Ahead of Super Bowl LVIII much has been made of how the San Francisco 49ers were able to build a championship-caliber roster despite some mistakes along the way. Particularly, for example, at the top of a few different draft classes.
Now, thanks to ESPN insider Adam Schefter, we now know the answer.
Let’s dive into this a little more. Ahead of the 2017 NFL Draft the 49ers were sitting pretty with the second overall selection, after finishing with a 2-14 record in Chip Kelly’s single season in San Francisco. The team hired Kyle Shanahan in January of 2017, and quarterback was certainly a need in the upcoming offseason.
However, the team went in a different direction, trading down from two to three in the draft and selecting defensive lineman Solomon Thomas. In fact, as Schefter pointed out on Sunday, they did not even do any draft work on one of the quarterbacks in the class that year.
Instead, the organization was eying the upcoming free agency class. Specifically, Kirk Cousins, who was set to become a free agent ahead of the 2018 season. The plan was to make a run at Cousins when he became a free agent and reunite him with Shanahan, after the two spent time together in Washington. So instead of drafting a quarterback early in the draft, the 49ers instead drafted one on Day 2, trading up in the third round for C.J. Beathard out of Iowa.
They drafted one of his Iowa teammates a few rounds later, tight end George Kittle.
Fast forward a few months. Ahead of the 2017 trade deadline the New England Patriots faced a decision. They still had Tom Brady on the roster, but they also had Jimmy Garoppolo, and seeing an opportunity to get something in return, the Patriots traded Garoppolo to San Francisco in exchange for a second-round selection.
Garoppolo shortly took over as the starter in San Francisco, and plans to pursue Cousins in free agency were scuttled.
A few years later, as you might recall, the 49ers made another aggressive move in the quarterback market. San Francisco limped — quite literally — to a 6-10 record in 2020 as players like Garoppolo, Kittle, Nick Bosa, Deebo Samuel, and more missed significant time.
They entered the draft with the 12th-overall selection, but traded up in the first round of the 2021 NFL Draft to get to the third-overall selection, where they drafted Trey Lance out of North Dakota State. Lance never lived up to the potential he showed at NDSU and despite giving up four picks to draft him — including a trio of first-round selections — the 49ers ultimately traded him to the Dallas Cowboys for a 2024 fourth-round pick.
As for Beathard, who was reportedly the only quarterback Shanahan wanted in the 2017 NFL Draft, given the future plan for Cousins, he too eventually left town. Beathard signed with the Jacksonville Jaguars ahead of the 2021 NFL season, and the 49ers received a seventh-round compensatory selection as a result.
Which they used to draft Brock Purdy.
So as you gather with friends and family to watch Super Bowl LVIII should the question come up regarding how the 49ers build their roster, the answer is simple.