It’s more than a month until the NFL draft and the trade desk has already lit up with a pair of deals that will change the complexion of the first round and alter the destinities of three franchises. First, let’s review what went down:
San Francisco receives 2021 pick #3
Miami receives 2021 pick #12, #102, 49ers 2022 first, and 49ers 2023
Miami receives 2021 pick #6, #156
Philadelphia receives 2021 pick #12, #123, Dolphins 2022 first
What does this mean for the teams involved?
Kyle Shanahan and John Lynch are comfortable with any of BYU’s Zach Wilson, Ohio State’s Justin Fields, and North Dakota State’s Trey Lance (and Alabama’s Mac Jones?) at #3. They are obviously trading up for their quarterback of the future in a move to upgrade from Jimmy Garoppolo. Much like the Jets back in 2018 when they traded up from #6 to #3, the 49ers are obviously happy with any of the top three quarterbacks on their board.
The prospect of an athletic talent who can also harvest all of the passing game value that Shanahan’s system creates for a competent passer is exciting, and it’s possible that the quarterback the 49ers take has the highest fantasy upside even though they will likely be the third quarterback taken.
Wait, Mac Jones?
I don’t believe Jones belongs in the conversation with Wilson, Lance, and Fields, but Mike Silver, Daniel Jeremiah, and Chris Simms all immediately raised the possibility of Jones being the 49ers target at #3 and there’s no reason for them to create a smokescreen. In my opinion it would be a colossal folly to trade two future round picks for Jones, who is very limited outside of structure compared to the other three, but more foolish trades have happened in the past.
How do we know that the 49ers pick will likely be QB3?
"The Eagles wanted to trade up for Zach Wilson but actually to clarify they didn't want to at all" pic.twitter.com/21uyqOCcXJ— Ian Hartitz (@Ihartitz) March 26, 2021
Ian Rapoport quickly backtracked a report that the Eagles would only trade up to #3 (after all, they were obviously in contact with Miami about trade prospects) for Zach Wilson, but they “backed out”. Jets general manager Joe Douglas is tight with Eagles honcho Howie Roseman, so this is a clear tipoff that the Eagles felt reasonably certain that they couldn’t get Wilson at #3. Meanwhile, Jalen Hurts has a reason to keep looking over his shoulder, although at least this ensures that he’ll 2021 to prove that he can be the team’s quarterback of the future.
This means that that the trade value of the Falcons pick at #4 has gone way up, as anyone who wants one of the top four/five quarterbacks has more of a sense of urgency today, especially if they have a gap between QB4 and Jones, as I believe any rational team would. Of course, the Falcons could always take a quarterback at #4, but with Matt Ryan’s cap number at 40+ million next year, they would be looking at sitting their #4 pick for two years or wasting 40+ million of cap room, neither of which sound like good ideas. If Jones somehow goes #3, the Bengals would see a big jump in the value of their #5 pick, and we could see a scenario unfold where Miami still gets the top non-quarterback on the board after trading down, then back up, and pocketing an extra late third and 2023 first in the process.
For the record, 49ers fans should hope the pick is Trey Lance. If Lance is the pick at #3, I'll put him above Trevor Lawrence in my dynasty rookie rankings.
What about Jimmy Garoppolo?
Garoppolo is due about 25 million this year and the 49ers will only be on the hook for about 2.8 million in dead cap if they release him. They could trade him (Patriots?) but teams that were looking to hand out mid-level contracts to their starting quarterback (Washington, Chicago, New England) have already done that. Maybe Garoppolo would agree to a pay cut in a deal? Many close to the 49ers believe that they will keep Garoppolo and his hefty price tag and let the rookie sit for a year. Theoretically since Garoppolo has been to a Super Bowl, he gives them a better chance of getting there than a rookie, but Garoppolo has been mostly hurt or playing some of his worst football since that day. There’s no guarantee that Garoppolo will hold off the rookie taken at #3 for the regular season, forget about a playoff run. Look for Garoppolo to get dealt or released, or the 49ers to regret the decision to pay him 25 million dollars to eventually be a backup this season.
The Dolphins are happy with the non-quarterback talent at the top of the draft to move down from #3, knowing that quarterbacks will now go 1-2-3, but don’t believe it is deep enough for them to get one of their guys at #12. The move back up to #6 ensures a top three non-quarterback will be there, and they still pocket an extra late third this year and 2023 first for their trouble. Much like that Jets-Colts trade where the Colts got Quenton Nelson and three extra second-round picks, the Dolphins could easily get the #1 non-quarterback on their board and get the extra picks basically for free.
Who will the Dolphins target at 6?
They took two offensive tackles last year - Austin Jackson and Robert Hunt - and by most accounts like the development of both, so that lessens the need for a tackle, even though Oregon’s Penei Sewell and Northwestern’s Rashawn Slater are both among the top non-quarterbacks on the board. They must know the Bengals and Falcons could both be looking at tackles at #4 and #5, so trading back up to #6 for a tackle is not a good plan, although one of the two could be three and make the decision more complicated.
It is more likely that the Dolphins are going to take one of the top passing game weapons in the draft at #6. That could be LSU wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase, who is #1 at his position on most boards, Florida tight end Kyle Pitts, who could go higher than any tight end since Vernon Davis went #6 to San Francisco in 2006, or DeVonta Smith, Tagovailoa’s teammate at Alabama. Don’t get too hung up on the Will Fuller V signing as an obstacle to drafting a wide receiver high, that’s just a one-year deal. Preston Williams has had two catastrophic injuries in two years despite a bright outlook for an undrafted receiver. This team needs to build at wide receiver for the future, and giving Tagovailoa another weapon this year makes it easier to fully judge whether he’s the quarterback of the future. The extra 2023 first makes it easier to trade up for another quarterback of the future to inherit that weapon if Tagovailoa’s development plateaus.
Did Ian Rapoport let it slip that the Eagles were hot for Wilson but knew they couldn’t get him? Maybe. Jalen Hurts already knew that his future with the team was going to hinge on his 2021 performance, but he might have dodged a bullet when the Eagles didn’t make a move up. The Eagles are now out of play for a quarterback this year, solidifying Hurts 2021 fantasy draft stock. Unlike the Dolphins, the Eagles either were comfortable that the gap between the players available at 6 and 12 wasn’t as big as the value of a 2022 first, or just see the team in rebuilding mode, necessitating more assets to fill holes on the roster. They would have been a prime candidate to take one of that same group - Chase, Smith, or Pitts - that Miami is likely targeting. It’s possible one falls to them, but the other Alabama receiver, Jaylen Waddle, is also a possibility here. The Eagles could go any number of directions at the pick, but given where they are in their franchise arc, this was a smart deal for them, and trading a future first tp move up for Wilson or another quarterback when they could easily end up back in the top 10 next year is risky business.