Just when you thought it couldn’t get any worse from Trent Baalke, the 49ers said “hold my beer”. Twitter erupted after San Francisco’s Sunday hire of John Lynch as their new General Manger. Yes, John Lynch the former NFL safety. The organization did so despite Lynch having no background experience working in an NFL front office. Lynch inked a 6-year deal with the organization. Most recently, you would’ve heard Lynch as a color commentator on NFL FOX where he’s been working since 2008. Prior to that, he was a 9-time Pro Bowler with the Broncos and Buccaneers.
I like John Lynch and hope he succeeds. But every scout/personnel guy who has spent decades trying to climb GM ladder should be disturbed.
— Jim Trotter (@JimTrotter_NFL) January 30, 2017
To put it lightly, the 49ers are taking a huge gamble as they are set to place extreme trust in a guy who has absolutely no experience working in an NFL front office. You would’ve thought they would follow in the Colts’ footsteps as they brought in a guy like Chris Ballard who previously served as director of football operations for the Kansas City Chiefs and had a huge helping hand in building a competitive, balanced NFL franchise.
The 49ers, however, started off on the right foot with Atlanta Falcons offensive coordinator set to become the team’s head coach following the conclusion of Super Bowl LI. Shanahan has played a pivotal role in leading Atlanta’s high octane offense. He has a great background working with and grooming QBs. However, you may only be as good as your players, and upgrading the team’s talent will be the role of new GM, John Lynch.
It’s hard not to criticize the team’s hire of Lynch. You would have to think there were at least a dozen better options on the market. In the past decade or so, we’ve seen teams like the Cleveland Browns, Detroit Lions and even Oakland Raiders find themselves atop the NFL Draft order year after year and all be labeled the “doormat of the league”. The Browns seem to be on the rise with a lot of draft capital in this year’s draft class and a more reliable front office. The Lions have made major strides and have even posted a couple playoff appearances as of late. This year we saw the Oakland Raiders ascend to one of the best teams in the AFC. The 49ers are now out on the doorstep, and the NFL’s newest doormat, here’s why:
Inexperienced General Manager
As I discussed in the introduction, bringing in John Lynch was not a good move by the 49ers. I don’t see how this was even a rational decision made by the organization. You take a guy out of the press booth whos been calling football games for nearly the past decade. All that needs to be said is: ZERO. EXPERIENCE. IN. AN. NFL. FRONT. OFFICE. There had to have been better options out there.
Don’t get me wrong, John Lynch possesses extreme smarts for the game of football. He was a phenomenal NFL safety and is currently even a Hall of Fame candidate. However, who is to say that translates to bringing in NFL talent and rebuilding what is likely the worst franchise in the league? Plus, with no experience in a front office, you would have to say it’ll take sometime for him to adjust to the job and get a feel for how things work. Time and patience isn’t something the 49ers have been kind with, as they proved this past year; which leads me to my next point.
Lack of Confidence in Head Coach
The 49ers made another blockbuster hire, but this coming last offseason when they hired Chip Kelly as the team’s new head coach after he was fired by the Philadelphia Eagles. Kelly went 2-14 in his first and only year with the 49ers. While Kelly takes a lot of heat, I believe he could be a solid head coach in the NFL, when given the chance. His situation in Philly became toxic, but I was confident he would be able to turn it around with a change of scenery in San Francisco.
While it’s typically fair to place all the blame on the team’s head coach as he’s the captain of the ship. However, in Kelly’s case, he had absolutely no talent to work with – it’s hard to say a different coach would do any better. I firmly believe you should never fire a head coach after one season, depending on the circumstances. Firing Kelly after one season shows lack of patience in the higher-ups – not something a franchise wants to be known for.
Kyle Shanahan is set to become the team’s new head coach in about a week. Entering a situation like this, he must feel immense pressure as the team is set to go onto their 3rd head coach in as many years. Shanahan will be faced with extreme expectations from the start as his massive contract will indicate. He must perform well, and fast.
No Major Assets
I’ve hit on the general manager position and head coaching situations of the past 3 years, now it’s time to talk about the players. The 49ers were arguably the worst team in the league this past season as they stumbled to just 2 wins (7 in past 2 seasons) and ranked 31st in total offense and dead last in total defense. The team lacks major assets on both sides of the ball, and are without a franchise player who they can build around.
You look at the offense, and there’s no franchise QB, which of course is the most important position in all of sports. The rest of the offense is extremely shaky. Carlos Hyde is a good running back. However, the 49ers are thin with playmakers. Torrey Smith is the team’s best receiver, but he is not a #1 by any means – especially at this stage in his career. The offensive line is among the worst in the NFL, with franchise tackle Joe Staley quickly reaching regression as he will be 31 years old at the start of the 2017 season.
On defense, they do have solid building blocks up front in 1st round picks of the past 2 years, Arik Armstead and DeForest Buckner. Buckner is coming off a solid rookie campaign, whereas Armstead missed half of the 2016 season. Behind them, there is major work to do. NaVorro Bowman is among the best linebackers in the NFL, when healthy. He will be coming off a torn Achilles and may be nearing retirement sooner than we think. There is a good safety tandem back in the secondary. Antoine Bethea led the team in tackles, but he will be 33 next season. Eric Reid is a solid, young piece at free safety. The 49ers have an abysmal cornerback unit and have major work to do. They are desperate for playmakers in the back 7. The ‘Niners lack a premier pass rusher and player in the secondary who can force turnovers and make big plays. Their sack leader of this past season had only 6 sacks, while their interception leader had only 2 INTs.
When discussing assets, that also includes draft capital. John Lynch and the 49ers possess 11 picks in this year’s NFL Draft, which is more than most teams. While they have a good hand of picks, their next additional pick doesn’t come until the end of the 4th round. This draft will be huge for San Francisco as they look to make major strides and it will also say a lot about Lynch as a general manager. He needs a homerun draft in order to set the tone for the organization’s future. Take a look at the picks they currently hold:
- 1st Round: #2 Overall
- 2nd Round: #34 Overall
- 3rd Round: #66 Overall
- 4th Round: #102 Overall
- 4th Round: #139 Overall (Compensatory)
- 5th Round: #147 Overall
- 5th Round: #162 Overall (Redskins)
- 6th Round: #188 Overall
- 6th Round: #206 Overall (Broncos)
- 7th Round:#224 Overall (Browns)
- 7th Round: #225 Overall
Poor QB Class
When a new head coach is hired and the respective team lacks a prominent signal caller under center, that typically comes with an early drafting of a QB; couple that with the fact that there’s a new GM in the building, it’s almost certain to happen. The 49ers sit at the #2 slot in this year’s NFL Draft. Unfortunately for them, this draft class lacks that generational talent at the QB position, although it does offer decent talent.
The top QBs in the class include: Deshaun Watson, Mitch Trubisky and DeShone Kizer. None of which are worth the 2nd overall pick. Often times you see organizations act too aggressive and pull the trigger on a QB in the 1st round which could be considered a reach in most cases. A team’s worst nightmare is drafting a bust at the QB position as it could set your organization back and hurt it more than it helps. I don’t think any of the QBs listed above are worth drafting at the #2 position. Instead, I would love to see the 49ers grab a defensive difference maker, or even trade down to acquire more draft picks. It would be smart to set themselves up for the future, rather than going “all-in” on a QB with more question marks than answers. Plus, the 2018 QB class is shaping up to be much better, a guy like Josh Rosen from UCLA is a player to watch out for as the #1 overall pick next year. It will be extremely interesting to see how Lynch and Shanahan approach the situation.
Another option for the 49ers is to work the market. They’ve been linked to Pro Bowler Kirk Cousins who is an established veteran who could produce from the get-go. He would prove to be a good fit under Shanahan as the two worked together in Washington. Cousins is set to be a free agent. Another option is working a trade for Jimmy Garoppolo. The hottest name on the trade market, he is another QB who has been linked to the 49ers. However, the Patriots’ demands would likely be too high.
Ultimately, I do believe the 49ers will select a QB in the 1st round, whether they trade down or not. I don’t see Cousins leaving the Redskins, and a trade for Garoppolo seems unlikely, and who knows if that would workout as he’s unproven as a starting NFL QB. A guy like Trubisky or Watson seem to be the candidates at #2, and while they can be solid NFL QBs, they are not worth a top 5 draft pick.
California Not the Same Market
In the past two years we’ve seen the Rams move from St. Louis, and the Chargers move a few miles north to Los Angeles. To make matters worse for the 49ers, the Raiders have taken over the Bay Area in their emergence as an AFC contender and best California team. Their rumored move to Las Vegas is now in jeopardy. With 4 teams now vacating the Golden State, the 49ers are the least attractive landing spot.
The 49ers do possess the 2nd most wiggle room when it comes to cap room. However, with the way the team is currently built, most priority free agents won’t be attracted, unless they believe in the saying “money talks” Still, even if the 49ers are able to bring in some talent via free agency, it’s extremely hard to build through the open market, although the New York Giants and Oakland Raiders disproved that theory this past season.
Having the mass amount of cap room could come back to bite the 49ers. With an inexperienced GM like John Lynch and the lack of talent on the roster, he could be too aggressive in free agency and be willing to throws loads of money around. More likely than not, free agents don’t live up to their high demands – especially when the team lacks key players to compliment them. The last thing this team needs to do is set themselves into a financial hole.