George Kittle would have loved it, and even though everything pointed to the 49ers drafting a quarterback at No. 3 overall in the 2021 NFL Draft, Sean McVay thought there was a chance Kyle Shanahan would shock everyone and zig by taking tight end Kyle Pitts instead.
“I thought there was a possibility that Kyle was gonna go Pitts at three,” McVay said on The Ringer's "Flying Coach" podcast. “In all seriousness, because he’s such a visionary. I’m telling you, I didn’t think it was going to be a crazy thought because you go back to when New England had the two-tight end set and they were doing things totally different. You think about what (George) Kittle -- and then the thing that makes sense is, hey, Jimmy’s (Garoppolo) produced all the way. This isn’t a production thing. This is an availability thing.
"So if it’s not Mac Jones -- and I hadn’t studied Trey because there wasn’t a lot of film exposure going back a couple years and we weren’t in that market, so I didn’t know other than watching him throw at his pro day that you’re saying, ‘Alright, you can see a lot of the things that you like and that would make sense.’”
The 49ers, of course, made their blockbuster trade with the Miami Dolphins -- sending first-round picks in 2022 and 2023 along with a 2022 third-rounder -- to move up to No. 3 to select the quarterback they want leading their team for the next decade. While many thought that Mac Jones would be the pick, Shanahan appears to have always had his eyes on Trey Lance.
Pitts, who many draft analysts believed was the best overall player in the draft, ended up going one pick later at No. 4 to the Atlanta Falcons. The thought of pairing Pitts with Kittle had to be tempting for Shanahan. But given Jimmy Garoppolo's constant injury issues, the 49ers no longer could hang their Super Bowl dreams on the thought that he would remain healthy.
Even Pitts thought he might be an option for San Francisco when the trade initially occurred, but it quickly became clear the 49ers were in the market for one of the draft's top quarterbacks.
The thought of pairing Pitts with Kittle no doubt would be tempting, but Shanahan and John Lynch wanted to make sure their destiny was in their own hands. They didn't want the story of their 49ers tenure to be filled with what-ifs. They wanted to go down with their hand-picked quarterback and see Lance, who has top-level arm talent and elite athleticism, as someone who can take the 49ers' offense to the next level.
Garoppolo has approached Lance's arrival with a diplomatic attitude, setting the right tone for what the 49ers hope is a return to Super Bowl contention this season. Garoppolo is expected to remain the starter this season before turning the keys over to Lance in 2022. The 29-year-old has been a successful quarterback when on the field, but he has missed 23 games in the past three seasons and has clear limitations in Shanahan's offense.
As for Pitts, he'll join a Falcons team entering a semi-rebuild with new head coach Arthur Smith. The 49ers will get an in-person look at the talented tight end when the Falcons visit the 49ers on Dec. 19.