Opinions vary as to how long it should take an NFL team to rebuild.
But, it seems generally fair to assume 3-4 years is the amount of time a general manager and the coaching staff would need to straighten out a dysfunctional roster and at least make a team competitive again when it had hit rock-bottom.
If a team is lucky enough to make it to the post season in that timeframe, it would probably be considered speedier than usual in such a competitive league.
So, it is fascinating to wonder where the San Francisco 49ers will find themselves after the 2018 season, the second year of their major rebuild.
All signs are pointing up, way up.
Based on the first season of the Kyle Shanahan and John Lynch era (2017) several factors are now in play which could help speed up the rebuild and propel the 49ers beyond just a winning season for the first time in several years, but perhaps even into the playoffs.
First and foremost, general manager John Lynch has made smart roster decisions since he arrived in early 2017 and which has set the tone for success.
His priority going in was to fill the many holes in what was viewed as a dysfunctional, untalented roster and build a team that would compete.
Since former head coach Jim Harbaugh moved on in 2013, the 49ers hadn’t had a winning season and saw back to back years (2015, 2016) whenhead coaches were fired after each had a one-year stint.
Statistically, the Niners offenses in both years were also ranked the second worst in the league (31st) and had the worst ranked defense (32nd) in both years. And, no players from either the 2016 team were was selected to play the initialin the Pro Bowl roster for the first time since 2005.
Luckily, Lynch had over $90 million in cap space in 2017 to play with and the freedom to take a blank slate and make it his own. He once called it the “Land of Opportunity”.
But, he still had to fill in position players that would have immediate impact.
Right away, Lynch made several aggressive moves by releasing certain veterans and hiring a bevy of offseason free agents like wide receivers Pierre Garcon and Marquise Goodwin, fullback Kyle Juszczyk, kicker Robbie Gould and quarterback Brian Hoyer, among others.
A considerable number of these free agent moves paid off, along with Lynch’s initial draft picks. Nine of the original ten selected in the 2017 Draft landed spots on the 53-man roster. Lynch also signed the majority of the team’s class of 18 undrafted free agents.
The aggressive GM also made a number of high-caliber trades using picks chosen by the previous GM (Baalke). Then, of course, getting QB Jimmy Garoppolo from the Patriots for a second-round draft pick and signing him to a major contract in February 2018 was a total coup.
The result was a 49ers team that started the 2017 season 0-9, but improved in most areas despite ravishing injuries, saw several rookies step up to the challenge, and won their last five games in a row. They finished with a 6-10 record, a good improvement from the prior two seasons.
For the 2018 Draft, Lynch’s approach was somewhat different. He thought more long-term this time.
He chose what he referred to as “cornerstone” pieces he hoped would be around for a while (tackle Mike McGlinchey, defensive end Kentavius Street) and focused on adding more depth (safeties Tarvarius Moore and Marcell Harris, cornerback D.J. Reed, and wide receiver Richie James).
The prospects are looking good for this young team now, most of whom head into their second year under head coach Kyle Shanahan’s tutelage and the experience gained in 2017.
Following Lynch’s lead in picking up the right position players, Shanahan’s goal was to establish good locker room chemistry right away.
Of importance to him was to add more closeness in the team and make certain changes that would help cement the vision he and Lynch hoped to parlay.
For instance, the locker room assignments were modified away from position players that only sat together to players of every group sitting next to one another.
Shanahan said, “I think the more you can mix up the locker room and you can have a running back next to a D-Lineman or a corner next to a center, I just think it mixes it up. It forces you to get a little bit out of your comfort zone and I think in the long run it makes your team a little closer."
A painted mural was also added to the hallway that players transition through which displays some of the organization’s greatest players with the words, “It won’t be easy, but it will be worth it.”
Reports coming from the locker room now indicate that these moves by Shanahan are working. Despite losing their first nine games of the season and facing adversity in the way of injury issues, the 2017 49ers remained a tight-knit group.
Garoppolo noticed it when he first arrived in early November 2017. He said it was “rare” and “Especially [when] bad things happen, people want to start pointing fingers but there was none of that in here. Everyone had each other’s back, looking out for each other and it made a for a good group.”
Other players like veteran left tackle Joe Staley backed up that sentiment and added that the guys remained “excited” in the locker room even when the chips were down. He thinks the “maturity” of the young players and respect for one another helped them keep the faith.
This is along the lines of what Lynch said during the joint Introductory Press Conference.
He emphasized the importance of finding players who would “be great teammates” and “have great character” along with their football abilities.
And, then, after Garoppolo arrived, he turbo-charged this team’s belief in themselves even more.
It’s not hard to imagine that a more experienced, more confident group entering year two of the rebuild will move even faster up the ranks than expected when loaded with chemistry.
We can talk all we want about how well the roster is being reconstructed and what a great job Coach Shanahan is doing to instill faith among the players and in himself.
But, all of it wouldn’t have been possible without the trust first established between Lynch, Shanahan and owner Jed York back in early 2017.
At the outset, it seemed an unusual football move by a team owner to pair Shanahan and Lynch as well as give them each a long-term contract since both were virtual rookies in their new roles.
While Shanahan had been an offensive coordinator for eight years as well as the son of a head coach (Mike Shanahan) & Lynch acquired an extensive background as a former player and broadcaster, neither was ever directly involved with the front office management of a team before.
But, York believed in Shanahan who believed in Lynch.
There was an instant certainty that together, they could bring this once storied franchise back to greatness in the near future.
Without that, there is no way this team would be so far into its rebuild with hopes for something greater.
Fact is, from the beginning of their relationship, the foundation of this new-look 49ers has been one of a common vision towards what is best for this team as well as a belief in each other’s abilities.
“We all want the same thing… to get the 49ers back to what the organization has been,” Kyle Shanahan said in March 2017.
Well, they are certainly on their way, big time.
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