The San Francisco 49ers could be heavily affected by what happens during the offseason and the 2020 NFL Draft depending on how many quarterbacks move between now and April.
After all, the Niners hold only one pick, the aforementioned selection, between Rounds 1 and 4. They have two picks in Round 5, another pick in Round 6 and then two more in the seventh round.
Granted, head coach Kyle Shanahan’s squad doesn’t have a lot of needs heading into 2020. But the needs are pressing. Pending free agents Arik Armstead, Jimmie Ward and Emmanuel Sanders could all hit the open market, and the 49ers have to start thinking about long-term replacements for left tackle Joe Staley and cornerback Richard Sherman.
Acquiring more draft capital via a trade down would be smart and likely beneficial. But it’s always important to note it takes two teams to execute a trade. No other team would be willing to dish out draft picks to San Francisco for the No. 31 overall selection just for the sake of doing so.
Quarterbacks typically garner the most attention on draft day in regards to trades. In 2017, the Niners moved down from the No. 2 overall selection with the Chicago Bears so the latter team could grab quarterback Mitchell Trubisky. In 2018, the Baltimore Ravens sent their second- and fourth-round picks, along with a 2019 second-round pick, to the Philadelphia Eagles in exchange for Philly’s fourth-round selection and the ability to take quarterback Lamar Jackson with the final selection in Round 1 that year.
The Eagles’ trade down in 2018 closely resembles what the 49ers could do, should another team be looking at trading up into the final stages of Round 1.
But will anything of the sort happen?
There is no shortage of teams needing a future quarterback this offseason. The Los Angeles Chargers have already stated they’re moving on from the veteran, Philip Rivers. Speculation also suggests the New England Patriots and future Hall of Famer Tom Brady could part ways this offseason, perhaps sending Brady to a team like the Chargers, Chicago Bears or Indianapolis Colts, as ESPN’s Bill Barnwell suggested.
The New Orleans Saints could lose quarterbacks Drew Brees and Teddy Bridgewater this offseason, as both are pending free agents, while the Tennessee Titans could also lose their top two signal-callers, Ryan Tannehill and Marcus Mariota. Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton‘s future is also in question.
Meanwhile, the Pittsburgh Steelers didn’t exactly figure out their long-term replacement options for Ben Roethlisberger, not getting the desired results from backup quarterbacks, Mason Rudolph and Devlin Hodges.
See how crazy this offseason is starting to look?
Quarterbacks like Brady, Rivers and Brees are all getting up there in age, too, meaning whichever team signs them this offseason will have to start thinking about future quarterbacking investments sooner than later.
That leads to the NFL Draft, where teams will be looking for the next stud signal-caller such as Jackson or the Kansas City Chiefs’ Patrick Mahomes, who both commanded trade ups from their respective teams. Teams like the Chargers, Panthers, Bears, Miami Dolphins, Cincinnati Bengals and Tampa Bay Buccaneers could all be looking at QBs early, creating quite the lucrative market for trade scenarios.
And quarterback values almost always increase leading up to the draft.
LSU’s Joe Burrow is likely the No. 1 overall pick, slated to go to the top-drafting Bengals. Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa could possibly be a top-five pick, although injuries have hindered his draft stock. Oregon’s Justin Herbert will go in Round 1, while Georgia’s Jake Fromm is arguably on the fringes of the first and second rounds. Washington’s Jacob Eason could also see his stock rise if he excels at the 2020 NFL Scouting Combine.
So, how do the 49ers fit into all of this?
Let’s start with the Steelers, who dished off their 2020 first-round selection to the Dolphins in exchange for safety Minkah Fitzpatrick. Roethlisberger should return this season from a lengthy injury, meaning Pittsburgh won’t be pressed into getting desperate. But if they fall for a guy like Fromm or Eason, it wouldn’t be shocking to see a move from their first pick, No. 49 overall, to get into Round 1.
But the Steelers would likely have to dip into their 2021 draft stockpile to make a move with the 49ers.
The Bears also don’t have a first-round pick, and it’s perfectly reasonable to assume they’ll want to at least find some competition for the underperforming Trubisky. Even if a quarterback like Brady signs with Chicago, it wouldn’t be out of reason to think the 49ers pull off yet another draft-day exchange with the Bears.
The point of all this is to understand free agency and the quarterbacking carousel will have a significant effect on what San Francisco’s draft-day moves end up being. Particularly if fans and analysts are predicting a trade down.
Yet that might not completely answer all the other teams’ long-term plans, either, especially if some of the older quarterbacks wind up providing little more than stopgap options until a younger quarterback is selected and developed.
Instead, the start of NFL free agency on March 18 will provide a much clearer picture for both the 49ers and the rest of the draft picture later in April.