WHAT WE LEARNED: NFL WEEK 11
We’ve got a lot going on this week, but we’re going to open by focusing on the NFC West-leading San Francisco 49ers (6-4).
THE TREY LANCE TRADE GETS DUMBER BY THE DAY
I want you to go down a little flight of fancy with me. Back in the 2021 offseason, the San Francisco 49ers were looking at the No. 12 overall pick. Their quarterback, Jimmy Garoppolo, had been injured most of the previous season, but was just a year away from a posting a 13-3 record and taking the Niners all the way to the Super Bowl. And while he didn’t win it, he’s also not solely responsible for the loss as the team surrendered a double digit lead in the fourth quarter to the Kansas City Chiefs.
Garoppolo, a verified NFL starter who, at the time, boasted a 26-9 record and an NFC Championship.
But head coach Kyle Shanahan and general manager John Lynch thought they could do better. That they could be better. And, so they traded their next three first round picks for the opportunity to draft one of the 2021 rookie class of quarterbacks — Trevor Lawrence, Zach Wilson, Trey Lance, Justin Fields and Mac Jones. That year, 2021, San Francisco was slated to pick at No. 12 overall after a 6-10 finish.
Now, the word from the scouts and evaluators was that Lawrence might be a generational talent, an Andrew Luck and Peyton Manning type player. But, seeing as how the Niners were going to pick at three, there was little chance Lawrence would be there. So they would be picking their favorite from the other guys. And considering that they traded the three first rounders, without knowing which man would fall to them, shows that they had a solid grade on at least their own “top three.”
All of this, I remind you, with Garoppolo still under contract for the next two seasons. The guy that, again, had a winning record with the team, had never lost to their arch rival the Los Angeles Rams, and had just taken them to a Super Bowl and nearly won it a little over a calendar year before.
They pulled the trigger and with Lawrence and Zach Wilson already off the board, the Niners turned in a card with Trey Lance’s name on it, the quarterback from FCS North Dakota State. Lance was to be the QB of the future. A guy that had played one meaningful football game in a full season and, perhaps, never against NFL level competition.
Here’s the problem with that move and why it was dumb at the time. The 49ers aren’t a “team of the future.” They are built to win now and loaded with talent on both sides of the ball. This is one of the best rosters in football. They had a quarterback on that team that had proven he could win with that roster.
To make the whole situation even more ridiculous, If the Jets hadn’t taken Zach Wilson, then the Niners would have. Shanahan and Lynch had, at best, equal grades on Wilson and Lance. And regardless of what anyone says, Mac Jones was never in the conversation. Neither was Justin Fields and that’s a whole different level of dumb.
Yes, the same Zach Wilson that, here two years later, is one of the worst quarterbacks in the league was a guy for which San Francisco would have traded away three first round picks.
Lance and Wilson were coin flip guys for the 49ers. They were “either-or” instead of what they should have been, “neither-nor.”
Pretend with me, for a moment, that the Niners never made that trade. That they rightly assessed that they had the quarterback on their roster they needed win already and now they should just continue building the team around him.
They were originally going to pick at No. 12 in that 2021 NFL Draft. That pick eventually landed in the hands of the Dallas Cowboys via other trades. They selected, and I hope you are sitting down if you’re a 49er fan, Micah Parsons.
Yes, the pick the Niners originally possessed turned into one of the best defensive players in the NFL and a generational talent. But, if they’d wanted to, they could have instead selected offensive tackle Rashawn Slater, taken by the Los Angeles Chargers at No. 13. Or, maybe, Najee Harris, selected by the Pittsburgh Steelers at No. 24 (and that would have kept them from needing to trade for Christian McCaffery this season).
Yeah. That’s rough. If they’d held their original pick in this year’s draft (No. 29), they could have nabbed Christian Watson, Breece Hall, Wan’Dale Robinson, John Metchie III (yes, he’s out this year. He’ll be a monster when he returns), Jaquan Brisker, George Pickens, Alec Pierce, Skyy Moore, James Cook, Dameon Pierce, Isiah Pacheco and any number of other guys that could blow up later or that I just missed. Frankly, if they’d played the draft right, they could have remained in their spots and grabbed more than one of those men I just listed.
All added to the pile of All Pros and Pro Bowlers they already field.
But they traded three Nos. 1 for Trey Lance. A guy that never made it through his second start of this season and lost his first to…and let me check my notes…the QB that was never on Shanahan and Lynch’s radar — Justin Fields. Yes, the same Justin Fields that is lighting up fantasy leagues and is, unquestionably as of this writing, the best QB of the 2021 class here a year and a half into it.
Here’s the thing. Without Parsons on the roster, the Niners were a few minutes away from making another Super Bowl with Jimmy G. last season. If Parsons is there, with Nick Bosa and the rest of that defense, would they have gotten past the Rams in the NFC Championship and made another? Would they have then beaten the Cincinnati Bengals in the Super Bowl?
I’m thinking “yes” to both.
This season, Parsons already has 10 sacks. Do you think San Francisco could use that instead of Lance, a quarterback that, if he’d remained healthy, would have this same team at 3-7 right now?
This Niners team could be the class of the NFC. They could go to another Super Bowl and absolutely could win it. Jimmy Garoppolo, the guy that could make it happen (again) will be a free agent at the end of the season and, this time, will not be kept for any bargain price. Lance will get this job back and Jimmy G will land with the New York Jets, who made their own disastrous 2021 QB selection, but at least it didn’t cost them any future picks.
Trading three first rounders and a 2022 third rounder for a player that makes your team significantly worse, not only being on the field, but from what it cost to land him, is arguably one of the dumbest moves in NFL history.
IF THE PLAYOFFS STARTED TODAY
Since we’ve crossed the NFL’s Rubicon and the postseason is on the horizon, it’s time for our weekly peek into how every team is stacking up.
The AFC looks like this;
1. Kansas City Chiefs (8-2)
2. Miami Dolphins (7-3)
3. Tennessee Titans (7-3)
4. Baltimore Ravens (7-3)
5. Buffalo Bills (7-3)
6. New England Patriots (6-4)
7. Cincinnati Bengals (6-4)
Serious contenders: New York Jets (6-4), Los Angeles Chargers (5-5) and, unbelievably, the Indianapolis Colts (4-6-1).
Key games this week: Bengals at Titans, Chargers at Cardinals, Rams at Chiefs, Steelers at Colts
Your NFC bracket currently shapes up this way;
1. Philadelphia Eagles (9-1)
2. Minnesota Vikings (8-2)
3. San Francisco 49ers (6-4)
4. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (5-5)
5. Dallas Cowboys (7-3)
6. New York Giants (7-3)
7. Seattle Seahawks (6-4)
Serious contenders: Washington Commanders (6-5), Atlanta Falcons (5-6) and, I hope you are sitting down, the Detroit Lions (4-6)
Key games this week: Bills at Lions, Giants at Cowboys, Buccaneers at Browns, Falcons at Commanders, Raiders at Seahawks, Rams at Chiefs, Saints at 49ers, Packers at Eagles
While I haven’t listed the Los Angeles Rams and Green Bay Packers as serious contenders, you can’t really discount them until the math does. The Rams are dealing with every single injury you could imagine and their moves this week, in cutting Darrell Henderson, Justin Hollins and Kendall Blanton show they could be clearing cap to make a last ditch run at Odell Beckham Jr. or raiding every practice squad in the league for offensive linemen.
LA has started 10 different offensive lines this season. This Sunday against Kansas City, it’ll be the 11th and they might be without Matthew Stafford again. It’s all up in the air for them and, frankly, worth it for last year’s Super Bowl championship, but it’d be tough to see the defending champs end the season with a losing record.
As for the Pack, Aaron Rodgers is a head case and a weirdo, but the he’s still got it in him to do something special. Would anyone be surprised to see the Pack reel off seven straight victories to wrap the season?
It ain’t over yet.
Follow Adam Greene on Twitter @TheFirstMan.