SF 49ers: Lynch-Shanahan long-term plan limiting team

San Francisco 49ers general manager John Lynch and head coach Kyle Shanahan Mandatory Credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports
San Francisco 49ers general manager John Lynch and head coach Kyle Shanahan Mandatory Credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports /

Are John Lynch and Kyle Shanahan’s long-term plans actually hindering the SF 49ers’ long-term growth?

When the SF 49ers signed general manager John Lynch and head coach Kyle Shanahan to long-term contracts by CEO Jed York, it had followed a series of coaching hires that were one-year failures with Jim Tomsula and Chip Kelly.

It seemed to be an admission by York he had failed to deliver any semblance of what former iconic team owner Eddie DeBartolo had built in the 1980s and 1990s. After years of struggle by one of the league’s most storied franchises, the head coach Jim Harbaugh era had renewed the “Super Bowl-or-bust” mentality that had defined the organization since the Joe Montana and Steve Young years.

Yet it was short-lived. And shortly thereafter, the Tomsula and Kelly coaching debacles had the SF 49ers faithful questioning the direction and competence of the organization.

When Shanahan and Lynch took over in 2017, they seemed to be lock-step in the plan to infuse more talent, and, perhaps more importantly, a culture change to the team they had inherited from previous general manager Trent Baalke.

What followed was a turnover of nearly the entire 53-man roster en route to a combined 10-22 record their first two seasons.

But the plan to add talent and reverse the losing culture finally clicked in year three. The result was a 13-3 record.

They were able to add talented pieces both offensively and defensively in tight end George Kittle, linebacker Fred Warner, wide receivers Brandon Aiyuk and Deebo Samuel, and linebacker Dre Greenlaw to name a few. Defensive tackle Javon Kinlaw showed a lot of promise in his first season as well and seems to be developing quite nicely.

Adding quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo late in 2017 was a smart move as well at the time because adding a solid starting signal-caller obviously helped propel them to a Super Bowl appearance two seasons later. The price was just a second-round NFL Draft pick given to the New England Patriots for Garoppolo.

While Garoppolo’s statistics and production overall are solid, his interception ratio and his overall health are the two big concerns that have some questioning whether he can be the Niners’ long-term answer at quarterback.

And the concerns are legitimate.

While Garoppolo’s record with the Niners is terrific — 24-9 including playoffs — he has also missed 23 games since 2018.

The idea Shanahan and Lynch have in building a long-term, perennial-winner franchise in the mold of the old SF 49ers and the head coach Bill Belichick-quarterback Tom Brady Patriots, the biggest factor is to find a franchise quarterback to lead your team.

There are definitely questions on whether Garoppolo is that guy or not, especially with his injury history. A team’s Super Bowl window, even with a talented roster, hinges on quarterback play. Plenty of teams have had a terrific roster but were hindered by inept quarterback play. This season’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers are a perfect example of the effect a talented, confident quarterback can have on a talented team. They went from 7-9 in 2019 to an 11-5 record and a Super Bowl appearance once Brady joined the fray in 2020.

So while they can definitely build a strong roster around to have sustainable success, ultimately it will be on the shoulders of the team’s signal-caller as the biggest influence in whether the team fulfills a goal of winning a Super Bowl and consistently competing for them each season.

And when a terrific talent such as proven quarterbacks like Deshaun Watson, Matthew Stafford or even a player in the draft whom a team falls in love with (i.e. BYU’s Zach Wilson, NDSU’s Trey Lance, Ohio State’s Justin Fields) becomes available, using draft capital to go get a quarterback who can be the face of the franchise for the next 10 years is still a plan for long-term success.

Even Young thinks making a move for Watson would be well worth it, telling KNBR’s Tolbert, Krueger & Brooks Show:

"I would give two first-round picks for generational quarterbacks. These are potential Hall of Famers. Who are the generational quarterbacks playing right now? Patrick Mahomes, Deshaun Watson, probably Josh Allen."

In the case of the SF 49ers, they have many of the pieces in place to go challenge for another Super Bowl this upcoming season. They can utilize their 10 picks in this year’s draft in whatever fashion they desire to accomplish that goal.

If they were to give up their top pick this season, No. 12 overall, and perhaps a first-, second- and a third-round pick next year, and the first or second the following year after that, they will still have plenty of draft picks at their disposal.

With the loss of defensive coordinator Robert Saleh to the NY Jets, senior personnel executive Martin Mayhew to the Washington Football Team, and potentially some free agents this offseason, the Niners will receive multiple compensatory picks over the next few seasons to replenish their roster. In fact, they will have a third-round compensatory pick over the next two seasons for losing Saleh, and a 2023 third-rounder when Mayhew left for Washington.

Add in San Francisco’s propensity to draft well in the middle rounds, a solid history of signing undrafted free agents, and sprinkle in some free-agent signings, whether it be some currently on the roster or across the league, and the cupboards won’t be bare. Even with a potential trade for an established quarterback or moving up for a talented young signal-caller in the draft who will be on a rookie contract, the long-term success the organization is seeking would still be in place because of the well-constructed roster.

In fact, if the SF 49ers pick a quarterback in the first round of the draft, he would be salary cap-controlled for the next three to four seasons, allowing the Niners room to extend the likes of Warner, EDGE Nick Bosa, and even possibly re-signing left tackle Trent Williams this offseason without hamstringing the franchise.

The point being, Shanahan and Lynch cannot be afraid of using some draft picks to go get a quarterback who can be a long-term answer and bring you one, if not more, Lombardi Trophies over the next few years.

The trade-off would be worth it. Just ask the Chiefs, who traded multiple picks to move way up to draft Mahomes back in 2017 even though they had a safe, solid alternative at the time with Alex Smith at quarterback.

Next. 4 questions Jimmy Garoppolo must answer if he returns in 2021. dark

No one in the Chiefs organization or fanbase is fretting over those draft picks now.