General Manager John Lynch & Head Coach Kyle Shanahan Press Conference
General Manager John Lynch & Head Coach Kyle Shanahan
Press Conference – March 29, 2021
San Francisco 49ers
General Manager John Lynch: “Hey everybody. Look, we thought it’d be appropriate to start, there’s one thing different here for us. Our first press conference without one [Philadelphia Eagles senior vice president of communications] Bob Lange here with us. On behalf of [head coach] Kyle [Shanahan] and our entire organization, just wanted to thank Bob. Bob had a unique opportunity to go home, be provided for him and his family and so we wish Bob and Rachael and their beautiful kids all our best as they move on in their next chapter and very thankful and grateful for everything Bob did for us. With that, not much else going on around here. So, we’ll open it up for questions.”
First question for you guys is who talked to QB Jimmy Garoppolo on Friday after the trade was made? What was the message delivered to him and how did he react?
JL: “I think the answer, we both spoke to Jimmy. Kyle did right away and I did later in the day. I’ll let Kyle go after this, but the message was what we were doing, why we were doing it and how he is very much still a part of our plans. I believe those conversations should remain private, but Jimmy, he welcomes competition. So, I’ll leave it at that. Kyle, you go ahead.”
Head Coach Kyle Shanahan: “Yeah, very similar. Wanted to get it to Jimmy definitely before it came out. So, called him first thing, had a good conversation with him. Obviously, no one wants to hear that and I know that he wasn’t totally excited about it, like you’d expect, but Jimmy handled it great like he always does. We were very straight up with each other and I told him how we felt. This doesn’t change any of his circumstances right now. He’s still coming in here trying to lead this team. I told him how excited I was that free agency went a lot better than we anticipated with being able to sign a lot more of our own players than we had thought going into it and that we’ve got a real good team coming back here and we still plan on him leading us and getting as far as we can with him.”
I’m sure you saw yesterday that Peter King reported that you guys were likely to head to Tuscaloosa tomorrow for Alabama’s pro day. Kyle, you’ve seldom been seen on the pro day circuit, so this seems like it’s a big deal. A, is that right, are you going to Alabama? And B, what was the thought process on going there instead of Ohio State? Why not go to BYU or to North Dakota State, some of those other pro days?
KS: “Well, yeah, one, we have people at all the spots. A lot of people we trust and will be able to meet with here over the next month. I normally don’t like to go to them a bunch unless I have to for some reason, but I also have been kind of grown up in the idea that you don’t like to go everywhere and show people things. When you’re sitting at 12 and stuff, I don’t want to go to a bunch of quarterback pro days and things like that. Now that you move up to three, you don’t have to hide as much. It’s not as big of a deal to me as it might’ve been when we were sitting at 12. Also, Alabama’s already had one. It’s their second one and just talking with [former Ohio State QB Justin] Fields’ agent and everything, we’ll get another one from him, too. So, we’ll be able to see him. That kind of made it an easy decision.”
Kyle and John, this is for both of you, but Kyle, you just mentioned that your plans are to try to make a run at this thing this year. How much of this decision that you made and to hang onto Jimmy is driven by the fact that you believe you can compete this year, but also maybe concerns about his injury history?
KS: “I think we had to look at everything. You hope to be competing to get into the playoffs every single year, which is the ultimate deal to get you a chance at the Super Bowl. So, that’s your goal every year. The more you look into this league, it’s, especially our four years here, it’s very hard to succeed when your starting quarterback doesn’t say healthy or if you don’t have one of those true starting quarterbacks. We’ve gotten that with Jimmy. He’s played at a very high level when he’s played. It’s been tough, the two years he’s missed. It’s been hard to compete the same way, so we knew we had to look into that this year, I think, as everyone expected. You learn a lot about this stuff, you take into the salary cap, all the things that go on. We were hoping to get a younger guy in here eventually, and to look at this year to where we feel we had a chance to do it, we were excited about it. You’re making those decisions and trying to plan it out. Also, at the same time, free agency’s going on. So, you don’t know exactly what type of team you’re going to have through at all. I guess when the dust settles and we signed a bunch of our guys back and you feel you’ve got a team, does that change how you feel about going to get a rookie quarterback? It might a little bit, as far as that Week One or that season coming up, but as far as your whole organization, I think that’s something we felt pretty strongly at early on that if we could find the right guys for that guy to be, we’d like to get in that position to do that.”
JL: “Yeah, I would echo what Kyle says. I think he said it well, but yeah, the impetus for these conversations with some of the other teams we talked to about moving up, it really started out of a want at first. The NFL has set up that free agency comes first, then the draft. Well, it’d be nice to know for free agency, what are we dealing with it? Nobody was ready to pull the trigger then. So, those first conversations happened early in March, but as free agency went, as we started going through and we’re happy with the results. We retained a lot of our key people. We added to it. Yeah, we felt like we have a team that can compete. At the same time, I think [president of 49ers enterprises & executive vice president of football operations] Paraag [Marathe], [vice president, football administration] Brian Hampton, that crew has done a tremendous job of leaving us some flexibility. We went to ownership said, ‘Hey, things are looking good. We’d like to make this move, but we also don’t want to say goodbye to Jimmy. We think Jimmy, we’ve shown we can get to a Super Bowl with him. We can play at a high level and we don’t think those two things have to be mutually exclusive.’ So, the opportunity to trade up and possibly get a guy that can be a big part of our future and keep Jimmy who we’re very high on and I think some positive things are happening in this offseason for, that’s kind of the plan we arrived at. We’re very excited. It was a stated goal that we needed to come out with the quarterback position being stronger this year and I think we’ve put ourselves in an opportunity to make that happen with this move.”
Could you maybe describe how strong a sense you have on what the top two picks are going to do? I don’t know if you want to like get into, just depicting what your top three options would be, or if you pinpointed one exactly?
JL: “Well, I think anytime you’re projecting, it’s just like you. We don’t have intel on what’s going on other than what’s been out there. I think those two teams have been pretty forthright. [Jacksonville Jaguars head coach] Urban Meyer has been on record. They were obviously there watching [former Clemson QB] Trevor [Lawrence] at Clemson and who knows what happens with the Jets. I think ultimately the decision we made was, we were very comfortable with this group of players at the top of this draft. And, we felt like putting our self in position to get up to three, where we kind of controlled things, was something very attractive to us. We talked to a few teams and I think there was traction with Miami early. We just had really good dealings with them. Very appreciative to [Miami Dolphins general manager] Chris Grier, [Miami Dolphins head coach] Brian Flores, [Miami Dolphins owner] Stephen Ross, their owner. I think they were first-class this entire way and we were able to bring it to a close on Friday while we were up at BYU.”
Just reading between the lines, it seems like you really do want to keep Jimmy Garoppolo, but if someone blew you away with a trade offer, you would have to consider that. I guess for starters, is that accurate?
KS: “Yeah, that’s accurate with every player on our team. I mean, probably including myself. If someone blows us away with a trade for me, I bet you John would trade me. I mean, definitely. We’re in a situation where when you bring in a rookie quarterback, to me, it’s always better, especially on the team that you have, if you’ve got a veteran starter there already who you like and you’re comfortable winning with. That’s usually the direction you want to go and not throw someone else out into the fire until they’re fully ready. That’s the situation we’re at. When you look at free agency, if it goes the other way around and you do things differently, maybe. But right now, Jimmy, it’s going to be hard to find a quarterback that gives us a better chance to win than Jimmy right now, especially even a rookie in the draft. So, that’s what you look into. Now, if someone wanted something for that and it can make your team better in a lot of other ways, you listen to that, but also depends on how good you feel about that rookie. We’re not there yet right now and odds are, we probably won’t be. That’s why we’re happy that we don’t have to be that way. We’ve got a guy in here who we know we can win with, a guy that our players love, that we love and we’re excited to have him this year and we’re excited to have a hell of a quarterback right behind him learning for when the time is his.”
Not to get too dramatic, but decisions like this, franchises can reach great heights or fall to great depths. No one takes a quarterback at number three and thinks he’s going to fail. Everyone loves the quarterback they take at number three, but history shows that doesn’t work out. I guess, do you have an appreciation or an excitement about taking a risk like this? Maybe you don’t view it as a risk right now, and what it could mean for the future of the franchise?
KS: “I’ll say just, it’s a risk every single year you go into an NFL season without one of those top five guys. It’s very tough to win in this league and there’s only a few quarterbacks that you’re going to win because of just the quarterback. Very few, and even those guys still need a good team around them. So yeah, you’ve got to take risks. This is a risk we were willing to take. We looked at how our four years have gone. We looked at how we want the next four years to go and we’ll look to where we’re at in the draft and the options that are there. That’s why I sit in there, looking at this stuff since January and going all the way through the process. We felt pretty strongly we were going to get left at the altar sitting there at 12, the way that we think this draft is going to go and the way all these candidates are, and the way a lot of teams are in a position trying to take a risk to fill that need that I just said about. Almost every team’s in that position except, I don’t know, 10 of them. So yeah, it’s a risk, but that’s every season in this league is a risk.”
JL: “I would just add to that, that of course, this was made with a lot of deliberation, a lot of study, a lot of opinions from multiple people and we ultimately arrived that we thought it was worth it. We also, I think, paid somewhat of a premium for doing it early and why was that important to us? Because, well, one thing I always remember [former San Francisco 49ers head coach] Bill Walsh, one thing he used to talk about a lot when I was at Stanford was you’ve got to beat your opponent to the punch. We felt like it was a matter of time before the first domino fell and we wanted to be a part of that. Once we decided this was something we wanted to do and might we pay a little bit of a premium for that? Yeah, but we felt like this was a priority. This was a priority for our football organization going forward. So, absolutely you understand, you study historically how things work, but we’ve got great confidence in this group of players that are up there. Now we hone in and continue to examine each and every guy that we have interest in at that spot and ultimately do our best to find the guy who’s going to be a great part of this organization’s future.”
This is for Kyle, just given with former North Dakota State QB Trey Lance, he played in a pro-style system, but given he only had one game in 2020 and overall the sample is relatively small, how does that change the evaluation process from your standpoint? And a second question, is Chris Simms privy to your decision at number three?
KS: “Yeah. I tell him everything. No, I mean, it’s always hard when a guy didn’t play this year. Definitely. He played one game, so I don’t think people are going to go a ton off of one game. You’ve got to go off his body of work and you’ve got to play the whole season before, so of course we’d all wish he could have had one. We wish [former BYU QB Zach] Wilson could have a full season, too. There’s a lot of things that happened this year and we also wish we could go personally work out everybody. I wish I could go out to dinner with everybody. There’s a lot of things that make it harder for everyone this year, but the draft’s hard every year. So, I mean, if you look at it over history, 50-50 is pretty good. So, you throw in a lot more variables and it makes it harder, but is it going to make it worse than 50-50? I don’t know, but one thing that I kind of liked with what we did, when you sit at 12 and everyone’s talking about there’s possibly five guys that could go around there and man, you can’t work these guys out. You can’t go out to dinner with them, but you’ve got to find out a lot more about these guys. How do you do that without tipping your hand off to everyone? And that was also one of the frustrating things to be sitting there like, man, we don’t want to go try to see someone or do all this stuff or be Zooming all the time and now everyone knows how hard we’re trying to do something. You get to three, you don’t have to mess with that stuff and I think that gives us a better chance now to do our due diligence because we don’t have to really play any games in that way.”
I don’t expect you to list out your preferences here, but is former Alabama QB Mac Jones in your mind worthy of that top echelon and is he somebody that you’ve liked for a while?
KS: “Yeah. I mean, I just saw him in January for the first time, along with all these other guys. So, they’ve all been in that boat. I was joking, I didn’t finish that answer to that last one on Chris, but trust me, Chris talks about everything. Therefore, I haven’t been able to talk to him in a couple of years. Anyone who you’re friends with who speaks in the media and people think you’re friends with them, that means you’re not allowed to tell them anything. That’s why he doesn’t even ask me stuff because if he does ask me something and I tell him, then he can’t say it, but Chris does a good job with that stuff and I respect listening to him. That’s why I always do listen to his opinions because he’s not a guy who just calls people to get his opinions. Chris works at it. That’s why he wanted to be a coach for a little bit, spending a year in New England and stuff. He didn’t like the hours, I understand. But, he loves watching quarterbacks and doing that stuff. So, I always love to hear his evaluation. What was your question after that, because I cleared that last one. Oh yeah, about Mac. You know I can’t answer exactly of the stuff, but the way we looked at it is, to move up to three, we had to feel good that there’s three guys we’d be comfortable with leading our team for a long time. We couldn’t make that decision before there was three guys, so we had to feel that way with three. Now, I think there’s a chance to get there with four and five. There’s a chance. There are five guys that are kind of at this party a little bit and people are talking about them going everywhere. They’re all over in the first round. Our feeling is these guys are going to go a lot higher than people realize and when you have two guys sitting at one and two, could even possibly be three and four. Then you hear a lot of teams all the way through the draft who are in a situation where they really want a quarterback and they don’t have someone close to what we have with Jimmy. It means those five guys are going to disappear pretty fast. So, we had to feel confident at three to make this move and that’s what we did. I’m excited about, now we know there’s five players. Who do you want to put your future in? Well, glad we’ve got a month to really work on it.”
Both of you had spoken about how important resigning your free agents were. When you look at the timelines, resigning T Trent Williams and FB Kyle Juszczyk, how much did that influence going up and moving for that trade for the number three spot and kind of the timeline of how that all progressed?
JL: “Yeah, so good question and so much has transpired. I’m trying to put it all together, but first of all you know, I told you the timing. The initial calls on this trade kind of went out early in March, probably that first week of March. A lot of teams weren’t ready because this is such a different year, so the process really hadn’t happened. You know, imagine this time, typically, we would have been to a combine, started 30 visits and all those things. That hasn’t transpired. So, for a lot of teams, they just got kind of like, ‘We’re not ready do that yet because we want to go through the process a little bit more.’ Then free agency starts and yes, it’s important for some dominoes to fall on. I believe the first one was Juice and we were very excited. He was someone who’s a very important part of this football team in every way, with the way Kyle and his staff utilizes him in a multitude of different ways, to being a great example for everybody here in terms of the work ethic and what you put into your body to be successful in this game. Then Trent. Trent was obviously a major priority. He’s one of the better players in football in my mind. We made that trade. We worked hard late in the season to get something done. Trent was enamored, as he should be, with the opportunity to reach free agency and I think had us nervous, but ultimately, we were able to get something done and we were thrilled. So, everything plays into it, but probably more so the idea of going ahead and doing that, but also having plans of rolling with Jimmy as well. That probably was influenced by our success in free agency in our mind. We all know that this will be judged over time. To kind of keep the whole thing together was influenced by the success that we were able to have in free agency.”
This one’s for John. When you talk about some of those dominoes, how big of a domino was the DL Dee Ford restructure for you to be able to fit both Jimmy and this number three pick in your 2021 cap situation and how is Dee Ford doing right now?
JL: “Well, Dee’s doing well. With that type of injury, you don’t want to get too high or too low and I think he’s really in a good place. He’s working. He’s been here every day. He’s working extremely hard. It’s encouraging to look out my window and see things progress, but I think we’ll leave it at that, but we’re very appreciative to Dee and his representative Adisa [Bakari] for working with us to come up with something that would allow for us to gain some more room. He worked with us and we’re extremely appreciative. I think, both sides won there. I think on that note, just would really like to thank Paraag, Brian Hampton, [contract administrator] Richard Buffum and [manager, salary cap] Jeff Diamond. Those guys do tremendous work. It’s funny, we refer to them as ‘the Fed’ because they kind of set prices for the entire league and agents look forward to their pricing of players in free agency. This year in particular, because we didn’t have a combine where a lot of that stuff goes on. I think a lot of people were relying on them and those guys did a tremendous job working through and the relationships with agents and I thought were really excellent in what they were able to contribute, as well as our pro staff led by [director of pro personnel] Ran Carthon and [pro personnel scout] R.J. Gillen, [pro personnel analyst] Salli Clavelle and [pro personnel analyst] Fred Gammage. They were all a part of this. Kyle and I believe in listening to everyone and creating a good team where everyone feels empowered and feels like their opinion matters. I think what we’ve been able to accomplish thus far is very representative of a lot of efforts from a lot of different people.”
Kyle, there’s a perception that your ideal archetype quarterback is Minnesota Vikings QB Kirk Cousins, and that that’s somehow rigid. You said your process has sort of evolved over the years. How accurate is that perception and how has your decision-making on quarterbacks evolved?
KS: “I probably change my number every time. I sometimes say there’s five, I sometimes say there’s 10, but they’re all different, but there’s 10 of them, whatever that number is. You want an elite player and of course if you can get a guy who is elite with his arm and can play in that pocket and do everything and still run around and make off-schedule plays. I mean, that’s what you’ve seen with [Kansas City Chiefs QB Patrick] Mahomes. Everybody wants something like that, but there is a risk to everything and you’ve got to see that in the draft, you’ve got to see it in college. It’s not that these guys are just coming. I mean, no one’s probably been talented like that. Some have. [Former Denver Broncos QB John] Elway’s pretty talented and there’s people, but there’s more talented players playing these positions in college. So, I do think there’s more options coming into the league, but if you can’t sit in that pocket and play the position, eventually it’s not going to matter. So, they both go hand in hand. To say that my prototypical guy is someone like Kirk Cousins, I mean, that’s just, everyone knows my history with Kirk. We drafted him in the fourth round at Washington. I got to coach him for three games. We were fired. I left. Thought we’d have a chance to get him here in free agency and I would have loved to have him in free agency until Jimmy came along the year before, because I thought we could have won with him, just like Minnesota has. I think Kirk does a good job for whatever team he plays for every year. There’s a number of quarterbacks like that, but that’s the only one I’ve been associated with because people thought I was trying to bring him here, which I was at the time. It’s not because that’s how you draw it up. If you’re going to draw it up, you’re going to draw the biggest, fastest, strongest and best quarterback in the pocket. So, I think that’s pretty ridiculous to say that, but I also tell you, I love Kirk. I know I’m not allowed to talk about other players, but Kirk’s a hell of a player and a lot of people would be lucky to have a quarterback like that.”
Kyle, does the decision-making you guys are making at number three, is it any different knowing that you have Jimmy there in terms of whether you’re looking at a guy who maybe needs to sit for a little bit to develop, you have that luxury maybe because you have Jimmy? Does it alter anything at all?
KS: “I think you weigh all that stuff in, especially when you have a month to really do it. You look at our team and everything, and you want to have an idea of what this guy can do right away, how he fits in your team right away and what that means for the future, but I don’t think you want to make a decision to move up to three and do what we did just based off of what’s the best for one year. So, you want to take that into account, especially when there’s a number of candidates there. It’s not like there is just one guy. So, when there’s three to five guys who could be there, you’re going to take all that into account, but we’ve got to make sure we get the right guy for the future, not just this year.”
I think I’m connecting the dots. I don’t think it’s that complicated based on what you said, but I just wanted to flush it out a little bit more. Say you guys had kind of stunk it up in free agency and it didn’t go well, are you kind of saying you would look at the team and say, ‘Hey, maybe this is not a Super Bowl contender and you would have been more apt to maybe deal Jimmy and roll with a rookie quarterback?’ I just want to make sure I’m following what you said.
KS: “You’re trying to connect a lot of dots and so have we since January. That’s the problem. You’re trying to decide on stuff in January. What direction do you want to go? You hear people like [Los Angeles Rams QB Matt] Stafford available. You hear [Houston Texans QB] Deshaun [Watson]. You go to the draft, you go to free agency. You think about your own. You think about your own team. It’s a lot of stuff to go back and forth on. So, there’s no, ‘Hey, this is exactly what we want to do.’ It’s, ‘Hey, what if A, B and C happen? Well, then we’ve got to do this. What if D and F happen. Then, we’ve got to do this.’ We weren’t totally in the position just to dictate anything. So, you kind of do the best with what you’ve got in each situation but when it was all said and done and the way it’s finished, we feel great about it, but that’s also why we tried to get up to the spot, to number three, so we could control our own decisions a little bit and not just sit there and try to play everything off each other. So, there was no set plan, but we also knew, ‘Hey, in free agency, the way this salary cap just went, there’s a chance we won’t be able to sign back many of our own guys.’ That’s what our players and us were worried about all season. That was tough to go through that and fortunately for the 49ers, we were able to, but you never knew that until free agency. We didn’t know anything until the draft. At least after we made this trade, we got a much better understanding of what we’re going to do in the draft.”
JL: “Yeah and I would just add to that. I think we’ve been fairly consistent and resolute about Jimmy being a part of us this entire offseason. I think probably the equation, the combination of both moving up and keeping Jimmy, that probably crystallized as free agency, in our minds, went well, that that could be a possibility, because I think at one point, well, if we’re going to do this, then does it make sense? Then ultimately, that’s where we arrived at. So, I think you try to keep a lot of balls in the air, try to see what your options are, but one thing consistent, we’ve been pleased with Jimmy. We know we can win with Jimmy and then ultimately, we arrived at this deal after free agency that, okay, if we’re going to move up, let’s do both. I think that became something that was more viable in our minds once free agency went, as we feel in our hearts, in a positive direction for us.”
KS: “I think a hard decision for us, too, is when you committed what we did to Jimmy, and you’ve got a guy who’s really only played one year and in one year of football, when you look at the numbers he had, how efficient he was and how close we got to winning the Super Bowl, he’s got a lot of untapped potential also. So that’s a hard thing for us, too. It’s not like, we’re not giving up on Jimmy because he can’t play or anything. Jimmy can play. He’s only gotten to do it one year. We also like the person, too. We also know we can’t go through a year of what’s happened two out of the last three years. So, that’s something we had to protect the organization with, and there’s lots of ways to go into that, but it wasn’t just a slam dunk decision on this guy can play, this guy can’t play. You’ve got a lot of options and you’re in a lot of different spots to acquire those and how does it all balance out? Trust me, I mean, my wife, when she listens to my phone calls with John when we’re trying to be on vacation, she thinks we’re having the same conversation eight times a day and we kind of are because we’re just circling through all this stuff. The first time I woke up with a little bit more clarity is when we made this trade, because it’s still not done like exactly where we’re going and stuff, but it was like, ‘All right, now it’s much more clear.’ There’s not as many dots to connect.”
As far as untapping Jimmy’s potential, what’s your guys’ sense on the offseason, the spring offseason, OTAs, mini camps, whether you’re going to have that? Does that sort of influence your quarterback decision in that maybe a rookie without a spring wouldn’t be able to get up to speed to be able to run the offense efficiently by Week 1?
JL: “Yeah, I think that’s a question that every team is very eager to find out, as are the players. What’s this offseason going to look like? I think Kyle’s been a part of the steering committee in terms of coaches on what they need out of an offseason. So, the league’s working hard. It’s in the CBA that there will be an offseason. Obviously, with COVID, things can be affected and adjusted. I know they’re working hard, the league and the union, coming up with the right formula, but that, as far as we know, still hasn’t been decided as of yet. There’s a lot of ideas what might happen and as Kyle said earlier, I think all those things go into the equation. A lot of players suffered last year, a lot of young players, not just rookies. It’s hard to improve in this league when you don’t have an offseason. That’s an integral part of improvement is opportunity, is reps. For some of the older players, maybe not as important, but for young players, offseasons are critical. So, we hope we have that opportunity with our players. We understand the league’s working hard to come up with the best situation, along with the union and looking forward to some clarity here soon on what that’s going to look like.”
I think in December, you kind of mentioned just running through the different possibilities at quarterback of the Patrick Mahomes, former Washington Football Team QB Alex Smith set up in Kansas City. How much is that something that you looked at when you were kind of evaluating these different options and did you even go so far as to maybe make some calls to see how that all worked when the Chiefs did that?
KS: “No, but I mean, that’s a good example. I think that’s the most obvious example of having a really good quarterback and drafting a young guy and still having success that year with your veteran and moving on the next year. That’s the nearest one we have to go off of, but I don’t really look at stuff like that because I think each situation is its own situation. When you go back to other years, they traded this for this so is this worth it? Each situation has its own situation. I look at ours, I learn from everything through my own experience and just reading about football and watching it over the years. That’s why we all develop our opinions, but just like the perfect play call or the perfect throw, you don’t know until the end of it. Stuff is adjusting at all times and you’ve got to always be ready to adjust and do the best with opportunities you have.”
Kyle, two things. One, we talked about Jimmy Garoppolo, whether he’d be receptive to this. Are you fully expecting him to take part in the offseason program? Like, is there any pushback from Jimmy on that? And then the other one was, in terms of the ownership, was this the biggest ask you’ve had of them in these four years of pulling off this kind of trade? Did you have to really explain it hard for them and whatever they said?
KS: “I’m sure Jimmy was a little pissed off from it, just like I would be, too, but me knowing Jimmy, he’ll be fired up and come in and he’ll work his butt off. Knowing Jimmy, the more mad Jimmy gets, usually the better he gets. So, if Jimmy just gets madder and he stays healthy, I mean, this is going to be a good thing for Jimmy, too, which could be a great problem for the 49ers. So, I hope Jimmy’s all right with it and I expect him to be, and I’m excited to have him come in here and see what he’s been doing when he’s away and hopefully we’ll have a team here that we can work and practice with, which, as John just said, I think will eventually happen.”
JL: “Yeah, I think from the beginning, since Kyle and I have been here, part of the reason we came here, ownership’s been tremendously supportive. [CEO] Jed’s [York] around here a lot and I guess particularly with a pandemic, people aren’t traveling as much, he’s here a lot, but he allows us to do our work. Kyle and I spend a lot of time together talking about various scenarios and he’s always kept abreast of what’s going on. So, it kind of was happening real time and there was ongoing communication with our ownership, but yes, of course, when you’re going to make a move like we did, there is that, okay, now we really have to talk, because we’re about to do this. What do you think? Are you supportive of that? Are you on board? And what about this wrinkle? From day one, he has been supportive and it’s not without explanation. We explain why we’re thinking certain things and I talked to Jed, talked to [co-chairman] Dr. [John] York, occasionally we get to talk to [co-chairman] Denise [DeBartolo York]. That’s always fun. The family has been nothing but supportive since we’ve been here and they were on this.”
Kyle, I just want to make sure I’m clear on this. Did you say you probably are going to get to a Justin Fields second pro day? Also, you’ve been with him at that QB collective camp at least once, maybe multiple times. Do you know him? Do you feel comfortable with your knowledge about where Justin Fields is in this kind of hierarchy?
KS: “Yeah, I feel comfortable. That QB thing, I’ve only, I’ve done it once and I think he was a junior in high school then, which was really cool to go do that. Hope I’m not in trouble for that. That was like seven years ago. We talked to [NFL agent] Dave Mulugheta the other day and he said that they’d be able to set up another one. That’s why we chose on Alabama. So, I’m excited to see him eventually in person, but also got a lot of tape to go off, too, which I know he’s going to throw it really good in person and be really fast in personal also.”
This is for both of you. A number of your players that we’ve spoken to talked about one of the reasons they wanted to come back, aside from the competitive team, was that it felt like a family. Kyle, from where you coached and John, from where you played, how important was that to you when you came into the organization and how much more comfortable does that make an uncomfortable conversation with a player like Jimmy?
KS: “I mean, I agree with that. I think that was one of the hardest things for me personally last year, just talking to those guys throughout the whole year and a lot of those guys not knowing their future and me not being able to tell them exactly where I stood. With the salary cap changing like it did with COVID, we had a four-year, five-year plan. You’re going through all that and when it got adjusted that drastically, there was a lot of guys that we felt were a part of this family that we weren’t able to show them that love because we didn’t know how the salary cap was going to work out. I think that was the hardest thing for us, because we wanted to keep those guys. You always want to keep your homegrown guys, that’s what I say. Losing guys like [New England Patriots WR Kendrick] Bourne was tough, but happy for him. I mean, he got paid, so it was great for him, but when it all came back and we were able to keep some of our own guys, it was unfortunate, I felt bad for a lot of those guys, just because of how this all panned out this year with the salary cap hurting a lot of people. When you do get back with people you really love being around, guys you like working for, and I know free agency was tough on a lot of those guys, not just our own team, but around the whole league and being able to connect with those guys when it was all said and done and to see how hard like the week had been for them and stuff, but to also know that they were genuinely excited to be back, I can tell you the same way I feel, the same way my family feels, the same way everyone in this team feels because we do feel close like players say.”
JL: “That is important to us. I think it’s a part of this organization’s fabric and culture long before we got here. I look at the great championship teams. Those guys are still close. They all live around here, a lot of them do and they’re extremely close. I think of the best teams I played on, those teams are close and it felt like family. Yes, you take examples, you take note of things that happened during your career. I’ve always said that [former Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach] Tony Dungy was always very influential in terms of he talked to everybody who came in the building, he talked to everybody who left and he just was extremely honest. [Former Denver Broncos head coach] Mike Shanahan was very much that same way. I think it’s one of the things Kyle and I hit it off on is our own families are very important to us, our extended families, which are our teammates and we try to be as upfront and honest, as forthright with these guys. We try to understand that yes, it’s a business, but we can still get close with these guys as well and I think we’ve done that. I think it serves you well in a situation like this. There were a lot of great surprises to be honest with. A guy like [DL] D.J. Jones. We never thought we’d have an opportunity to bring him back. Those decisions that you make are gut wrenching in terms of prioritizing because we like them all, you know, but you have to say, ‘Okay, we’re going to try to get these guys done. These guys might out-price themselves for what we can do.’ Unfortunately for those guys, this was a weird year where the cap came down drastically and there were a lot of players left out there and the hard thing is when players have performed and then that market’s not there. What we try to do is say, ‘Hey, look, if it’s a one-year deal, we know you, you know us. This is a great place for you to go show your value so that next year you can go do this again and maybe at that point we can be a part of it.’ We’re very fortunate that a lot of those guys, [CB] K’Waun [Williams], D.J. [S Jaquiski] Tartt, even like [CB] Dontae Johnson, I mean, those guys came back to us, [CB] Jason Verrett. Jason’s situation was different, but all those guys are important to us. Family’s important to us and really excited that we got so many of them back.”
KS: “I will say, like going through free agency, which is so tough, but like I’m really proud of that we have a place with our GM, all our coaches, our players, with our owner, that you can get an honest answer from people. It’s tough to do in this business because it’s very competitive. There’s so much stuff going on, but I feel we’ve got a place where everyone shoots each other straight and that is close to a family. Sometimes it’s not always good. Sometimes you might upset people for a couple of days, but you at least know who you can trust and those are usually the people that you stay close with most of your life.”