MIAMI — Kyle Shanahan and John Lynch had a chance to draft Patrick Mahomes in 2017 and decided against it.
It’s more complex than a simple “pass,” though.
For one, the 49ers weren’t entirely sold on Mahomes. Shanahan had interacted with the quarterback at the NFL Scouting Combine, but the team wasn’t certain he’d prove worthy of the second pick in the draft.
“I didn’t look into him obviously as much as I should have,” Shanahan said Tuesday. “We definitely looked into him, studied all of his tape. Was just a freak, could make any throw, had the ability to anything. That was a little bit different situation for us. We had the second pick in the draft, did not feel like from all the intel that you get and stuff that he was gonna go that high.”
There was another factor: Kirk Cousins‘ impending free agency. Shanahan had a strong familiarity with the quarterback from his time as offensive coordinator in Washington, and he had an eye on the signal-caller with the 2018 free-agency period just a season away.
“It was a little different situation for us just ’cause I think it’s pretty well documented of just the relationship I had with Kirk being in Washington and I felt very confident that he wasn’t gonna stay there,” Shanahan recalled. “So anytime you go into a season knowing that a franchise quarterback was going to be available the next year, it made me a lot more picky with what we were looking at.”
Cousins ultimately ended up signing a fully guaranteed deal with Minnesota, which came well after the 49ers acquired Jimmy Garoppolo in a mid-season trade with the New England Patriots. Garoppolo was afforded time to learn San Francisco’s offense before starting and showed enough for the 49ers to commit to him long term. The envisioned marriage of Cousins and Shanahan never came to be.
Neither did a pairing of Shanahan and Mahomes, as he went to Kansas City with the 10th pick and spent the 2017 season learning behind Alex Smith. It’s been a run of success from there, with Mahomes leading the Chiefs to the AFC title game and earning NFL MVP honors in 2018, and one-upping that finish with a trip to the Super Bowl in 2019.
He’ll meet the team that decided to pass on him in 2017 on Sunday night.
“You saw a bunch of talented guys in that draft,” Shanahan said. “It’s very tough when you watch college systems and stuff, you don’t really know until you get someone in the building. You can see ability, you can see talent, but how’s the mind? How do they play in the pocket? How do they process? That’s not just an IQ score. That’s some stuff I don’t think you can totally test. You gotta go through that with them, so there’s always a risk when you spend a first-round pick on a quarterback. With the situation we were in, didn’t want to be that risky, especially with the second pick in the draft.
“We didn’t do that as hard. Obviously, he ended up being one of the best players in the league along with a couple other quarterbacks that year. But he’s extremely talented.”
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