Kyle Shanahan has never kept his love for All-Pro wide receiver Julio Jones a secret. Their time together with the Atlanta Falcons gave Shanahan a front-row seat to Jones' dominance, and since moving on to become the 49ers' coach, Shanahan's opinion of Jones hasn't diminished.
So when the Falcons made Jones available via trade this offseason, naturally the 49ers were considered a potential landing spot. They reportedly had discussions with Atlanta, though they didn't amount to anything. Instead, the Tennessee Titans acquired him and the Falcons' 2023 sixth-round pick in exchange for the Titans' 2022 second-round pick and 2023 fourth-round selection.
That appeared to be a more-than-reasonable price to pay for the seven-time Pro Bowl receiver, which begs the question, why didn't the 49ers cough that up to get Jones?
As Shanahan explained during his press conference on Wednesday morning, it had everything to do with preserving future roster flexibility.
"Yeah, I mean, I think the simple, like you said, no one in the world doesn't want a guy like that," Shanahan said. "I mean everyone knows the player he is. But it's not as simple as that. You’ve got to build a team and it's not just year to year, you've got to build it for the future. And, you know, you just think about how hard it is going into drafts. You know, you never know what you're going to be able to do in free agency, who you're going to lose, who you're going to be able to bring in. You've got lots of guys on one-year contracts, things like that."
The 49ers already traded away their first and third-round picks in 2022 as part of the deal to trade up for Trey Lance in the draft. Consequently, San Francisco's cupboard of draft assets to offer to the Falcons was relatively bare compared to the Titans'.
"Everyone knows we don't have a first-round pick," Shanahan continued. "But what happens when you don't have a second-round pick and a fourth-round pick and you lose the number of guys in free agency, which you never can for sure count on? And then you end up going into a draft and you’ve got to get six new spots, but all you have is a third and a fifth-round pick.
"It's kind of tough to build your team that way and to consistently do it. But he's a hell of a player and he's going to definitely help Tennessee. And everyone knows how special he is, but it's, you’ve got to think about the short-term and the long-term and that's why those things are so risky for everybody.”
It's certainly possible the 49ers might end up regretting not trading for Jones, as his addition arguably would have made them Super Bowl favorites. That said, San Francisco still projects as a legitimate contender this coming season, and by not trading for Jones, the 49ers might have a better chance of maintaining that status in the years to come.