If you needed a sign that free agency was over and draft season had begun, a wave of draft trades should do the trick. Let’s lay them out, shall we?
First, the San Francisco 49ers moved up to No. 3 by sending the Miami Dolphins pick No. 12, and 2021 third-round pick, a 2022 first-round pick, and a 2023 first-round pick. 25 minutes later, the Dolphins moved back up to the sixth overall pick and sent the Philadelphia Eagles pick No. 12 and a 2021 first-round pick. In all, the trades look something like this:
Draft Trade Results
|No. 3||No. 6||No. 12|
|No. 103||No. 123|
|No. 156||MIA's 2022 First|
|SF's 2022 First|
|SF's 2023 First|
There’s a lot to take in here, so let’s go through the takeaways from each team involved and even some that weren’t.
Kyle Shanahan is getting his quarterback
The 49ers gave up two future firsts to get into the top-3, which will give Kyle Shanahan his pick for the next quarterback in San Francisco. Trevor Lawrence is the presumptive first pick and most signs indicated the New York Jets will select BYU quarterback Zach Wilson second overall. That leaves the 49ers with Justin Fields, Trey Lance, or possibly Mac Jones, if those close to Shanahan are to be believed.
Last year, Nick Mullens had the seventh-highest yards per attempt on throws from a clean pocket (8.7) among 38 quarterbacks with at least 100 such attempts, according to Sports Info Solutions. For years, the likes of Shanahan and Sean McVay have been able to scheme above-average production out of average quarterbacks but the past season revealed what a top-tier quarterback could do in that type of system when Aaron Rodgers won the NFL MVP with Matt LaFleur. That was also evident in Matt Ryan’s MVP season under Shanahan in 2016 and Robert Griffin III’s rookie season in 2012. With the Rams’ trade for Matthew Stafford and the 49ers’ trade up here, it’s clear both coaches are looking for the higher ceiling for quarterback talent to build the system around.
For as much as Jones has been pushed as a possibility on Friday afternoon, Fields and Lance bring the combination of plus-arms and running ability that would add another dimension to the offense. Both mobile quarterbacks have the ability to throw and create on the run, something Shanahan hasn’t had since Griffin, really. Shanahan with not just a mobile quarterback, but one who can use his legs as a legitimate weapon is a scary thought. Jones, while potentially more accurate, wouldn’t bring much more to the structure of the offense than Jimmy Garoppolo currently does.
Garoppolo is a key piece here. The 49ers were quick to push out that they were not looking to move Garoppolo, but it’s not difficult to see a clear path to the team moving on before the 2021 season. Garoppolo has a $26.4 million cap hit for the upcoming season, according to Over The Cap, but would cost just $2.8 million in dead money to release or trade him, which would open up $23.6 million in immediate cap space.
There is currently a no-trade clause in his contract, but if it’s clear the 49ers will move forward with a rookie to start the season, Garoppolo could waive that clause for a chance to start. His $24.1 million salary for 2021 and $24.2 million salary for 2022 would be a lot for another team to take on, but neither of those figures is guaranteed. The acquiring team could convert that salary into a signing bonus to lessen the cap hits and get more money in Garoppolo’s hands at the time of the trade.
The 49ers are in the position due to a lackluster 2020 season despite a roster that could be ready to compete in 2021. No team lost more player games to injury and/or COVID protocols than the 49ers last season. San Francisco is jumping at an opportunity to be this close to the top of the draft because the team won’t expect to be there again with a fully healthy roster in the future.
The Dolphins Are Working The Board
San Francisco was the big headliner, but Miami did most of the work in these deals. In the aggregate, the Dolphins moved from No. 3 to No. 6, swapped picks 123 and 156, picked up a 2021 third-round pick, and a 2023 first-round pick. The 2022 firsts in the San Francisco and Philadelphia deals are different, so it’s not a straight swap but as a value, we can consider them close to a wash.
Using the Approximate Value chart from Football Perspective, Miami came out with about a 142% return on investment, if we give the 2023 pick the value of the 32nd overall selection and don’t discount it as a future pick. That’s a solid return for a three-spot drop. In 2018, the Colts made the same three-to-six swap (though in a single trade) and received the picks 37 and 49 as well as a 2019 second-round pick, which was closer to a 200% return but it’s hard to fault the Dolphins for not matching that deal.
There is going to be a focus on the trade back up from No. 12 to No. 6 as a poor decision and that may be the case had it been in a vacuum, but it’s nearly impossible to view it that way. The Dolphins definitely didn’t think of this as two separate trades and came at it with the idea that they could get a haul for the third pick and still end up only three slots back.
By trading the third pick to San Francisco, Miami all but assured quarterbacks will be taken with the first three selections. That causes another top non-QB will be pushed further down the draft board. That leaves the possibility the non-QB the Dolphins were thinking about at No. 3 could still be available at No. 6.
While it’s never recommended to zero-in on a specific player and it’s much better to go at positional tiers, it’s not out of the question that if the Dolphins had a wide receiver targeted, Ja’Marr Chase, DeVonta Smith, and Jaylen Waddle could be off the board by the 12th pick, completely eliminating the top tier at the position. Per the Grinding The Mocks database, all three of those receivers have expected draft positions inside the top-10. This might not be the Dolphins focusing on one player over another, but more guaranteeing they get one player from that tier. Kyle Pitts (expected draft position of 6.8) fits here, too.
Sitting at six also brings quarterback into play in a number of ways. Miami could go the route of selecting a QB if one fell to six, though the Dolphins have been adamant about their belief in Tua Tagovailoa and there is reason to build around last year’s fifth overall pick in Year 2.
The Dolphins could also be in a position to get another draft day haul should a Fields/Lance/Jones fall to the sixth pick and a team sitting behind Miami gets desperate to move up and select him. That’s an opportunity that wouldn’t likely be on the table for the Dolphins with the 12th pick. In this situation, the Dolphins could potentially come away with even more picks than what they gave away to Philadelphia.
Miami still has plenty of options with the sixth pick and still came away on top in value. That’s something to be commended.
The Other Fallouts
By moving back to No. 12, the Eagles likely took themselves out of the quarterback market. There was rumored interest in Mac Jones and that could be a possibility at 12 if he’s not San Francisco’s pick, but more likely Philadelphia will find itself in the market next season, pending the play of Jalen Hurts. They now have an extra 2022 first-round pick to play with.
The Atlanta Falcons (fourth overall) and Cincinnati Bengals (fifth overall) are significant beneficiaries with the quarterbacks pushed into the top three. On the other side, the like of the Carolina Panthers (eighth overall) and Denver Broncos (ninth overall) could be limited in their options to trade up should they want to get in on the quarterbacks who make it through the first three picks.
This probably isn’t the end of draft pick trades or quarterback movement this offseason.