Despite a month's worth of pre-draft whispers and rumblings, the 49ers were not honed in on Alabama quarterback Mac Jones. They let the media take the narrative and run with it as they did their due diligence and ultimately landed on North Dakota State's Trey Lance as the pick at No. 3 overall.
Following the selection of Lance, 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan claimed the Bison star caught his eye in January and they had loved him ever since. So, what was the deal with the Jones smokescreen?
NBC Sports' Peter King believes the answer could be two-fold.
"Suppose the Niners want to convince the world they’re picking Jones, and suppose they’ve talked to several teams about Jimmy Garoppolo in trade, and suppose they’re trying to get a ransom for Garoppolo and suppose they think that if there are teams that want Garoppolo, they’ll pony up bigger packages than they’d offered," King writes in his latest "Football Morning In America" column.
"There’s another reason, too, for the mystery: Let’s take Kyle Shanahan at his word that he and Lynch didn’t decide with certainty that Lance was the guy until about 10 days before the draft. So for a month and a half, Shanahan could have deep discussions with coaches/scouts about the merits of the three quarterbacks available at three, so he could hear everything good and bad about them. If everybody in the organization knows you’re taking Player X, they’re more likely to echo-chamber all the good stuff about Player X rather than being totally honest about all three."
Trying to parse through the 49ers' decision not to squash the Jones talk is unnecessary, though. Shanahan and general manager John Lynch addressed it after they made Lance their quarterback of the future.
"We can go back to January for the timeline which we don't have enough time to go through," Shanahan said about the 49ers' interest in Lance. "But this is something that started since our season ended and our evaluation of people, starting with where we thought people were going to be available, whether we thought people were going to be on the trade markets, everything. We've been very high on Trey from the beginning. From Day 1.
"Yes, the person everyone else is speculating about [Mac Jones] we liked him too. But it was just, honestly to go through this whole process where nobody -- my friends, coaches, anybody -- how John and I feel and have felt this whole time and we do that because we don't want to sway people in this building, you want everyone to just work their butts off and give you their honest info."
Shanahan admitted he and Lynch didn't see a point in correcting the Jones talk because he didn't want the rest of the NFL knowing their plans for the pick. Even though the first two picks were set in stone and the smokescreen was unnecessary, the 49ers still wanted the entire league waiting on them at No.3.
"I was in Mexico the day we made the trade, and within hours there are at least two people who out there speculating that their opinions are they think we are taking Mac Jones," Shanahan said. "Ever since then I've kind of just watched every single person assume that those weren't opinions and that those were facts. And we didn't feel that way from the beginning. I wouldn't say there was no chance we wouldn't have. We were going to go through this process.
"I wouldn't have ever said it couldn't have ended up being him. But I knew how we felt about Trey the whole time."
Jones wound up going at No. 15 to the New England Patriots, which is an ideal fit for the Alabama signal-caller.
The 49ers now will head into the 2021 season with Garoppolo slated to be the starter while Lance sits, learns and develops. Shanahan said it would be hard for Lance to beat out Garoppolo, but the 49ers won't hesitate to throw the 21-year-old into the fire if they believe he is ready.
That ideally will be in 2022, after Garoppolo has a resurgent year and has upped his trade value while leading the 49ers on a Super Bowl run. But best-laid plans can easily get derailed in the NFL.
Lance has all the tools to be successful in the NFL and enters into a perfect situation for a rookie quarterback. Don't be surprised to see Lance on the field at some point in 2021, and if Garoppolo stumbles early, he just might grab the job early than many expect.
"I love his natural ability to play the position," Shanahan said when asked what attracted him to Lance. "Then when you add in a type of running element, which I've always been intrigued with, but when you've got a guy with the skillsets as far as speed and size, to where you're not going to make him a runner but if you can get in certain formations where the defense knows you will run him if they don't honor him, now everything is different. If you can ever get a guy like that and make 11-on-11 football then I think you got a guy who can change some things for you.
"But it always comes down to yeah, you can dabble in that, but you better be confident they can do everything else. He has played a year of football, it was at a smaller school, so that does take work. 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. So it's about believing."