John Lynch’s first NFL draft as GM of the San Francisco 49ers went off to rave reviews. He successfully pulled off a trade to move down one spot and pick up three extra picks at the top of the draft, and traded back into the first round to get Reuben Foster at #31.
Compared to how the Bears draft went, well, Lynch was on the right side of the accolades. He also opened up his draft room to Peter King of Monday Morning Quarterback, who wrote about his time with the 49ers front office. It’s a detailed read that walks through all the scenarios and experiences behind the trade with the Bears, and through the three days of the draft.
Still, after reading through the piece, I can’t help but think that the 49ers got a bit lucky, and the results could have been much different with different draft positioning and timing.
San Francisco was, after all, in the key swing spot for this draft, on the assumption that Myles Garrett was the clear top pick. Had San Francisco been picking 4th in this draft, they would have–it seems from the information provided by King–just drafted Reuben Foster about 27 picks before any other team was willing to do so. Being in the 2nd (or 3rd after the Bears took neither) spot was literally the only way the draft would have played out as it did for the 49ers.
And here’s the thing: Lynch made this move thinking that the Bears also wanted Solomon Thomas, their top player on the board. He was fully prepared to take Foster at 3rd. With benefit of hindsight, seeing how the rest of the draft played out, we can see that was way outside the consensus on Foster accounting for his injury history and character concerns.
Then there’s this exchange:
Lynch hollered to his chief medical officer, Jeff Ferguson: “You guys worried about his shoulder?”
“What shoulder!” Ferguson yelled back.
Hmmm. Those seem like famous last words.
Then there’s the actual trade for the 31st overall pick for Foster. According to the story, Sean Payton was on the phone with Reuben Foster when San Francisco buzzed in with just seconds remaining. King said he looked up at the clock and there were just 19 seconds remaining before the pick time would have expired, and the Saints could have jumped in front. They were that close to bungling the pick on a trade-up, that close to making a trade only to be pipped for the exact player they wanted. So yes, it’s a great story, but it was moments from a great disaster.
Then, the 49ers made an astute trade to get next year’s 2nd because the Saints had to have Alvin Kamara at pick #67 (early 3rd), one pick after the 49ers already made a pick. But it seemed to be against the wishes of coach Shanahan:
Shanahan liked a bunch of players, including corner Ahkello Witherspoon from Colorado and Ohio defensive end Tarell Basham. But there was no second-round pick, and lots of action on the two third-round picks.
Lynch called the Saints, got a six this year and two next year, and in his chair, Shanahan wasn’t pleased about missing out on a good player this year. But he understood. “We’re not one or two players away,” Shanahan said. “This is about building a program.”
Basham, the player they wanted, went at 80th. While Shanahan may not have been happy, he’ll likely be in a better mood in a year when that is the 50th pick in a draft instead of someone that went 80th. But then, and sorry that this one bothers me, they had to trade up to get C.J. Beathard because there was no one else they clearly needed, and wanted to get Shanahan the one quarterback he liked before going to bed that night (San Francisco would have the 2nd pick of the day on Saturday).
I’m going to set aside that Beathard wasn’t very highly regarded entering this draft by most prognosticators, and that he wasn’t expected to go near here. Let’s just focus on the disconnect here of doing this because the coach loved a guy that clearly wasn’t even rated highly on their own board. If he was, because of the quarterback premium, a QB-needy team like San Francisco wouldn’t let so many other picks and trade-downs and trade-ups take place. If the Patriots, for example, knew how good Tom Brady was going to turn out they wouldn’t have waited until pick #199. They’d take him very early.
So it wasn’t really the price (which was minimal), as much as the rationale that led to this move. We saw Kyle Shanahan’s father start to fail because of too much roster control and some impulsive moves. Remember the Maurice Clarett pick? Or remember how he praised other quarterbacks like John Beck to a fault? So I have my concerns when moves like this are made, not because of the cost now, but what it might represent.
Then, we see it again in the same article, when it comes to Joe Williams. San Francisco did give up more to move up in the 4th round for Williams. And here’s the kicker: Williams was off the team’s draft board because of character concerns after leaving his team.
Niners Nation offers this positive spin on Lynch changing his position because Shanahan loved and had to have Williams. “I’m telling you right now: If we don’t get him, I’ll be sick,” Shanahan told King. “I will be contemplating Joe Williams all night.”
“The Williams story is a fascinating one, but this also offers a really great perspective on the dynamic between John Lynch and Kyle Shanahan. We don’t know how this would have played out under Trent Baalke, or any other GM/HC combination, but this gives us further reason for optimism about the 49ers new GM and head coach. It shows that Lynch is willing to re-consider his opinions, rather than holding fast and refusing to change his mind. It shows that Lynch and Shanahan already have the kind of trust that is critical for rebuilding the organization.”
That’s one way to look at it. Another way to look at it is “why the hell are you getting to the middle of the draft and having this take place?” These should be the kind of decisions that a coach and GM should be hashing out before getting to the heat of the draft. According to King’s story, Lynch called and talked to Williams about his issues during the draft. This is straight out of Draft Day, and I guess it’s a good thing for Williams no former high school teammates came forward and said no one went to his birthday party.
It seems to be a good draft for San Francisco, but only time will tell if Reuben Foster pans out to match his talent or the concerns of other teams over a variety of things take hold, or if the guys taken later are worth Shanahan’s intense and unwavering focus on them. There are also warning signs that suggest maybe things could have been much differently under just a few changes in circumstance.