The seeds of Thursday's trade between the Bears and 49ers were planted 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 another team dealing 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."
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," 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 in Chicago, but Lynch credited Pace 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, Lynch said.
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.
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 New Orleans, Saints coach Sean Payton acknowledged his team would have considered Foster at pick No. 32. “We spent a lot of time in his evaluation,” Payton told New Orleans area reporters. “He was in a few weeks ago. We spent a lot of time with him and yet he was one of the higher graded players obviously I think for a lot of people. He was definitely someone that would have been (considered).”
In fact, when Lynch called Foster, who was in Miami, to tell him the 49ers were about to draft him, the linebacker was on the phone with the Saints, who were telling him the same thing.
Foster, not knowing the 49ers had traded from pick No. 34 to pick 31, told Lynch he was sorry but that he was heading to New Orleans 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.”
Foster arrived in Santa Clara Friday and told the whole story.
He said the Saints had asked to talk to his girlfriend, who is from Baton Rouge. They figured she might be excited to be heading back to Louisiana. While she was talking to them, the 49ers called and she frantically gave the phone back to Foster.
“So I clicked over for the San Francisco 49ers, and I picked up and said, ‘Hello,’ while the New Orleans Saints were still on the line,” Foster said.
That’s when Lynch made it official -- he was going to San Francisco. “I wanted to be a 49er so bad,” said Foster, who long-time fan of former 49ers linebacker Patrick Willis. “It was funny. It was crazy.”
So was it awkward when he finally clicked back over to the Saints?
“No,” Foster said. “I hung up.”