General Manager John Lynch & Head Coach Kyle Shanahan Press Conference
General Manager John Lynch and Head Coach Kyle Shanahan
Press Conference – May 1, 2021
San Francisco 49ers
With so much scrutiny and so much emotion involved with this draft, with the first pick, I’m just wondering how you guys feel, whether this feels like you did at the end of the 2017 through 2020 drafts or whether you feel like this is in fact different, special?
General Manager John Lynch: “Yeah. I’ll tell you right now, I feel tired. We got better. I know that during this draft process and I feel very strongly about that. I think it was tougher because of all the challenges that this year presented, guys not playing for a year, medical not being centralized. I think there were some challenges. I think we handled them extremely well and I think the league did, but as a result, I think I’m ready to go on vacation and leave [head coach] Kyle [Shanahan] here to run the team. So no, but that’s how I feel. I noticed that too with the players. Usually, I call them and I get elation and then by the time I give them over to Kyle, the emotion is starting to come, the tears. And I felt more of that this year. There were some really touching deals where I can feel it. When they’re crying, Kyle’s getting, you know, you felt a lot of emotion up there and that’s cool.”
Head coach Kyle Shanahan: “I didn’t cry.”
JL: “You didn’t cry. A couple of tears.”
This is for both of you. It’s kind of two questions in one, but you talked in January a lot about maybe potentially altering some things based on injury histories and just kind of taking a deeper look at that throughout your process. I’m wondering how that may be factored in? It seems like a lot of these guys are pretty clean injury-wise. And also along with that, how much and how hard it was to obtain that medical information this year in particular?
KS: “Yeah, I think for me personally with the injury stuff, not just counting here, but anywhere I’ve been in my career, you’ve got a lot of history in different buildings where people are taken off boards because of injuries. Sometimes you debate it the whole time and I’ve been a lot of places where a guy we love is taken off a board and then you watch them go play somewhere else for 10 years and you’ve got to go against them and you’re like, ‘Man, I’m never doing that.’ And then we’ve been here and we’ve had a few guys we’ve had injuries issues with or they’ve had a history, but we like the player and we’re willing to take that risk and some have worked and some haven’t. What I’ve learned with some of our luck here, especially last year, also in our Super Bowl year, definitely our second year, too, when too many of those add up, it’s hard to compete. And I think that hit us harder than anything last year. That hit us before COVID and that’s something we can’t do again. So, we’re not saying that we’ll never take a risk again or anything, but we definitely wanted to make a point because of what’s happened the last couple of years, at least to try to avoid that.”
JL: “Yeah. I think that’s a great depiction of how we’ve handled it. I think right, wrong or indifferent, Kyle and I sometimes have looked for value with a guy, because you might get a real talented player. And yeah, you learn, you grow. I think the other thing, we did tangibly change some things, like our grading process. Not what the doctors are telling us, but how it’s delivered just to make it clear. Like, ‘Okay, is this grade with a high risk or low risk?’ Just really clarifying that and I think that was a positive step because it made probably easier. Like we’re not touching these guys, the ones that were really bad. So, that probably cleared some things up and like I said, you learn over time. We make adjustments each and every year, but after you go through what we went through last year, you take a harder look. And we didn’t overreact to it, but I think we responded accordingly.”
Two of the areas we thought you might address in the draft was going after a number three wide receiver or a slot receiver, and then also maybe another edge rusher to help out the guys that are coming back from injury. Can you go over those two positions and how you see them?
KS: “I think that’s one thing that’s always tough with the draft from a fan standpoint or people just watching it. It’s everyone thinks you know the needs and a lot of people are accurate with certain things, but you don’t go into the draft just picking everything you want. There’s a huge evaluation. You don’t know who’s going to get there. Yes, there’s some positions you want more than others. So, if some guys are in the same area of talent and stuff, you always go with the need, but it doesn’t always work out that way. We didn’t go into this draft thinking we’re going to take two running backs. We really liked where that was. So, I wouldn’t say to look into that any more than that. I would always like to take a receiver. I would always like to take an edge rusher, but it’s got to be a guy that you think could make your team and so that all depends on where that round fell and what was there and when we got there.”
JL: “Yeah, and I think indicative of that, [OL] Jaylon Moore, our first pick in the fifth, our intention wasn’t to take a guard. It was that he really was the guy that we had the highest grade on and we don’t just purely go by grades. We go by how people feel in that room and how convicted we all are. We felt great conviction there, so I think at this point we weren’t married to certain positions in some cases. Yeah, you have a need, you’ve got to try to fill it, but we just kind of, I think Jaylon, [RB] Elijah [Mitchell] probably fit into that category where they were the best players right there at that point. When you can do both, which I think we did with [CB Deommodore] Lenoir and [S Talanoa] Hufanga, then it really lines up.”
I wanted to get a couple injury updates on existing players we haven’t heard about for a while. WR Jalen Hurd and T Shon Coleman, and specifically Hurd, how he might fit into your receiver plans moving forward since you haven’t picked one there?
JL: “Yeah. Jalen’s rehab is going well. We’re eager to get him back here because he’s been rehabbing away, but we check in regularly. He’s doing a nice job with his rehab, so we’re excited about that. I think Jalen’s always been a hard worker and has just had some tough luck with that stuff. He’ll continue to work hard and we think he’ll be ready to go. Shon with the opt-out, obviously we didn’t see him for quite a while. We didn’t put any pressure on anyone who felt compelled to opt out, but Shon had a history that we completely understood that. Shon came back and we asked him the question, is this something you want? And Shon not only talked about wanting to come in and compete, he showed it by showing up here and he’s been here a lot this offseason. And he’s really looking good just out in workouts, which, we’ll see once we get on the field, but Shon’s doing a nice job. We’re pleased with that.”
Just hoping to get a little bit of clarity on the round five guys and what positions you hope to play them. I think you just mentioned Jaylon Moore. Is he going to be a guard initially in your eyes? And then with Lenoir, is he somebody who could play in the slot and outside, and also with Hufanga, maybe a sort of that hybrid strong safety linebacker role?
KS: “I think you just hit it right there with all the guys. Yeah, Jaylon, I’d say ideally a guard, but we feel he has the skill set and stuff we can move him out to tackle, also. Similar to some of the guys that we have there that can play both the spots. I think in an ideal world, we’d probably keep him at guard, but we’re excited he can do both. With Demo, he’s not a nickel only, which means that he could play outside or inside. He’ll come in here and try to figure that out and learn it, but he’s got the skill set to where he has the ability to play either one. And then Hufanga, love him at safety. Hits like a linebacker. His mentality is he’s an old school bad-ass as we say. So, we’re excited to get him here. See what he can do on special teams. Hopefully, he can earn a role there first to start. We’ll try him at safety. If it’s better at linebacker, that’ll eventually happen, too, but we’re excited to get the football player.”
With Lenoir, Demo, he has ties to former 49ers CB Richard Sherman. I know you’ve had former players that talked to you about them. Was that connection realized all that? Also, especially with you guys looking at character being such an important role in your locker room, was that something that you really targeted with QB Trey Lance, especially with the situation he’s coming into?
“I didn’t know he was tight with Sherm. That’s good to know. I’ll call him now and ask him more about him. A little late, but I’m sure it’ll be good. And no, it doesn’t go into, I mean, all our guys’ character is a big decision about. It starts with what we think, what we see on tape, and then you want to know what you’re bringing to your place, whether that makes you believe he’s going to get better than what you see on tape or worse. And then also whether he’s going to fit in and be a good part of the Niners, be a good part of our team. When you ask about Trey on that, it started with the tape and then you get to know the guy and you love the guy, but it always goes back to the tape. I’m not going to go with the guy because he might have the most friends in the locker room or anything, but all those guys kind of cross that off the list that any one of those guys we thought would have, character-wise, would have been awesome in here.”
JL: “And we talk about that a lot and Kyle talks about it all the time. It’s not if, it’s when you’re going to face adversity in this league. This is a tough league. I think obviously, at quarterback that’s probably more true than any position. You’re going to face adversity. So are you made up the right way that you can respond to that? That’s very important to us and it’s very important to us with all our players, the spirit we call it. First of all, do you love this game, because you better, because it is hard. We’ve both lived it and we know it. And I think what happens is we’ve got a culture of a bunch of guys here who really do, because we look for that. So, you stand out like a sore thumb when you don’t. So, I think we continue to refine that. We look for guys that are very dependable and when you do that, I think you do better when the tough times hit and tough times do hit. You might get moved to Arizona in the middle of the season and you might experience a lot of injuries. Those are just tangible examples. So, you have to have guys that are equipped to handle it and we put a lot of stock in that, but obviously, like Kyle said, it always starts with the tape.”
If I could ask two, one would just be, as far as your slot receiver, do you view that guy as being on your roster or do you still look into free agency there? Then also as it relates QB Jimmy Garoppolo in his contract, is that budgeted or are you comfortable with his number assuming he’s around for a little while? Is that something you’ve talked to him or will speak to him about? Maybe reworking it?
KS: “Yeah, with the receivers, we’ve got we’ve got a number of NFL receivers. aAnd what I mean is guys who are NFL players. We’ve got more than six of those. You always look to upgrade, and if we think there’s a slot receiver or outside receiver that could make our team or beat the guys out in front of them, we would never hesitate as long as it makes sense financially. But I also think we can win with the receivers we have. We’ll always continue to look to get better. Jimmy, from the contract standpoint and stuff, I always ask if it can fit in the cap and if we’re okay with it. When I say if we’re okay with it, then the people have to pay that. I know [CEO] Jed [York] and his family are okay with that, and I know it fits in the cap. It’s a pretty good situation for us.”
JL: “It was I think a testament to the commitment of our ownership. When this process was going on, that’s a question that we asked. We arrived at a point where that was our preference to draft a quarterback and keep Jimmy. Provided that someone didn’t come and just completely blow us away. They gave us that commitment that, yeah, we could do that. We’re happy to have that situation right now because we believe it’s a very strong one.”
Another question on slot receivers. I heard that you have an affinity for guys who can run those choice routes. It just seems like since former WR Trent Taylor ran into his health issues year two, you haven’t had anyone to run those routes out of the slot position. Do you feel confident in the ability to find somebody who can get open against man coverage repeatedly from the slot position on third downs?
KS: “Yeah. I think we have some guys in our team who have done it. I think we have guys who are about to show they can do it. Hopefully, guys like [WR] Jalen [Hurd] can get healthy and have a chance to compete with those guys so he can show he could do it. Yeah, we do love the choice route, giving a guy an in break or an out break based off of coverage. Trent was very good at that, especially before he got his injuries. Our backs all do that. We’ve used them the most on that route. There’s really no difference in it, whether it’s coming from the backfield or the line of scrimmage. But I’ve also learned when you don’t have someone who’s ideal at the choice route, you learn other stuff that you like. And when you’ve done this a long enough, as far as all the different places I’ve been as a coordinator and everything, you start out your first year and you think there’s things you have to do to succeed, which would have gone to me back to Houston. Then you go somewhere and you get a different type of quarterback and you realize, ‘Oh man, I got to do different stuff.’ And you’re like, ‘Oh, this isn’t that bad.’ The same thing happens with receivers with the line and the backs. So yeah, you always ideally want something. But there’s nothing that you have to have. I feel like I’ve learned that through experience.”
As far as tight ends go, there was a report last year that you were interested in Cleveland Browns TE Austin Hooper and that you might want to upgrade that position. It seemed like sort of a tricky tight end draft that the depth wasn’t quite there. Is that still a position you’re sort of evaluating and looking into?
KS: “Always. It’s hard to make our team with the three tight ends that we’ve had. They are three really good players. The fourth tight end that we’ve had has been on our team and been up for games and he’s a good player. So it’s not easy just to come in and beat these guys out. You would always love to get better, would love to get better at every position. That’s the stuff you have to look to in free agency. That’s the stuff you have to look to in a draft. I would love to take a tight end in the first, second or third round. I’d love to. But we’ve taken one in the fifth, and so every one we look at, we keep thinking how good they are in the fifth. So it’s hard for us to go higher for one. We kind of killed ourself forever with that from [TE] George [Kittle]. I’m always like, ‘Man, we can get a better one in the fifth,’ but I don’t know if that’s going to happen ever again like that. But no, we would always love to add tight ends. Anybody who can catch the ball and score points and also help us block, you never can have enough of them. But you’ve also got to balance your team out. That comes to how you find people in free agency, which costs a lot of money. Then how you spend your draft picks. There’s only so many high draft picks.”
You guys really made it a point to supercharge your run game in this draft, not just with the running backs, but the offensive lineman and the quarterback too. What is your vision for the run game next season?
KS: “I know it comes off that way, too, like it looks like we made a super point to do it before the draft. But it started with the quarterback and we didn’t go into that saying, ‘Hey, we are going to draft a guard in the second round and we are going to draft a guard in the fourth round and we are going to get two backs.’ You don’t do that at all. It started with the quarterback and you evaluate everyone and it kind of ended up that way. There’s been other years that we’ve come in and expected to get that stuff and had none. The way I evaluate the run game, I think it’s important to us every year. I think you guys know that. I think the way that we run the offense, I always want to be in a situation where you have to be 50-50. I just think it takes the pressure off of everybody, especially the quarterback and especially the O-line. So you try to put a team together that you can always never feel like you have to be one dimensional. I know a lot of the guys that we added into this draft, like you mentioned, will really help that.”
You guys have leaned on running backs coach Bobby Turner in the past to find you some gems after the draft, and he gets two picks this year. I just wondering what his reaction was like, how he was doing throughout this draft?
KS: “Bobby was unbelievable. Bobby has been sensitive lately because I haven’t talked to him as much, he claims, in the last month because I’ve been up in the draft room and he comes up for the running backs and stuff. So we got one long day together and he keeps telling me how I’ve changed because I don’t come down to his office much in the last month. Today he forgave me for it. I told him I’ve been working on some stuff and he didn’t believe that until he saw we got him two running backs. So he was very happy.”
JL: “Yeah, I even got on Bobby’s list this offseason, a couple of things that went on. But it’s always so fun when we take it back. Kyle will go down because Bobby calls these guys as much as possible. As much as you’re allowed to. But it’s a great checks and balances. He finds out a lot about these guys because he’s going to call him and he wants a call back. These guys have been through the ringer by the time they’ve gotten us and Bobby I’m sure is very happy today.”
You mentioned spirit a little bit earlier. It seems like Hufanga really exemplifies that. Could you just pull back the curtain a little bit and just talk about the interactions you guys had and what drew you to his personality as well as his play?
JL: “The only interaction, oftentimes when we have questions or just kind of by the feel of things, we get on the phone or zoom with people. We didn’t do that with Talanoa because the tape told you everything you needed to know. He’s an exciting player. He really is. He plays it with tremendous passion, tremendous energy. I think his game is versatile. I think you hit it early. There’s things where he’s got some hybrid qualities. I think maybe what happened to him is that maybe you get pigeonholed, like, what is he? But what we knew him to be was a really good football player that was still there long after we felt like he would go. So that became very attractive to us. He’s a playmaker, got a knack for making big plays and we’re excited to get him into the fold. I saw a quote, it fired up [special teams coordinator Richard] Hightower, that his goal is to be a special team Pro Bowler and in year one and that’s a tremendous goal. We hope he can do that.”
I’ve got another touchy feely one. You talked a little early about the tears. When we talk to these guys, you almost forget that dreams are coming true. Do you guys almost forget that or do you ever take a moment even after the draft to say like, ‘Wow, we just made a bunch of people’s dreams come true this weekend?’
JL: “I always do. I think back to, I’ve said this before, but I think back to 1993 and it took a long time and it was a long wait, but when you get that call, it is the culmination. I shouldn’t use the culmination because it’s also the beginning, but it is. It’s just such an unbelievable moment. It really is fun. That is never lost on me. Sometimes you have a pick right thereafter, so you’ve got to snap right back. But that’s what kind of makes this thing fun, is to hear the, [OL] Aaron Banks, he couldn’t even hear us because there was such a big eruption at wherever he was, I think over here in the East Bay. A lot of it sounds like with a bunch of Niner fans. That kind of stuff is fun. That’s one of the cool things of this job is we get to be the ones to deliver that news. I will never take that for granted.”
KS: “Yeah, I agree. It’s awesome. John definitely is on that a lot more than me. He remembers that much more. But to me, whether it happens on the phone call, sometimes it’s harde in the phone call. You barely can hear them, and everyone’s in the background yelling, and there’s usually a camera filming me, which is kind of awkward. But I like when I get home at night and you get to see the highlights of it and you watch on TV and they actually show the kids room. I don’t get to see that. Then when I watch their family members and everyone around them, that’s what’s really cool to me because I’m sitting there and talking and they’re trying to be polite to me. All I’m really saying is, ‘Dude, we’ll see you when you get here, man, go enjoy this with your family. This is awesome.’ Then when I get to see that when I get home and kind of watch on Sports Center or whatever, that’s when I’m like, ‘Man, that’s so cool. I’m so pumped we got him.’ Now I realize how much it meant to his family.
You guys could see that on Thursday night when he did that with Trey Lance. Did he come in today to do kind of get started on any playbook stuff? Then when is that rookie camp when these guys are allowed to come in?
KS: “I haven’t talked to [quarterbacks coach] Rich [Scangarello] today, but Scangarello and him were supposed to get together and go over some stuff just to give him some stuff for when he goes back for the week. We usually do our rookie mini camp the first week. We’re not doing that this year because you can’t have the same amount of tryout guys, so we’re going to do it the second week. So I think they come back a week from this Wednesday for physicals and everything. We have the rookie mini camp and then they can hop in on that Monday with all our players. That’ll be the first day of phase two, which is the first day we’re really allowed to see them in person.”