In the end, Matthew Stafford did pack his bags for California, just a little more south than people expected.
The Detroit Lions agreed to trade Stafford, who many thought would land with the 49ers, to the Los Angeles Rams for Jared Goff, two first-round picks and a third-round pick. The trade will be finalized when the new league year begins.
Stafford is headed to Los Angeles, Aaron Rodgers is staying in Green Bay and the Houston Texans reportedly are not engaging in trade talks for Deshaun Watson at the moment. Yes, the 49ers missed out on what appeared to be their best option to upgrade at quarterback this offseason. They reportedly viewed the price for Stafford as too high and it appears they are content with Jimmy Garoppolo returning as the starting quarterback in 2021.
While it's a near certainty that Garoppolo will be the guy next season, the Lions-Rams trade could potentially give the 49ers an opening in the 2021 NFL Draft to select their future franchise signal-caller.
The 49ers, who own the No. 12 pick, sit on the draft's line of demarcation as it pertains to elite quarterbacks. According to The Athletics' Jeff Howe, 21 of the 36 quarterbacks drafted in the top-12 between 2000 and 2018 became Pro Bowlers while eight would be labeled as busts. According to Howe, quarterbacks who are taken outside the top-12 are three times more likely to become busts than Pro Bowlers.
Prior to the Stafford-Goff trade, it appeared the top four quarterbacks in this year's class -- Trevor Lawrence, Justin Fields, Zach Wilson and Trey Lance -- all would be off the board before the 49ers went on the clock. The Jacksonville Jaguars are taking Lawrence at No. 1. That's a lock. The New York Jets (No. 2), Atlanta Falcons (No. 4), Lions (No. 7), Carolina Panthers (No. 8) and Denver Broncos (No. 9) all were expected to be in the quarterback market.
However, that picture has been altered over the past few weeks. The Jets hired 49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh as their head coach and all signs point to Saleh and offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur wanting to give Sam Darnold a full season in their system to gauge his potential.
The Lions acquiring Goff likely takes Detroit out of the quarterback draft picture this season. Goff will be the Lions' starter in 2021 and likely 2022, although his contract becomes much easier to get out of after next season. Detroit gave new head coach Dan Campbell a six-year contract, and his roster needs to undergo a complete and total rebuild. With Goff under center, the Lions can focus on addressing their other roster needs while having an above-average NFL starter in Goff.
If the Lions and Jets are off the board, that leaves the Falcons, Panthers and Broncos in between the Jaguars and 49ers. It feels likely that the Falcons will choose to draft Matt Ryan's successor, letting new head coach Arthur Smith pick the quarterback he wants to run his system. While the Panthers have Teddy Bridgewater, Carolina reportedly was in the mix to acquire Stafford and would like to find a long-term answer at QB for Matt Rhule and Joe Brady to mold.
Denver is the wild-card team. While the Broncos reportedly sniffed around about a Stafford trade, the price became too rich and it feels likely the Broncos will give Drew Lock another year and elect to address their secondary at No. 9.
There certainly will be teams looking to move up in order to grab one of the top quarterbacks. The Washington Football Team, Chicago Bears and New England Patriots are prime candidates.
But as of right now, the 49ers could be in a good position to have Lance fall to them at No. 12.
Lance is the high-upside, "toolsy" QB prospect of the draft. He started only one season at North Dakota state, but he set the NCAA all-division record for most passing attempts without an interception at 287. He threw for 2,786 yards and 28 touchdowns while completing 66.9 percent of his passes. He also rushed 169 times for 1,110 yards and 14 scores. He led the FCS in passing efficiency (180.6) and set a school record for total offense with 3,886 yards.
Lance is seen as a prospect who would need to sit for a year to fully develop before taking over as an NFL starter. He's got great natural arm talent, showing good velocity and touch on downfield throws. His athleticism also makes him someone defenses must account for in the running game as he can move the chains with his legs.
After getting ripped apart by the Buffalo Bills, Kyle Shanahan admitted the 49ers would love to find their own version of Bills star quarterback Josh Allen. Allen, and Los Angeles Chargers rookie star Justin Herbert, were, like Lance, viewed as quarterback prospects who had all the tools to be NFL stars but had question marks about their ability to reach their potential.
The 49ers have other pressing needs outside of the QB position. The Niners need to find a long-term answer at cornerback, get an edge rusher to place opposite Nick Bosa and improve the interior of their offensive line.
Shanahan and general manager John Lynch most likely will go elsewhere with the No. 12 pick, choosing to believe in Garoppolo's ability to take a leap in 2021.
However, as the draft picture continues to change, Lance could slide out of the top 10. If Lance is there at No. 12, could the 49ers really pass on a prospect who has the arm talent, athleticism and physical gifts to thrive in the new age of the NFL?
Missing out on Stafford could end up being a gift a few months down the road if it leads the 49ers to the quarterback they've been looking for.