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49ers’ Kyle Shanahan would have liked to have acquired Julio Jones, but says he’s ‘very glad he’s in the AFC’

The Julio Jones trade from Atlanta to Tennessee has had ripple effects through the NFL. Jones’ arrival in Tennessee has boosted the Titans’ hopes of winning a second consecutive AFC South division title. Conversely, his departure surely drew a sigh of relief from the Falcons’ NFC South division rivals. 

Also breathing a sigh of relief is 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan, who worked with Jones when Shanahan served as the Falcons’ offensive coordinator during the 2015 and ’16 seasons. While he would have loved to have seen Jones land in San Francisco, Shanahan is happy that his team won’t have to face the seven-time Pro Bowl receiver twice a season. The Seahawks, who captured the NFC West division title in 2020, were reportedly looking into trading for Jones, who would have been a huge coup for a Seattle team whose offense already includes quarterback Russell Wilson and receivers DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett. 

“I’m very glad he’s in the AFC,” Shanahan said, via Matt Maiocco of NBC Sports. “[It’s a] good day. I would have been a hell of a deal, but my second-favorite choice is him being in the AFC.”

It’s unknown how much the 49ers pursued acquiring Jones, but, based on Shanahan’s comments, it’s clear that he and San Francisco general manager John Lynch had at least entertained the idea of brining Jones to the Bay Area. In San Francisco, Jones would have added significant depth to a receivers group that includes Deebo Samuel, veterans Mohamed Sanu, Richie James and Jalen Hurd, and 2020 first-round pick Brandon Aiyuk. 

The 49ers’ trade activity prior to this year’s draft likely handicapped their ability to seriously pursue Jones, who was traded to the Titans in exchange for Tennessee’s 2022 second-round pick and a 2023 fourth-round pick (Tennessee also received the Falcons’ 2023 sixth-round pick). In moving up from the No. 12 to the No. 3 overall pick in the 2021 draft, which allowed them to select quarterback Trey Lance, the 49ers gave the Dolphins their first and third-round picks in 2022 and their 2023 first-round pick. While they could technically could have still completed a trade similar to the one Tennessee executed, it would have left the 49ers with no picks during the first two days of the 2022 draft. 

The 49ers’ trade with the Dolphins ultimately benefitted the Falcons. With Miami no longer in front of them, the Falcons were able to select tight end Kyle Pitts with the No. 4 overall pick. The Dolphins, who were reportedly interested in Pitts, selected former Alabama receiver Jaylen Waddle with the No. 6 overall pick. The acquisition of Pitts helps soften the blow of losing Jones, the top receiver in Falcons history. 

Jones did not end up in San Francisco, but he did leave the NFC after spending the first decade of his career in Atlanta. That’s good enough of a consolation prize for Shanahan, whose team won’t have to face Jones this season unless the 49ers and Titans face off in Super Bowl LVI. 

“You’ve got to worry about everyone, but No. 1, him not being in our division is a huge deal,” Shanahan said. “Julio’s the man. Everyone knows how good of a player he is. Tennessee got a hell of a player.”