The 49ers sent the Packers packing in last season's NFC Championship Game. Whether they knew it or not, the 49ers also might have made a move in the 2020 NFL Draft to keep Aaron Rodgers and the Packers from becoming a stronger conference contender this season — and creating controversy in the process.
Before the draft, Green Bay was strongly attached to taking a wide receiver in the first round. Instead, the team didn't draft any of the 37 wideouts taken over three days. San Francisco did take the sixth receiver off the board, giving up a lot to Minnesota to move up six spots to grab Arizona State's Brandon Aiyuk off the board at No. 25 overall.
It's no accident that the 49ers' selection came one pick ahead of the Packers at No. 26. Beyond Aiyuk being a special explosive talent to help the 49ers replace Emmanuel Sanders, there was a good indication he would be a good fit with Rodgers as a complementary speedy playmaker to go-to guy Davante Adams.
The 49ers might have been checking out several mock drafts that had the Packers taking Aiyuk in the first round, but a report from The Athletic's David Lombardi suggested that feeling became a lot stronger on draft night.
Based on what I’m gathering through several chats, sounds that 49ers were concerned about Packers drafting Brandon Aiyuk at No. 26. Lynch/Shanahan spoke of “intel” that spurred SF trade up to 25; that might’ve been it.
GB picked Jordan Love at 26; Aiyuk gone by then of course
— David Lombardi (@LombardiHimself) April 29, 2020
Although one will never know whether the Packers would have taken Aiyuk if he was still available, GM Brian Gutekunst and the Packers chose to draft quarterback Jordan Love behind Rodgers vs. providing him with another highly talented wide receiver. Aiyuk ended up being the final first-round wideout. And as the draft progressed, the Packers' picks fell right after different tier-based runs on the position.
The Packers ended up with a player in Love who can do nothing to help Rodgers now and also casts doubts on how long Rodgers will remain their starting quarterback ahead of his Age 36 season. It's gotten to the point where Brett Favre believes, like what happened with him, that Rodgers won't finish his career with the Packers.
Speaking of Favre, the 49ers played a big part in eventually ending his tenure in Green Bay during the 2015 NFL Draft. San Francisco drafted QB Alex Smith No. 1 overall instead of Rodgers. That led to Rodgers' infamous freefall to No. 24 overall, where the Packers, ahead of Favre's Age 36 season, took him as the best player available. Had it gone the other way with Rodgers going first to the 49ers, there's no doubt some other team would have drafted Smith high, removing any thought of the Packers giving a QB first-round consideration.
The 49ers' decision ended up putting the Packers' succession plan for Favre in motion when they might have not done it otherwise. The 49ers ending up "losing" the 2015 draft in relation to the Packers, who were rewarded with Rodgers helping them win a Super Bowl five seasons later.
It's weird to think now, however, that the 49ers have some responsbity for both getting Rodgers to Green Bay and possibly getting Rodgers out of Green Bay. Since that Super Bowl XLV win after the 2010 season, the 49ers also have had the Packers' number, winning six of the past eight meetings, including three playoff games against Rodgers.
Score another victory for them against the Packers and Rodgers in the 2020 draft. Taking Aiyuk after picking defensive tackle Javon Kinlaw earlier in the first round maintains San Francisco's full positional strength for the short term. At the same time, John Lynch and Kyle Shanahan denied Green Bay an ideal player and saw a rival NFC threat further weakened by pushing it to think more about future contingency than present contention.