San Francisco's recent trade with Miami to move up to No.3 in the 2021 NFL Draft sent seismic waves through front offices across the league. It also highlighted how much value is placed on the quarterback position as the lynchpin of an NFL team. There is arguably no position of higher importance in team sport.
The 49ers moved up nine places, giving up their first round picks in 2022 and 2023 to do so. There is no question they are going after a quarterback. In my first mock draft a month ago, I predicted five quarterbacks would be taken in the first round. With recent trades, it's possible they might be gone in the top ten.
Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence is the consensus choice to be taken No.1 overall by Urban Meyer as he starts his coaching tenure with the Jacksonville Jaguars. The New York Jets traded Sam Darnold, three years after taking him No.3 overall, to Carolina this week. This rubber stamps their likely selection of BYU's quarterback Zach Wilson as the second pick. Ohio State's Justin Fields, North Dakota State's Trey Lance and Mac Jones from Alabama are all names that have been linked with San Francisco, now sitting at No.3.
Jones is rumoured to be the man that has caught 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan's eye. After one full season and just four games the previous year, San Francisco are potentially ready to mortgage their short term future on the 22 year old. It's worth noting that Darnold, jettisoned by New York this week, is still just 23. Picking at No.8, Carolina are pursuing a more tested path, believing in the ability of Darnold to be coached up by coach Matt Rhule and offensive coordinator Joe Brady. Brady was the mastermind behind LSU's championship winning offense of 2020, which elevated Joe Burrow to last year's No.1 overall pick.
With Burrow comfortably sitting as Cincinnati's quarterback for the next decade, they won't be picking a quarterback at No.5. More likely that an offensive tackle, say Oregon's Penei Sewell or Northwestern's Rashawn Slater, is the pick here to protect the Bengals' franchise quarterback. I'd like to see Ja'Marr Chase, the talented wide receiver, reunited with his LSU field general Burrow, taken here.
The second act of the 49ers' trade with Miami saw the Dolphins trade back up to No.6, swapping No.12 and one of their newly acquired future first round picks to Philadelphia, who ruled themselves out of the quarterback stakes, tying themselves to second year QB Jalen Hurts for at least the next twelve months. With Miami committed to Tua Tagovailoa, it's unlikely they are interested in Jones, Lance or Justin Fields. Chase, if he is still available, Tua's former team mate Devonta Smith or Florida tight end Kyle Pitts would be great options for the Dolphins here.
The Atlanta Falcons, an intriguing proposition at No.4, appear to be open for business to teams looking to trade up. Matt Ryan, at 35, will need a successor and the Falcons rarely pick this high in the draft. However, at a time when NFL quarterbacks are playing into their late thirties and winning Super Bowls aged 43, Atlanta doesn't need to draft Ryan's heir apparent this year and could still boost their team with a pick later in the first round and add valuable draft capital.
Denver, at No.9, are undecided about Drew Lock and in striking distance of a potential trade five places up. Carolina, at No.8, with Darnold secured, appear to be out of the running. Washington appear too far back at No.19 and have the mercurial Ryan Fitzpatrick under center with the promising Taylor Heinicke backing him up. Chicago cut Mitch Trubisky (a former No.2 overall pick) loose and signed Andy Dalton as a seeming short term solution as they figure out how to prise Russell Wilson out of Seattle. With the 20th pick, they now appear too far back to make a move up.
Detroit, with a new GM and Head Coach, also have a new quarterback in former No.1 pick Jared Goff, traded by the Rams so they could secure Matthew Stafford. I'm not sure how confident the Lions feel about Goff leading their future. At No.7, they are in prime position now to secure one of the top five quarterbacks, unless there are any further trades.
New England still appear to be suffering a hangover from Tom Brady's departure, and have yet to replace him effectively. A one-year extension for the disappointing Cam Newton and lack of outward confidence in last year's rookie Jarrett Stidham suggests the Patriots might be in the market for a quarterback. A $137.5million spending spree on free agents this off season suggests they might be looking to return to contention in a hurry. What they are missing is a quarterback.
One of the bonuses of drafting a quarterback is that you can pay them a rookie contract for four years, freeing up money to sign other quality players under the salary cap. Joe Burrow earned a $36million contract as the No.1 pick last year, spread over four years, giving him an average annual salary of circa $9million. Quarterbacks aren't cheap. After his rookie contract with the Chiefs expired, Patrick Mahomes signed a ten year, $503million contract.
New England, having loaded up with free agents, seem to be in good shape to move up. Don't rule them out of the running to land a Mac Jones, Justin Fields or Trey Lance. This effectively gives them, and any other team securing a top rookie quarterback, a four-year window to build for and win the Super Bowl. See Kansas City as the model here. Jared Goff's rookie contract enabled the Rams to land some stunning free agent captures, but they fell short at the final hurdle and shipped their quarterback to Detroit for Matthew Stafford.
With all this uncertainty, one thing is certain. This year's draft, outside perhaps the top two picks, looks to be one of the most unpredictable in years. With three weeks to go, there will be more twists and turns ahead and I can't wait to see how it plays out.
I'll try and make sense of it with my Mock Draft 2.0 this weekend.