The seeds of Thursday’s trade between the Bears and 49ers were put down a week and a half ago when Bears general manager Ryan Pace called 49ers general manager John Lynch and the two agreed to keep each other abreast of any trade propositions the teams were getting.
Pace had a sense San Francisco wasn’t going to take the player he coveted, North Carolina quarterback Mitch Trubisky, with the second overall pick. But he was worried about a third team making a deal with the 49ers and grabbing Trubisky one spot ahead of the Bears, who were picking at No. 3.
In a subsequent call, Pace asked Lynch if he was getting other interest in San Francisco’s No. 2 overall pick? “The answer was, ‘Yes,'” Lynch said.
The calls from the Bears kept coming and, according to the 49ers, so did inquiries from other general managers. “We were fortunate in that there were other teams that were interested, so it got pretty productive,” Lynch said of the trade talks. He said if the Bears deal had fallen apart, there were other trades the team could have made. He did not say which other teams called.
Said Pace when asked if the 49ers could have been bluffing about other interest in the No. 2 pick: “It’s like in free agency when the agent tells you he’s got three other teams he’s working with. You never really know. You’ve just got to trust your conviction on it, and if you want a player you aggressively go get him.”
“I knew there were teams inquiring about going up,” Pace added. “There were teams calling me, at our pick, wanting to come up. So you could feel that all around us.”
The Bears and 49ers ultimately swapped first-round picks with Chicago also throwing in two third-round selections (one of them in 2018) and a fourth-round pick in this year’s draft.
The two teams never discussed which players they had targeted at their new, respective slots. The 49ers, however, didn’t think the Bears would give up all those selections to get Solomon Thomas, the Stanford defensive linemen who was atop the 49ers’ draft board at the time and the player they ended up grabbing at pick No. 3.
“This guy (Kyle Shanahan) is pretty bright, and I think you can see his offensive bias, I think I’ll say,” Lynch said. “He said, ‘That’s not for a defensive lineman. That kind of a trade, that’s for a quarterback.’ And he was right.”
Chicago gave up four selections to move ahead one slot in the draft for someone they clearly stated would begin his career behind Mike Glennon. That’s drawn criticism around the league, but Lynch credited Chicago with a “courageous move.”
“Kudos to the Bears,” Lynch said. “They saw a player they wanted at a really important position. I’m sure a lot of people are going to give them heat because (Trubisky) only started 13 games, but he’s a guy we frankly liked and so I give Ryan Pace and John Fox a lot of credit for making a courageous move and we’re thrilled with what we got out of it.”
Armed with extra draft picks, the 49ers then started making plans for trading back into the first round and taking Alabama linebacker Reuben Foster, whom they had rated right behind Thomas. In fact, if the Bears had fooled the 49ers and taken Thomas at No. 2, the 49ers “very likely” could have taken Foster at pick No. 3.
The 49ers began calling teams picking in the early teens about a possible trade that would have landed them Foster there. There was a call to the Lions, who had pick No. 21.
“I think we called everybody in the league,” Lynch said, “It’s a player I liked, we liked, our staff liked. … We’re a 2-14 team. So there’s some holes, but inside linebacker, we felt pretty good about already. I just, and Kyle and I, got to the point where we felt this is a game-changing player and I think for that you go with the best player and that’s what we did.”
None of the 49ers’ trade proposals materialized as the teens turned into the 20s and then the 30s. The 49ers, however, knew they had to jump in ahead of the Saints who were at pick No. 32 and who were looking to improve their defense with someone like Foster.
In fact, when Lynch called Foster to tell him the 49ers were about to draft him, the linebacker, thinking the 49ers still were at pick 34, told him the Saints were taking him at pick No. 32 instead.
“And I said, ‘No, we’re taking you,” Lynch said. “It was hard because it happened late in the process and so, he was really excited when he found out that we had pulled off that trade and we were certainly very excited.”
The 49ers sent the 34th overall pick as well as the 111th overall selection, which had been obtained in the trade with the Bears, to the Seahawks for Seattle’s No. 31 pick.
Lynch said the top three players on San Francisco’s board were: Myles Garrett, who was taken with the No. 1 overall pick, Thomas and Foster.
“I can tell you right off the bat that we had a board, as you guys heard the other day, with just under 200 players,” Lynch said. “And in terms of how we rated them, we got two of our top three players and we were able to do that. We’re thrilled. We’re ecstatic.”