In his first offseason as the general manager of the San Francisco 49ers, John Lynch has been a busy man.
But has he been a successful man?
Lynch entered his first-ever front-office job with a long list of problems to fix and roster holes to fill in San Francisco. He’s made some signings that seem smart from the outside, but questionable when you take a closer look, and others that appear odd initially, but make sense upon further evaluation.
Armed with the second-most cap room in the league entering free agency, Lynch had to rid the 49ers of the reputation that kept the team from signing any significant players a year before without spending like a mad man.
Weighing the good, the bad, and the questionable, let’s take a look at how Lynch’s moves have affected the 49ers’ attempt at returning to glory.
Lynch dodged a bullet by not overvaluing the likes of Mike Glennon and instead opting to sign veteran journeyman Brian Hoyer, who has previous starting experience in head coach Kyle Shanahan’s offense. The 49ers aren’t going to be fixed overnight and Hoyer has a wealth of experience as a hard-working leader on under-talented teams. While he lacks elite talent, Hoyer will be able to show a young quarterback how to put in work at the NFL level.
The biggest name Lynch has brought in so far is 30-year-old receiver Pierre Garcon, who also has previous experience with Shanahan. The former Washington Redskins pass-catcher is a consistent producer who doesn’t lean on his physical traits to get open. After the 49ers fielded the league’s worst receiving corps in 2016, Garcon provides veteran leadership for a young cast who didn’t have anyone to look up to last year.
Despite having the cap room to be a little reckless, Lynch kept himself from over-bidding on a range of available players that cashed in with other teams around the league. As a first-year GM, Lynch could have looked to win the league’s respect by landing a player or two who could sell some jerseys purely based on their name recognition.
The 49ers gave up pretty much as little as possible to acquire Pro Bowl center Jeremy Zuttah from the Baltimore Ravens last week, moving back 12 spots in the sixth round to upgrade up front. The 30-year-old earned his first career Pro Bowl last season and carries a reasonable $3.5-million cap hit. He will anchor the offensive line beside 2016 first-round pick Josh Garnett.
Some of the best additions Lynch has made have been under-the-radar role players that help change the culture and adapt to Shanahan’s style of play. Lynch established he would be a player early by adding defensive tackle Earl Mitchell as the first quality free agent signed after his release from the Miami Dolphins. Receiver Aldrick Robinson was brought over from the Atlanta Falcons, Shanahan’s most-recent stop. Tight end Logan Paulsen played in Shanahan’s system with Washington. Linebacker Brock Coyle was added from the Seattle Seahawks, a team with impeccable culture.
Lynch put a high value on former Super Bowl MVP Malcolm Smith, signing him to a five-year, $26.5-million deal. While the 49ers can afford the cap hit and Smith is technically an upgrade, the linebacker proved over the past two seasons that he wasn’t the same impact-making defender that stole the stage at Super Bowl XLVIII. Smith will likely get plenty of tackles on clean-up duty, but he’s a subpar cover linebacker and a non-existent pass-rusher.
Adding Pro Bowler Kyle Juszczyk is a good fit for Shanahan’s offense, but making him the highest-paid fullback with millions more guaranteed on his deal than any other player at his position is a reach. Just like Smith, the 49ers have the cap room to cover the costs, however, escalating the market for a dying position has league-wide implications.
Creating the reputation that you can be pushed around in the negotiating room sets a dangerous precedent for future signings. If agents identify Lynch as a pushover, the 49ers will end up filling their roster with overpaid, selfish players who lost their motivation when they signed their contracts.
While being careful with spending is important and Lynch needs to be smart about how he builds over time, the lack of big difference-makers is a little troubling, though this was not a highly-touted free-agent class. Many of the players were handed large enough contracts that Lynch can argue they weren’t worth the investment, but not outbidding those teams who signed quality players to quality deals may have been missed opportunities.
Given Lynch’s six-year contract, he has plenty of time to fix the 49ers. In his first few months, Lynch hasn’t done anything to cripple the roster or the salary cap for the long term, nor has he filled any of the major holes. With the draft still to come, Lynch hasn’t done enough to receive a true evaluation of his roster building skills, but his good moves have outweighed his bad ones so far.
For a guy coming from the broadcast booth to the front office, Lynch has raised his team’s reputation enough to deserve an open mind from 49ers fans.
(Photos courtesy: Action Images)
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