The 49ers were one of the clear winners of the 2020 NFL Draft. Not just for the players they acquired, but also for the domino effect their selection of Brandon Aiyuk might cause, and how it could derail one of the top contenders for the NFC crown.
The Green Bay Packers were one win away from a trip to Super Bowl LIV last year, but they lacked the offensive explosiveness and ingenuity to overcome the vaunted 49ers defense.
So, the Packers entered the 2020 NFL Draft with a clear need at wide receiver, hoping to get Aaron Rodgers another dynamic weapon as his prime comes to a close. With their first-round pick coming at No. 30, the Packers were unlikely to be in play for CeeDee Lamb, Jerry Jeudy, Henry Ruggs or Justin Jefferson. But Aiyuk, the fifth likely first-round receiving prospect, was seen as a likely target for the Pack.
When the Philadelphia Eagles surprised many by selecting TCU wide receiver Jalen Reagor at No. 21, the door for Aiyuk to tumble to the Packers was opened. Jefferson went at No. 22 to the Minnesota Vikings and the door opened further.
The 49ers were concerned Green Bay wanted Aiyuk, so they vaulted up to get him at No. 25.
Based on what I’m gathering through several chats, sounds that 49ers were concerned about Packers drafting Brandon Aiyuk at No. 26. Lynch/Shanahan spoke of “intel” that spurred SF trade up to 25; that might’ve been it.— David Lombardi (@LombardiHimself) April 29, 2020
GB picked Jordan Love at 26; Aiyuk gone by then of course
The Packers were then left with a choice, one they did not come to the right conclusion on. While a number of talented receivers -- like Michael Pittman, Laviska Shenault and Chase Claypool -- remained available, the Packers elected not to draft for their current championship window, but pivot to their future by trading up to No. 26 to draft Utah State quarterback Jordan Love, who now is Rodgers' heir apparent.
All in all, the Packers' draft class was an afront to the art of drafting. With an aging great at quarterback who is known for his prickly nature and grudge-holding nature, the Packers elected to draft zero wide receivers, added a tight end who might play sparingly in 2020 and used their first-round pick on the man who will eventually replace Rodgers.
Trouble on the frozen tundra? Brett Favre, who has been in Rodgers' shoes, thinks so.
“Green Bay’s not going anywhere without Aaron Rodgers in the next few years,” Favre told NBC Sports' Rich Eisen on "The Rich Eisen Show.." “If he plays like we expect him to play, they’ve got a shot with or without a first-round receiver. He’s that good. So, I would do all I could to not burn that bridge, and I don’t think they did that. I think they burned a bridge that’s going to be hard to overcome. At some point, I think it will rear its ugly head.
“Green Bay’s one of (the teams) that should be playing for now,” Favre said. “They don’t draft any weapons, not just in the first round, but any weapons that can help immediately to my knowledge and that just sends a disrespect message to what I would think to Aaron Rodgers. He has every right to be disappointed if he is.”
The 49ers currently are the kings of the NFC, and with the additions of Aiyuk, Javon Kinlaw and the trade for Trent Williams, the ruling class only has become stronger and more entrenched atop the NFL pecking order.
The Packers, along with the New Orleans Saints, Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Seattle Seahawks were seen as the likely candidates to knock off the 49ers during their quest to return from the Super Bowl.
There should be little doubt that if Aiyuk had remained on the board past No. 25, the Packers would have moved up and gotten a weapon for Rodgers to help make the offense more dynamic and give it more big-play ability. He was a top-tier receiver in a loaded class and fit the Packers' need to a tee. The 49ers' move up forced the Packers to rethink their draft plans and, with Love still available, choose to focus on the future first and the present second. That no doubt sent a troubling message to Rodgers who is coming off a season in which he threw for 4,002 yards, 26 touchdowns and just four interceptions.
By taking Love, the Packers rocked their own boat and now Favre thinks Rodgers will finish his career in a different uniform.
"My gut tells me no," Favre said. "I don't know this for certain, but I guarantee you, it's got the wheels turning in Aaron's mind. If that's the case, then that means there's a chip on his shoulder toward the organization that otherwise was not there. All he needs is a reason other than this reason to expedite that."
General manager John Lynch couldn't have foreseen the ramifications of the Aiyuk pick. He and Shanahan had targeted the long-armed receiver and thought he'd fit perfectly in their offense. They were right. But the addition had the extra benefit of causing the Packers to poison their own well in reaction and perhaps removing a conference challenger from their path.
Not bad for a day's work.