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The 49ers Made the First Power Play in the NFL Draft’s QB Sweepstakes

San Francisco traded for Miami’s no. 3 pick, positioning the 49ers to take a top QB prospect and further adding to the Dolphins’ war chest of draft picks

Getty Images/Ringer illustration

The race to select the top quarterback prospects in the 2021 draft is officially on. On Friday, the Dolphins traded the no. 3 pick in the upcoming draft to the 49ers in exchange for the no. 12 pick, first-round picks in 2022 and 2023, and a third-round pick in 2022. Then, Miami flipped the no. 12 pick, the no. 123 pick, and a 2022 first-rounder to the Eagles for the no. 6 pick and the no. 156 pick.

That’s a lot of numbers to process, I know. Here are a few more: It’s likely that this draft will be the first in history to see quarterbacks selected with the first four picks.

The 49ers’ trade to move up all but confirms it. ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported that San Francisco did not trade up to no. 3 with a specific quarterback in mind, but the team believes it’ll be happy with the quarterbacking options that will be available in that slot. At this point, if Trevor Lawrence does not go no. 1 to Jacksonville, the entire draft-industrial complex will be placed in a permanent timeout. Barring that outcome, BYU’s Zach Wilson, Ohio State’s Justin Fields, and North Dakota State’s Trey Lance would round out the mostly consensus top four, with Alabama’s Mac Jones as the wild card.

If it wasn’t already plain that San Francisco’s move is motivated by a desire to find a franchise quarterback in the draft, it became clear when general manager John Lynch—speaking Friday from Wilson’s pro day at BYU—gave his assurances that the trade is not an indictment of quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, and that Garoppolo is still in the team’s plans. Promising your current quarterback that he’s “still in your plans” after trading into the top three of a QB-heavy draft is the NFL equivalent of saying you’ll go out for “just one drink” or you’ll “start working out on Monday”—it rarely goes the way you say it will. Garoppolo has a no-trade clause in his contract that could at least give him some control over where he goes if the 49ers entertain offers. He’d likely want to go somewhere like Chicago or, yes, back to New England, where he’d have an opportunity to start.

With the Jaguars picking first, the Jets at no. 2, the 49ers now at no. 3—and clearly looking for a passer—and the Falcons at no. 4, each of the first four selections belongs to a team that’s likely looking for a quarterback. Even if one of those teams decides it’d rather draft a position player, it’d be better off trading that pick to a team that does want a quarterback given how competitive the market is. Teams like the Panthers, currently picking at no. 8 and in need of a quarterback, are probably sweating today’s events a bit.

The teams moving down in the draft—Miami and Philadelphia—seem to be at least content with the possibility that the quarterbacks they drafted in 2020, Tua Tagovailoa and Jalen Hurts, respectively, could handle starting duties next season and potentially beyond. Teams looking for position players in the top half of the first round will likely have good options, given that a run on quarterbacks would push all of those players down.

Though they are few, there are some non-quarterback implications from Friday’s trades. Philadelphia’s Week 17 tank job involving Doug Pederson and Nate Sudfeld suddenly doesn’t look so embarrassing, does it? Plus, the Dolphins, led by general manager Chris Grier, have added so much draft capital that the ship bringing it to Miami got stuck in the Suez Canal (too soon?).

Miami’s dealings are made possible by the Laremy Tunsil trade with Houston in 2019. The no. 3 pick Miami dealt came courtesy of the Texans, and the Dolphins have parlayed the returns of that trade into four first-round picks and a third-round pick. The butterfly effect of that move alone could reshape the entire 2021 NFL draft.