Since 1994, no team has had more draft picks in a single year than the 15 the 49ers currently control: San Francisco has its own seven, plus five from trades—including a second-rounder from the Chiefs courtesy of the Alex Smith deal—and three compensatory picks. For a team that came so close to a Super Bowl title, that's tremendous flexibility. The Niners can stand pat and use all of the selections (unlikely); trade one or more for a higher pick (possible); deal one or more for a future draft choice (very possible); or package several for a marquee veteran who'd provide immediate help, such as Jets cornerback Darrelle Revis (intriguing but not likely).
One thing they shouldn't do is get too cute. That's the advice of Jimmy Johnson, who made an art of dealing and stockpiling picks as coach of the Cowboys and the Dolphins. "Picks are value," says Johnson, who had double-digit selections in three of his four years in Miami. "The danger is to think that when you've got a lot, you can waste one. Don't get in a position where you start taking chances."
Niners G.M. Trent Baalke, a shrewd talent evaluator, will look for help along the D-line, where vets Isaac Sopoaga and Ricky Jean Francois are free agents; in the secondary, where Pro Bowl safety Dashon Goldson is a free agent; and at wideout, where Randy Moss is a free agent, Mario Manningham had knee surgery and 2012 first-round pick A.J. Jenkins failed to catch a pass.
With five picks in the first three rounds, San Francisco has the means to address its needs. But as Johnson can attest, more isn't necessarily better. In '89 he and the Cowboys got a Brink's truck full of selections from the Vikings for Herschel Walker; Dallas converted those into, among others, running back Emmitt Smith, wideout Alvin Harper, safety Darren Woodson and linebacker Dixon Edwards, each of whom won multiple Super Bowls with the Cowboys. But Johnson never hit a mother lode in Miami: His best Dolphins draft was '97, when, with 14 picks, he landed future Pro Bowlers Sam Madison and Jason Taylor. "People look at the Herschel Walker trade as the move that put [Dallas] on the road to Super Bowls," says Johnson. "The Rams had a similar situation when they traded Eric Dickerson [in 1987; they got a total of three firsts and two seconds in return], but they didn't select good players. It still comes down to drafting. You've got to look at every single pick as if it's the only pick you have."
Which big-name free agent will provide the most bang for the buck? The crystal ball says Rams back Steven Jackson. As for sleepers, the Titans already signed perhaps the best one in Bills safety George Wilson (left). He's a quiet, effective performer (210 tackles in the last two seasons) and a bargain at $4 million over two years.
Numbers Add Up to Nothing
Of the eight teams that have made 13 or more picks in a single draft since 1994, only the '96 Patriots reached the Super Bowl within three years of exercising the selections. Just 10 of those 105 players were named to a Pro Bowl.
Next 3 Yrs (Pct.)
Pro Bowl players (draft round/Pro Bowls)
WR Yatil Green
DE Jason Taylor (top left, 3/6), DB Sam Madison (2/4)
DB Terrance Shaw (2nd Rd)
WR Terry Glenn
S Lawyor Milloy (2/4), LB Tedy Bruschi (3/1), Glenn (1/1)
QB Cade McNown (left)
DB Jerry Azumah (5/1), WR Marty Booker (3/1)
DE Courtney Brown
TE Bubba Franks
Franks (1/3), T Chad Clifton (2/2), DE Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila (5/1)
TE Ben Troupe
DE Brandon Graham
ROBERT BECK (SMITH)
ONE DOOR CLOSES, ANOTHER OPENS The Smith deal gives the 49ers' G.M. more opportunity to show his shrewdness.
TOM DIPACE (TAYLOR)
ALLEN KEE/WIREIMAGE.COM (MCNOWN)
TIMOTHY T. LUDWIG/US PRESSWIRE (WILSON)