Image Credit: Andrew Giesemann
The Forty Niners’ new regime has just finished up their second season in Santa Clara. With a two-year record as bad (10-22) as what they now have, patience is most definitely a virtue that Niner fans must possess right now. With six-year contracts and the fact that they took over a blown-up roster, most people around the organization seemed to be okay with the slow-moving process.
When John Lynch and Kyle Shanahan were introduced in the winter of 2017, there were more question marks surrounding the rookie general manager, more so the rookie head coach. People around the Niners knew what Kyle Shanahan brought to the team with his offensive wizardry, but a former-player-turned broadcaster in John Lynch? Running our team? It had people questioning the move at first.
What's become so apparent in these two seasons is that this duo of Lynch and Shanahan (“Lynchahan,” if you will) is not only headed in the right direction, but is so much more refreshing than management in the past. Put the talent of the team and the moves aside, these two have been such a pleasant change of pace for this franchise: the open dialog with the media, honesty, the sanity, just an overall unproblematic, non-toxic duo. It's almost as if being honest and upfront about the current state of the franchise goes a long way in the eyes of the fans.
Taking a look at the roster construction over this two-year span, it's clear that John Lynch’s goal was to lay the foundation. In Year 1, the roster was gutted and players were signed just for the sake of having bodies on the team. The team decided to bring on journeyman quarterback Brian Hoyer to bridge the gap between Year 1 and next offseason when they were expected to acquire their franchise quarterback. In addition to Hoyer, the team signed guys like Pierre Garcon, Elvis Dumervil, Brandon Fusco, Tim Hightower, Marquise Goodwin, Kyle Juszczyk, Robbie Gould and Malcolm Smith. These being the bigger names of course, they also acquired plenty of other players just to fill spots. Aside from Gould, Goodwin, Juszczyk and half a season of Pierre Garcon, the rest of these moves did not really have an impact as they’ve almost all moved on.
The 49ers’ 2017 draft class has been such a big part of the structure of this team over two years. With the number-two overall pick in the draft, the Niners traded back one spot with the Bears and drafted Solomon Thomas. Later in the first round, they traded back in and snagged the free-falling, stud linebacker out of Alabama, Reuben Foster. Right off the bat the rookie general manager was aggressive in drafting two first-rounders who have a ton of upside. In Round 3, the Niners drafted cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon and quarterback C.J. Beathard. In Rounds 4 through 7, they drafted running back Joe Williams, tight end George Kittle, wide receiver Trent Taylor, defensive linemen D.J. Jones and Pita Taumoepenu and safety Adrian Colbert. With ten players drafted, most of them ended up getting lots of playing time in 2017 due to a barren roster.
The overall consensus of the 2017 draft is mixed. Aside from George Kittle being one of (if not the best) tight ends in football, there is not much to be excited about. We’ll have to see in Year 3 if Witherspoon, Thomas and Colbert take that next step, then maybe this draft class can be labeled a success.
With a disastrous 0-9 start to the season, it was looking like the Niners would once again be drafting in the top three. That is until the entire franchise turned around and hope was struck back into the Bay Area. The Jimmy Garoppolo trade has been and will probably be the biggest and most impactful move John Lynch has made. We all know the story and what happened, but the entire franchise turned around in five games as that same momentum was continued into the offseason.
The Year 2 offseason under John Lynch was not a big one, aside from a couple moves. When the Richard Sherman bomb was dropped, the fan base was in an exciting turmoil. Fans were excited, confused, divided and in disbelief. The arch nemesis of the Niners was Richard Sherman and the Seahawks, and now he’s on our side? It took a little while to digest, but everyone has welcomed him with open arms. Fans expected Lynch to use up all their cap space in one offseason, but wisely, John Lynch was “aggressively prudent” and made just a few impactful moves. Aside from Sherman, the Niners picked up multi-skilled running back Jerick McKinnon, center Weston Richburg and a few depth pieces who competed for jobs in training camp. The team was expected to take a big leap forward under Jimmy Garoppolo, but John Lynch wanted to continue to lay his steady foundation one piece at a time.
The second draft under John Lynch and Kyle Shanahan is (so far) much more of a success than the previous year’s. First round pick (No. 9 overall) Mike McGlinchey has been a stud. He’s been arguably one of the best rookies in all of football and has performed well all year long. Second-round pick Dante Pettis has shown flashes of excellence in his limited time this season. Putting up big games with Nick Mullens, Pettis is primed for a nice breakout year as a number-two receiver in 2019. Third-round pick Fred Warner was a steal in the third round. The Niners’ leading tackler (124) and a consistent and athletic linebacker all season, Warner played a big role this year. Aside from the first three picks, the rest of the players have not had that huge of an impact. Throughout the season we saw some flashes from sixth-round pick Marcell Harris, fifth-round pick D.J. Reed, and seventh-rounder Richie James. Overall a solid draft class after Year 1, and one that has potential to get a lot better in Year 2.
Looking back on John Lynch’s two years in Santa Clara, there has not been a lot to be upset about. Of course the misjudgment of Reuben Foster was an issue, but other than unfortunate injuries, the team has continued to trend in the right direction. This 2019 offseason is hands down, the biggest offseason of the three. How the Niners perform in 2019 further indicates just how well of a job John Lynch has done thus far. We like what we see so far, but the pressure is about to be cranked to ten, and the entire league will be expecting big things from the Niners. This offseason we can expect John Lynch and Kyle Shanahan to be much more aggressive in their pursuit of talent. The recruitment of players, such as Antonio Brown has already begun. Aside from that, we can expect more trades and more big signings. With the number-two overall pick in the draft, lots of money to spend, and a healthy Jimmy Garoppolo in 2019, this team can become good very quickly.
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