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NFL Draft

Is Trading Multiple 1st-Round Picks For Rookie QB Worth It?

  • The Draft Network
  • March 31, 2021
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The weekend got a kick start last Friday when it was announced the San Francisco 49ers were trading three first-round picks to move up to No. 3 in the 2021 NFL Draft.

The details of the trade are San Francisco’s No. 12 overall pick in 2021, a first-round pick in 2022, a third-round pick in 2022, and then another first-round pick in 2023, all for Miami’s No. 3 overall pick this year. The assumption is that the 49ers moved up to go draft their quarterback of the future. You don’t trade that kind of capital for anything other than a quarterback, and this year’s quarterback class is a good one to make a big splash in.

While we don’t know which quarterback the 49ers are targeting with that No. 3 overall pick—we have our educated guesses—the question that naturally comes up is, “will it be worth it?”

Anyone who has worked in football will tell you that you can’t win consistently and at the highest level without a quarterback to build an offense around. Modern offenses matter too much right now, and scoring points is how you stack wins and open winning windows for championships. Though Jimmy Garoppolo was the quarterback who just took the 49ers to the Super Bowl two years ago, the 49ers clearly thought his limitations would get in the way of them reaching the Super Bowl once again, and even winning it next time around.

In that sense, going to get a quarterback is worth it, in theory. But, has a trade of this magnitude ever paid off? Every situation is different, and there are many factors beyond just one player that goes into the stories of success and failure. However, is one prospect, even a quarterback, worth three first-round picks?

Here are some examples of big-time trades for a price near what the 49ers paid to get to No. 3 overall for their next quarterback.

Chargers Move Up for Ryan Leaf in 1998

This trade wasn’t quite a price tag of three first-round picks, as the Chargers received the No. 2 overall pick in 1998 in exchange for their 1998 first-rounder (No. 3), 1998 second-rounder, 1999 first-rounder, as well as wide receiver Eric Metcalf and linebacker Patrick Sapp, but it was close. 

Famously, the Chargers selected quarterback Ryan Leaf one pick after the Indianapolis Colts took Peyton Manning. The debate between Manning and Leaf was heated and split, as many thought these two would own the league for years to come. But Leaf, for as talented as he was, couldn’t get out of his own way with his volatile personality both on and off the field. He was ultimately released after just three seasons with the Chargers. Certainly not worth it, but it’s hard to really judge that one due to Leaf’s personality and troubles ending his career before it really began.

Washington Trades Up for Robert Griffin III in 2012

Washington traded their 2012 first-rounder (No. 6), 2012 second-round selection, 2013 first-rounder, and 2014 first-rounder for the chance to select Robert Griffin III with the second pick in the 2012 NFL Draft.

In all fairness, this trade looked like it might have been worth it. In his rookie season, Griffin set records for the highest passer rating by a rookie quarterback, led Washington to its first playoff appearance since the 2007 season, was named to the 2013 Pro Bowl, and won the 2012 NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year award.

Griffin suffered knee injuries that required surgery which lingered into the following season. That, along with other factors, led to a regression in his sophomore season. Griffin then dislocated his ankle in Week 2 of his third season, which forced him to miss most of the year. Even when he did return, he was not effective. Griffin’s struggles never went away, and he was ultimately released after the 2015 season.

Rams Move Up to No. 1 in 2016 for Jared Goff

The Rams traded their first-round pick, two second-round picks, and a third-round pick in 2016, plus a first-round pick and another third-round pick in 2017 for the rights to go get Jared Goff. Now, Goff was their quarterback when the Rams reached the Super Bowl a few years ago, but he seems to be talked about in the same light as Garoppolo is right now with the 49ers. In fact, the Rams just had to use two more first-round picks to get him off their team due to his massive contract in exchange for Matthew Stafford.

Verdict: Not worth it.

Eagles Stack Trades To Land Carson Wentz at No. 2 in 2016

In 2016, the Eagles traded the No. 8 overall pick, a 2016 third-round pick, a 2016 fourth-round pick, a 2017 first-round pick, and a 2018 second-round pick for the rights to select the second quarterback in 2016, Carson Wentz.

Wentz played at a very high level in the 2017 campaign, and though injury forced him to miss what was an eventual Super Bowl run, it looked like the price was right for him. But since then Wentz has fallen off, and he, like the other quarterbacks on this list, did not last very long on the team that traded at such a high price to get them.

Now, look, every situation is different. There is so much that goes into what makes a story a success or a failure; draft capital alone does not determine that. But, for the quarterbacks that were made available via draft trade, the history hasn’t been kind on their return value.

The 49ers are certainly hoping to create a new wave with how they handle, grow, and support their new quarterback. But no matter who it is, a high price will come with high expectations.

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