If Alabama quarterback Mac Jones isn’t the 49ers’ selection with the No. 3 pick in Thursday’s first round of the NFL Draft, then San Francisco head coach Kyle Shanahan is truly an incredible actor.
Because Shanahan and general manager John Lynch had their final media availably before Thursday’s pick, and it sure sounded like the San Francisco head coach was starting to do damage control for what will be an unpopular pick in the Alabama quarterback.
This isn’t some galaxy brain take. It didn’t take an expert to connect those dots. Neither Shanahan nor Lynch said Jones’ name, but he was the subtext of the entire presser — one, it should be noted, in which Shanahan was a late addition to the dais.
In all, it was roughly 30 minutes of defensiveness, with the vast majority of it coming from Shanahan, who seemed to consistently be on the verge of declaring that the media and fans don’t know anything.
“It is so irresponsible to let [social media] affect your decision,” Shanahan said. “We do this for a living and I think people should be proud of us that we won’t let that affect our decision. It’s up to us to live with the consequences.”
“I hope the fans are happy with it,” Shanahan later said. “But the key is, ultimately they’re going to be happy based off what we do in the future, not how they feel that night, whether they won their arguments against their friends.”
And while all that’s probably true, I seriously doubt Shanahan would have been so combative, so self-justifying, if the Niners were primed to take Justin Fields or Trey Lance at No. 3, two quarterbacks with dual-threat ability that I and every respectable draft evaluator I know have ranked higher than Jones.
No, Shanahan made it clear Monday that he is going to take his guy and there’s no one who is going to stop him — not the fans, not the media, and not even his GM, who admitted Monday that he will always defer to Shanahan when it comes to quarterback play.
But Shanahan knows Jones isn’t going to excite the fan base, so after being bubbly in a press conference following the Niners’ trade up to No. 3 earlier this month, he went as far as to remind everyone on the call that death is unavoidable and perhaps imminent on Monday.
Stone-footed quarterbacks, though, are apparently eternal.
Unprompted, Shanahan mentioned how Drew Brees and Philip Rivers would be great quarterbacks in any era — a clear shot at the league’s latest trend of superhuman quarterbacks who can both run fast and throw the ball a country mile.
“There’s no this is where it’s going, this is where it’s been. It will still always evolve,” Shanahan said. “It matters on how you group people together, what your choices are and how do you plan on using that person … People, I bet, would be surprised with a lot of those opinions so if you can’t fully give, but like, to make this so black and white, it’s not right.”
“It’s who’s the best quarterback and why? And there’s lots of different ways and whatever those why’s are, how does that pertain to your offense, what you have, the building you have, and what you think gives you the best chance to win.”
If Shanahan thought his guy — the one he believes gives him the best chance to win — was the popular choice, would he have felt compelled to say that off an innocuous question?
And would he have made it a point to call anyone wringing their hands about the two additional first-round picks the 49ers traded to Miami to acquire the No. 3 overall pick “dramatic”?
I doubt that as well.
Shanahan has developed a reputation around the league as an elite poker player — someone who never tips his hand — but that’s a misrepresentation.
Shanahan is, in fact, good at not leaking things. He can cloister himself in his office and grind tape for months. He’s smart enough to know what he can and cannot say amid his friends both in and outside the NFL.
He’s not a leaker and that makes him a mystery to many in a league that seemingly runs on gossip.
But when asked direct questions, Shanahan can hardly hold back from providing honesty, even if he never answers the question. He’s not afraid to show emotion on the sidelines and that’s the same off of the field. Shanahan is sharp, successful, and afraid of no one and if you press him enough, as was the case Monday, he’ll remind you of all three of those truths.
It is indeed, Shanahan’s team. And it is his decision on who the 49ers take. I think he showed his hand Monday.
And while Shanahan is in charge, he is not infallible.
In a few years’ time, he might be laughing at anyone who questioned the pick of Jones (or who thought that Jones was his guy after Monday’s performance). If the Alabama quarterback is his guy, count me in as one of those people questioning the move.
For what it’s worth, I like Jones as a quarterback, especially in Shanahan’s system. I just don’t like him over Fields. And, call me dramatic, but I certainly don’t like paying a ransom to move up to No. 3 to get a player who I think could have been available at No. 12 come Thursday.
Those are my opinions, though. You can have yours, too.
But the man calling the shots in Santa Clara doesn’t care about them.