“Anyone who’s been lucky enough to take Patrick Mahomes or Deshaun who hasn’t, everyone knows… yeah, everyone wishes we had a time machine,” Shanahan told Tim Kawakami of The Athletic on “The TK Show”.
It’s an obvious mistake now and it’s unclear what the state of the 49ers franchise would be if they picked Mahomes or Watson with the No.3 pick in the 2017 NFL Draft, rather than the defensive lineman. Solomon Thomas. But context is key, and Shanahan explained why the 49ers made the choice they made.
“When I got here… I think we had the 32nd defense, the 31st offense, we didn’t have a quarterback, and that’s risky,” Shanahan said. “And you have the second pick in the draft and you look at everything. Now before I came here I had a really good idea that we would be able to get a free agent quarterback next year, one that I knew you could win with. So you look at these rookies, we’ve got the second pick in the draft, and nobody at that point considered these guys to be the top five picks, the top 10. But people knew they had a certain ability. “
The free agent QB Shanahan most certainly referred to was current Minnesota Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins. Shanahan served as Cousins’ offensive coordinator during their time with the Washington football team, and rumors abounded suggesting a mutual interest in a meeting with San Francisco.
The prospect of adding Cousins to the free agent market, combined with an assessment of roster building, ultimately pushed the 49ers in Thomas’ direction.
“When we got here my goal was always to hopefully build a D line,” Shanahan continued. “I thought the D line is sort of what brings you to the Super Bowl, but you have to have the quarterback to do it, so which one is going to come first?” And you have guys who weren’t ranked as the top 10 picks right now because nobody thought they were exactly a slam dunk yet, and so do you want to take that risk now? Or you know you’ve got something next year, so why not just look at other positions and try to build this squad, because our squad isn’t totally ready for a quarterback right now? “
Thomas has never lived up to the billing of third overall pick, totaling just 6.0 sacks in 48 games (30 starts) with San Francisco. The 49ers declined his option as a fifth-year player and left him last offseason. Meanwhile, Mahomes and Watson established themselves as two of the best quarterbacks in the game, the former having beaten the 49ers in Super Bowl LIV.
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Obviously, knowing what he’s doing now, Shanahan would have done it differently in 2017. But he insisted that their regrets over the passing of Mahomes and Watson didn’t force the 49ers to select Trey Lance last April. .
“It was just another time,” Shanahan added. “There was a different situation, and damn it, I wish I could go back and have Patrick Mahomes or Deshaun, and I think every other coach on the planet feels the same. But they’re two separate cases, and I’m not comparing Trey to these guys either. I know how important this position is. I know where our team is. “
Shanahan and the 49ers threw all of their chips into Lance’s basket. If he becomes the player they think he can be, that won’t erase their biggest draft mistake, but it could crush him.
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