reason he answered so oddly.
Here's the clip of Kyle Shanahan answering if Jimmy G will be on the roster on Sunday: "I can't guarantee that anybody in the world will be alive Sunday so I can't guarantee who will be on our roster on Sunday."pic.twitter.com/KwI1KUmQMI
— NFL Update (@MySportsUpdate) April 26, 2021
- Jed York, Twitter troll: 49ers CEO Jed York spent the better part of Thursday trolling on Twitter, and giving a go at being a comedian. The results were… mixed. Lynch, who laughed pretty hard when asked about York’s tweets, confirmed that he and Shanahan informed York on Wednesday. So this was indeed just York having fun:
— Jed York (@JedYork) April 30, 2021
#DraftDay want to apologize for the last tweet. Didn’t mean to offend anyone who tweets nonsense just to promote themself …. wait phone call coming in….. what area code is 920
— Jed York (@JedYork) April 29, 2021
#DraftDay thinking about going for a run. Suspense is too much. How many miles should I go for 1? 5? 10? 12? 16? or 1?
— Jed York (@JedYork) April 29, 2021
— Jed York (@JedYork) April 29, 2021