Once the 49ers made their blockbuster trade with the Miami Dolphins to move up to the No. 3 spot in the 2021 NFL Draft, the critics started picking apart the deal.
Many believed that general manager John Lynch and head coach Kyle Shanahan gave up too much -- first-round picks in 2022 and 2023 and a third-round pick in 2022 -- to acquire the pick that would eventually become North Dakota State quarterback Trey Lance.
But Shanahan has seen the success that his division rivals have had with dealing draft capital for difference-making players. The Seattle Seahawks gave up two first-round picks for safety Jamal Adams, and the Los Angeles Rams surrendered first-round picks to acquire both cornerback Jalen Ramsey and quarterback Matthew Stafford.
The success of those deals showed Shanahan that the price is worth it for certain players.
“Everyone talks about the draft capital and I totally understand all that,” Shanahan told NBC Sports' Peter King. “I know, growing up, how I felt about first-round picks. Those are such a big deal, and it’s true. They are. But I kept making the point just watching teams in our division these last few years, watching Seattle trade two ones for a strong safety, watching the Rams do it where they haven’t had one five years in a row, do it for a quarterback and a cornerback. I think all those were good moves. I think they have helped their teams.”
Another reason to like the deal for the 49ers is that they are primed to win now. Most teams that trade up to get a quarterback aren't ready to contend for a Super Bowl, and any draft capital they surrender is likely to come in the top half to top 20 picks of the first round. But Shanahan and the 49ers have a Super Bowl-ready roster that they believe will have them in the thick of the title picture of years to come, barring any severe injuries.
So, yes, the 49ers gave up two first-round picks to move up for Lance.
But they believe, probably correctly, that both of those picks will come in the final third of the first round which makes them, in theory, as valuable as a high second-round pick. That's easier to stomach.
With Jimmy Garoppolo expected to be healthy and starting in 2021, the 49ers should jump back into the thick of the NFC race. The last time Garoppolo was healthy, he piloted the 49ers to a 13-3 record and a berth in Super Bowl LIV. Lance should be ready to start come 2022, and if the 49ers nailed their evaluation of Lance, then they should be an NFC contender for the foreseeable future.
Of course, there's risk in any deal.
If the 49ers whiff on Lance or have another season plagued by injury, then the trade will look bad in hindsight.
But Shanahan and Lynch wanted to take control of their own destiny. They wanted their tenure with the 49ers to be defined not by their inability to win with an above-average quarterback, but by their success with their hand-picked signal-caller.
They got him in Lance. The price to control their destiny was two first-round picks.
Well worth it.