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It made sense with Jones’ past relationship with 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan dating back to their days together in Atlanta. The 49ers’ questionable wide receiver situation behind Brandon Aiyuk and Deebo Samuel added another layer to this.
Whatever the reason, San Francisco was not able to close the deal. Instead, the Titans nabbed Jones for a second and fourth-round pick to team up with stud receiver A.J. Brown for quarterback Ryan Tannehill. That’s solid value for a seven-time Pro Bowl receiver who has still proven dominant when on the field.
Meanwhile, new Falcons general manager Terry Fontenot was able to receive value for the high-priced veteran receiver while shedding a ton of salary. An argument can be made that both the Titans and Falcons were winners here. The San Francisco 49ers? Not so much. Here’s three reasons why.
San Francisco 49ers still can’t close the deal on a wide receiver
I get it. The 49ers hit big time with both Deebo Samuel and Brandon Aiyuk in recent drafts. That’s fine and dandy. However, the team’s inability to land a proven No. 1 receiver for head coach Kyle Shanahan is a tad concerning. It was back in 2019 that San Francisco felt like it had the best offer on the table for then-New York Giants receiver Odell Beckham Jr. before he was dealt to the Cleveland Browns. Reports have since surfaced indicating that Giants general manager David Gettleman didn’t want to trade OBJ to an NFC rival. It’s hard to blame the 49ers’ brass for this.
With that said, it’s just a continuation of struggles the 49ers have had in landing proven receivers either via free agency or the trade market. Back in March, San Francisco didn’t even get its feet wet when it came to top-end receivers on the open market. That included Corey Davis, Kenny Golladay and Curtis Samuel — the latter of whom would have fit extremely well in the slot. Back in 2020, San Francisco refused to re-sign Emmanuel Sanders and didn’t get involved in the bidding for another slot guy in Robby Anderson.
Heading into training camp, it’s going to be an open competition for the No. 3 wide receiver spot and the top slot position in Santa Clara. That includes former third-round pick Jalen Hurd, who missed his first two NFL seasons to injury. It also includes veteran castoffs such as Mohamed Sanu and Bennie Fowler. This could end up being the 49ers’ undoing in 2021.
About the San Francisco 49ers “aggressive” nature
General manager John Lynch and Co. shocked the football world earlier this offseason by trading up from the 12th pick in the 2021 NFL Draft to No. 3 overall — ultimately selecting North Dakota State quarterback Trey Lance in the process. This represented the culmination of what has been an aggressive tenure for Lynch in San Francisco.
The 49ers built a championship-caliber roster by trading for the likes of Jimmy Garoppolo, Laken Tomlinson, Trent Williams, Dee Ford and the aforementioned Sanders. While this has had both salary cap and draft consequences, these deals have also worked out for the most part.
Sure the 49ers are limited when it comes to draft picks they can offer up in blockbuster trades after moving two future first-rounders and a 2022 third-rounder in the Lance blockbuster. That’s fine and dandy. But finding a happy medium between winning now and preparing for the future needs to be in the cards. A second-round pick and mid-round selection would not have handcuffed the 49ers too much. It also would have made their offense pretty much unstoppable.
The NFL salary cap is a figment of our imaginations
That might sound a bit hyperbolic. But look at what the Titans did in bringing Julio Jones in. Tennessee was roughly $2 million under the cap before acquiring the future Hall of Fame receiver. The 49ers? They currently stand at $17.36 million under the cap.
Sure every team has different situations on their roster. For the 49ers, that includes the necessity to sign All-Pro linebacker Fred Warner to a massive contract extension this offseason. With that said, San Francisco is sitting back and prepared to pay Garoppolo $26.38 million against the cap even after adding his eventual heir-apparent. The 49ers could have also created more cap room by extending two players in Laken Tomlinson and Jimmie Ward who fit into their long-term future.
What does this all mean? The 2022 NFL salary cap could increase to $208.2 million after a major downtick this coming season due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It will skyrocket big time in 2023 as the NFL’s new television contract comes into play. Boasting a salary cap guru in president Paraag Marathe, the San Francisco 49ers could have very well made this work. Alas, they were not able to close the deal. That could very well have a huge impact on San Francisco’s status as a top-end title contender in 2021 following an injury-plagued 2020 campaign.
All of this makes the San Francisco 49ers the biggest loser when it comes to Sunday’s blockbuster Julio Jones trade to the Tennessee Titans.