What Recent History Says About Trading Up for a QB

With the 2020-2021 season nearing its end, we are quickly approaching the offseason. The 2021 offseason has a great chance to be even crazier than the regular season was. We have seen a glimpse at how busy this offseason might be with the several coaching positions being vacated and filled, as well as a potential quarterback carousel that might follow.

With several pro-ready quarterbacks in the 2021 draft class, the quarterbacks who will lose their spots as well as expiring contracts, we have a chance to see upwards of 10 new starting quarterbacks come next season! The San Francisco 49ers seem to be at the center of every discussion regarding trading for an unhappy QB or trading up in the NFL Draft for a promising signal-caller. Every tweet reporting on Deshaun Watson’s fractured situation in Houston or speculating on Matthew Stafford’s next destination has at least one reply with the passer photoshopped into red & gold. We’re guilty of this ourselves.

The 49ers have QB Jimmy Garoppolo under contract for at least another two seasons, but in today’s NFL, nobody is safe –especially when the draft class is top-heavy with potential franchise quarterbacks. Head Coach Kyle Shanahan was asked about Garoppolo and he mentioned that he would be the starter heading into next season rather emphatically.

Now at the same time, General Manager John Lynch confirmed in November 2020 VP of Player Personnel Adam Peters was scouting a BYU game, where Zach Wilson, one of the top-ranked quarterbacks in this year’s draft class, happens to play. This leaves Jimmy Garoppolo in a tough spot — it seems like the 49ers are okay with having him return under center next season, but only if all of their other plans fail first.

San Francisco is just one year removed from the Super Bowl, but failed to make the postseason this past year due to an almost instant plethora of injuries and players placed on the COVID list. With a solid defense and some very versatile weapons in Deebo Samuel, Brandon Aiyuk, and George Kittle, this team would instantly get back to Super Bowl contention… if they upgraded at the quarterback position.

“Adam [Peters] did go out to Boise State to watch a Boise State-BYU game,” Lynch said. “That seemed to have garnered a lot of attention. We’re doing our jobs. You prepare for everything.”

Quote per KNBR’s Jacob Hutchinson
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If the 49ers want to improve their quarterback position in the 2021 NFL Draft from where they are currently sitting (12th overall), they are looking at the third tier of incoming quarterbacks. If they feel they want a premium, blue-chip rookie, then they will have to make a trade to move up into a position where they can take any of the tier-two (only behind the one and only Trevor Lawrence) quarterbacks, in Zach Wilson or Justin Fields.

With several teams possibly picking up a quarterback in the top 10 picks of the draft (Jacksonville Jaguars, New York Jets, Atlanta Falcons, Detroit Lions, Carolina Panthers), the 49ers would need to trade up in the draft to grab one of the two previously mentioned quarterbacks. One spot that looks very attainable to trade up would be with the Detroit Lions. The Lions are currently fielding offers for their franchise quarterback, Matthew Stafford (who is also an option for QB next season for SF), and entering a full on rebuild after hiring a new GM and new coaching staff. It remains to be seen how they move forward with trading Stafford, but if the 49ers can offer them enough value through draft picks and/or young pieces, they could slide up into the 7th overall spot and could have a very solid chance at having the remaining quarterback fall into their laps.

Trading up in the draft will most likely happen while the pick is on the clock to make sure you get your guy. Remember — even if it costs more capital, it is better to give up more value to get your guy . Let’s take a look at a brief history of recent trade-ups for quarterbacks in the first round.

With 11/18 (!) of the previous first-round quarterbacks being acquired via traded draft picks, the growing trend in today’s NFL is to skip the line to get your potential franchise quarterback, even if that means possibly overpaying. While there have been some busts acquired through a trade-up like Josh Rosen and Mitchell Trubisky, overall they have been solid pieces that have turned into franchise quarterbacks for several teams.

The most recent trade up was when the Green Bay Packers sent the 30th overall pick and the 136th overall pick to the Miami Dolphins to move up to No. 26 and take Jordan Love out of Utah State, the fourth quarterback selected in the first round. While the outcome of this move has yet to be seen (he was the third string QB in 2020), let’s look at some instances where trading up has paid huge dividends.

The Baltimore Ravens gave up a second and fourth-round pick in 2018, along with their 2019 second-round pick, to the Philadelphia Eagles for the No. 32 overall picks in 2018, along with the Eagles fourth-round selection to take Louisville’s Lamar Jackson with the final pick in the first round.

The Buffalo Bills sent their 2018 first-rounder (12th overall) to move up to 7th overall, also giving up two second-round picks and getting the No. 255 overall pick from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and selected Wyoming quarterback Josh Allen.

Also, we saw the New York Jets sending their 2018 6th-overall, along with two second-rounders plus a 2019 second-rounder, to the Indianapolis Colts in exchange for their first-round pick (#3 overall) to select USC’s Sam Darnold.

In 2017, we saw two trades that turned into franchise cornerstones with the Kansas City Chiefs trading two first-round picks (2017 and 2018), as well as a third-round pick, to the Buffalo Bills to move up to the 10th overall pick to take Patrick Mahomes out of Texas Tech.

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The Houston Texans were involved in a three-team trade with the Cleveland Browns and Philadelphia Eagles, ultimately giving up their first-round pick in 2017 and their 2018 first-rounder for Clemson’s Deshaun Watson.

While those two are top-tier NFL quarterbacks, we saw a franchise set themselves years behind with the Chicago Bears trading their 3rd-overall pick, a third and a fourth-rounder as well as a 2018 third-round pick to take UNC QB Mitchell Trubisky at 2nd overall. The Bears totally got fleeced by John Lynch, if I might add. However, the 49ers then turned around and selected Solomon Thomas, so there aren’t any real winners here.

Finally, in 2016 the Rams gave up their first-round pick, two second-rounders, and a third-round pick, along with their first- and third-round selections in 2017 to the Tennessee Titans, who also sent a fourth and a sixth-round pick in return. The Rams would ultimately take Cal’s Jared Goff. While the Eagles gave up their 8th, two thirds, as well as a 2017 first-round pick and a 2018 second-round pick, to the Cleveland Browns to pick Carson Wentz out of North Dakota State.

While there have been teams that ultimately set themselves back a few years with trading a lot of capital for a player who didn’t pan out, there have been several instances where teams traded up to select their cornerstone piece — including the two previous MVPs being included in first-round trades to acquire them.

The San Francisco 49ers have a lot of talent on the offensive side of the ball, and appear to just be a quarterback away from post-season relevance. With a trade up in the first round to select either Zach Wilson or Justin Fields, they could be back on track to compete in the NFC for years to come. Did laying out the recent first-round trades for QBs make you anymore eager for them to pull the trigger? Did it make you think twice?

What do you think? Be sure to tweet at me and let me know!

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