General Manager John Lynch Pre-Draft Availability
General Manager John Lynch
Press Conference – April 20, 2020
San Francisco 49ers
“I want to use this opportunity on behalf of the Niners to thank everybody, especially the people that have been absolutely essential. The folks at the grocery store, the police, the firemen, all that. I think we all have those feelings and it’s been different times, and I know the Draft prep has gone surprisingly well despite the fact that we’ve done it entirely virtually and we really feel like we’re in a good place. We feel like we had some of the most efficient and formative, I think a lot of that goes to the fact that this is year four for us as a group. We know each other better each and every year. We know what we’re looking for. That should be the case, but there’s even been some advantages and I know we’ll get into that as we go. Before I open it up for questions, I think it’s something that’s been on everyone’s mind and I haven’t talked to you guys. I miss seeing you, but I haven’t talked to you in a long time and since then, probably the toughest thing I’ve done since I’ve been a general manager here, and that’s the trade with the [Indianapolis Colts DL] DeForest Buckner. It’s a difficult part of this business, one that I don’t think you can really prepare yourself when you move on from a player who embodies everything that you want to be about. We spend a lot of time talking about, ‘What’s a 49er to us?’ and DeForest Buckner embodied that in every way on and off the field. And so, you know, as I left you guys in the postseason, the close-out meeting after the Super Bowl, we talked about wanting to do our best to keep this team together. It became apparent in the discussions with him that that wasn’t going to be a possibility along with keeping our team together as we wanted to do so. The Colts entered the picture, obviously, with a pick, not only a first-round pick, but in the upper half. We weighed that, the opportunity to sign other guys. It was one of those business decisions that’s so tough. You know, the Colts were, [Indianapolis Colts GM] Chris Ballard is a guy I respect as much as anybody in this business. I think we were able to get something done, but it’s not without a heavy heart that we move on from him because he’s such a big part of what we’ve been able to do and we wish him and his family nothing but the best. They’re expecting a baby here soon and we left on really good terms, but I think that just, we’ve got the 13th pick. What are we going to do with it? We’ve got to do great things because we certainly lost a great player. I did want to address that starting off and at this point, I’m going to open it up for questions. Like I said, I wish I could see you, but here we go.”
Given where you guys are at in terms of the championship window being open and not having draft picks in rounds two, three and four, what’s the balance that you guys are trying to strike between getting guys that can contribute and maybe fill holes right now while also keeping this sustainable for the long term?
“Yeah, we’ve always had a feeling that you can do both. You can think long term and try to build something that’s sustainable. I think when you look at our roster, we have a lot of guys that are signed and beyond this year, so we feel really good about that. Would we change, I think a little bit of your question, looking back now, we don’t have a second pick, but I think our second round pick last year was a pretty good one and that’s [DL] Dee Ford. I understand that Dee didn’t play as much as we would want, would have wanted him to. His body didn’t allow for that last year. What I do know is when he was on there, we were a different team. So, would we change that? Absolutely not. I don’t think we’re at the Super Bowl without that. The same could be said for [New Orleans Saints WR] Emmanuel [Sanders], you know, our third and fourth round picks. We picked up a fifth round one some picks later, but, you know, the same thing there. I think Emmanuel made us better. He helped us get to the Super Bowl. So, do you trade that? Do you take that? Do you wish you had that back at this point? No. You wish you had draft picks, but it in my mind, it was worth it. We were able to get the pick back. I told you how tough that was for DeForest, and I think we have ample opportunity with the picks we have. We already have a lot of guys signed, so there’s not a ton of roster spots. We have one of the better rosters in football in my mind, and so it’s going to be real hard for draft picks to make this as well. I don’t think it’d be a great year to have 10 draft picks. I think it’s going to be hard to make this team, so we’ve got to make them count. That’s the feeling every year, but especially this year with very few. We’ve got to make every pick that we make, whether it be the number 13 pick, the 31st pick, if we were to move out of those or they’re our fifth or sixth or seventh round picks, that we really make them count.”
Along the lines of the DeForest Buckner statement you just made, Indianapolis Colts DL Sheldon Day also is no longer on the team, also on the Colts. Who are the in-house candidates to log minutes at that defensive tackle position that both of those guys played in?
“Yeah, so obviously [DL] D.J. Jones is a guy that we’re extremely excited about. Unfortunately, had the high ankle sprain that sent him to IR and we weren’t able to make our playoff push and run with him, so we’re extremely excited. He’s working extremely hard about having him back. [DL] Solomon Thomas is a guy that we felt played well last year in a role. We think that role will expand. [DL] Kevin Givens and [DL] Jullian Taylor, [DL] Kentavius Street, all those guys had some form or fashion of injuries, but that’s kind of the group we’re working with. We looked at some things during free agency. Nothing really came to fruition. So, that’s the group there. We’ll see where that goes, but that’s who we’re working with at this point. I should add, and you guys know this, in our sub-nickel situations, [DL Arik] Armstead, who’s a big end as we align, is a guy who has the flexibility to move on down and ends up playing a lot inside on nickel situations. So, while he’s listed as a defensive end, we all know that he plays a big role in that capacity as well.”
A question for you just regarding T Joe Staley. I know at the Combine you expressed a fair amount of confidence that he would be back in 2020. Is that still the case or have you gotten confirmation from him?
“Yeah, I did leave you with that at the Combine and it’s been a while, but we’ve kept in good contact with Joe. He’s doing his typical routine down with this family in San Diego, working out and we’re encouraged. We’ve heard nothing that would lead us to believe that Joe’s not going to play. So, we are encouraged with that. We’ll see where that goes. That is something with each and every player particularly as they get closer, you give them that time that they need, but we are encouraged that Joe’s going to be a part of us moving forward.”
I just want to follow up a little bit on what Chris was asking about just kind of given the circumstances that you’re in now, being kind of in that Super Bowl window but also with all the uncertainty that COVID-19 has created here. Just curious if your draft approach is any different in terms of getting instant impact guys or maybe looking at guys who are going to make more of an impact down the road?
“That’s a really good question, one that we’ve been wrestling with. I think what we ended up with, because you can get into that, ‘Okay, we’re not going to have a training camp or excuse me, an off-season program,’ that I think we know fairly certain that that’s not going to happen. Training camp, we’ll see. A lot of things are just to be determined. So, you think about those things. Do you really focus on players that you’re confident with their ability to get up to speed and get up to speed in a hurry? I think a little bit of that psychology, but primarily, I think when you’re drafting a player, you are looking, and in certain instances, you’re saying, ‘Can this guy contribute year one?’ Obviously with higher picks, you expect that. But, that is something we’ve examined and I know I’m not giving you a great answer because we haven’t quite figured it out, but we are thinking about those things. I think what we always end up with is, ‘Let’s just evaluate this player like we always do. Let’s look at his talent. Let’s look at his spirit. Do they fit with us?’ If they fit with us, we’re going to move forward and we really believe that gives us, because our criteria is set up that they can succeed now, but they can seed for a long time.”
You were talking earlier about you have guys signed beyond the season, but you don’t have any of your top four cornerbacks signed beyond this season. How is that going to impact the draft and your long-term plan? I’ve got a follow up question about your draft panic room there.
“That’s a good question and something that we’re certainly aware of. That happens sometimes. I think when you look at our roster as compared to the rest of the league, we’ve got a lot of players signed. Corner happens to be a position where that’s not necessarily the case through this year. We’re certainly aware of that, and will that affect how we approach this draft? Maybe. We also like the players we have. Obviously, [CB] Richard Sherman, our play when we signed him was that we were very optimistic with the worker he was, with the championship pedigree he brought and we had a hunch that maybe his best football for us would happen in year two where he was a little bit more healthy. We saw that last year and so we’re encouraged by that. I think we’re in a good place with Sherm and we’ll see where that goes. You’ve got guys like [CB Emmanuel] Moseley, you’ve got a guy like [CB] Tim Harris [Jr.] who we drafted and was having a really good camp and then had to go to Injured Reserve, but a guy that we’re excited about working with moving forward. You know [CB] Ahkello Witherspoon is a guy, this is a big year for Ahkello. No doubt about it. He’s got to go show it on the field. I remember drafting him some years ago and all the qualities we still see. Now, he’s got to just consistently put it to work. That’s something we’re going to monitor closely and we are aware of that situation and we have a plan and we’re going to execute that plan.”
And then my follow up question about your panic room there. You have, I think, about eight monitors in front of you. Are you going to have head coach Kyle Shanahan on one of those monitors at all times or what’s the communication process going to be there with Kyle?
“Yeah, so I’ve even added a couple monitors because we, those types of situation, so what we’ve tried to do, and I’ll show you guys, I’m going to flip my camera around and give you a little tour of the Draft Room because I’ve actually added screens and I didn’t want clutter. I don’t think we’re to that point, but you do want fail safes and you do want to emulate, replicate your Draft Room. Kind of the basis of our plan as we arrive there, and this has changed since our initial internal kind of mock as we did over the weekend, we kind of have a general huddle where everyone’s living. The 49er huddle, and that would be all the coaches, the medical so that they’re on call. We’ll have the John McVay Draft Room. The people that are typically in the Draft Room, and then we started asking ourselves what is it we do when Kyle and I need to silence our mics, whether it be just me or it’s Kyle and I. My office is adjacent to the Draft Room, so we say, ‘Let’s go to my office,’ and kind of clear our heads. We also have that, and that’s on a different screen. Those three screens will be operating. There are times during the draft that we call people into my office so we can do, imagine all of that happening virtually. That’s what we arrived at and that’s where we’re comfortable a couple of iterations in. We’re really pleased with where we’re at, so it’s a lot of screens, but they’re not just wasted. They all serve a purpose and a function. I must say, you don’t hear of these guys a lot, but [Director, video operations] Mike Bracken who’s the head of our video department, [Manager, video operations] Brad Clark, [Director, IT] Jim Bartholomew who’s the head of IT. These guys have been unbelievable and that not only goes for the draft meetings, but even prior Mike did an incredible job of even before the shelter in place happened. He started downloading all the computers. With Kyle and I, the big thing to do was made that they came in and hardwired our houses. Since we’ve been here, our houses have had systems as if we’re in our office. So, it really wasn’t a big change for Kyle I, it was getting everybody else up to speed. Those guys have been tremendous in helping us get there.”
You said earlier that this wouldn’t be the draft to have 10 picks, but it was reported today that you guys are fielding calls for the two first round picks. With only five picks this year, do you feel that’s adequate to fulfill your needs or how open are you to trading?
“I think we’re open to trading. I think the one caveat, you know there’s reports, some of them are true and some of them are you know, reports. That’s what happens this time of year. I’m comfortable saying that we’re currently and we will right up to the draft let people know there are scenarios where we’re going to be open at both of those picks to moving back. It’s out there for everyone to see. We have two firsts and then we don’t have a pick until the fifth where we have two picks and then a sixth and then two sevenths. With those picks there’s a big gap in there. So maybe you don’t want 10, but seven might be nice. Excuse me, we have seven, a couple more might be nice just to close that gap. There also are scenarios where we’re going to be real convicted with a player at 13 and we have that in our mind. Who are those players, because I think the way you have to look at it is we lost a special player in Buck, a foundational-type player. If you can find a foundational player at 13, that’s something you have to weigh. Can you find two more foundational players later on, but I don’t think you pass up on a guy that you think is a difference maker at those spots and we’re going to be prepared in both those instances. Just like a football game, during the draft last year it was a lot easier at two because you had a good feeling what was going to happen before you. Even at 13, which is a relatively early pick, there’s so much that can go on. We’re prepared for all scenarios, open to listening, but we’re also prepared that if we’re convicted at those spots we’ll stand pat and deliver the pick.”
How did the mock draft with the league go today? Were there any glitches or things you learned from going through that process that can help you for Thursday?
“I think we used it as another opportunity to kind of focus internally. I think the chatter out and about from what I understand is going on and talking to [vice president, communications] Bob [Lange] before, that it really wasn’t in a good situation. I didn’t really see that. I think early there were a couple hitches, but that’s why you have practice trial runs. Like I just told you our story over the weekend we learned a lot so maybe in the very beginning there were a couple of situations, but that was kind of important stuff where two teams were talking and the whole league was hearing it, that kind of stuff. I think everyone kind of tuned in when they tell you to mute your stuff, you should probably listen. I think they worked through some bugs, but the good news was I think the technology was working fine. It was just some procedural things that you can only learn by doing a mock and that’s why we did it today. They have head coaches and GMs getting on tomorrow for another little run. The IT people will be doing that work right up to draft day. I’m really not concerned and think it will be fine.”
When you look at this draft at what you can do early on, how many different positions would you say are in play as far as the caliber of guy at a premium position and with you addressing Joe Staley a little bit earlier, is offensive tackle one of those spots that you could look too early in this draft?
“Well it certainly could and I think at that pick 13 is a fairly high pick and I use the term difference maker. You obviously have positions and I think people can look and say well if not this year in the near future you’re going to have to address and so does that enter the picture. Really at 13 I think you think more about if this guy is a difference maker whatever position he plays and that’s really what we’re focused on more than anything. We want someone who is going to come in and make us a better football team. Sometimes that takes position into need. I’m not trying to be evasive, but I’m also just not trying to tip our hand. I won’t answer specifically towards the positions, but I do think a general philosophy that with that pick if we’re staying pat it’s because we think we’ve got a foundational difference-maker type player and hopefully that’s the same case at 31 as well. Then you get lucky and you find those guys in the fifth round like [TE] George Kittle and [LB] Dre Greenlaw and you feel really good about those. We joke around that we’ll trade anything just not those fifth rounders, those have been those have been good to us.”
On a completely different topic, has anyone in the organization contracted the COVID-19 virus?
“I think first of all what I want to do is praise our people. Our doctors, [president] Al Guido has played a tremendous role and has been very forward thinking. We were really prepared for this. One thing as you’re working with your team is legally I’m not at liberty to share certain things with people that’s up to certain people. I’m just going to leave it at that, but I’m really proud with the way our team and organization has responded to all these challenges.”
How difficult has this process been since the country declared a pandemic and the fact that you haven’t been able to meet with guys in person throughout the draft process?
“There certainly have been hurdles with that. It’s interesting, you talk and you reflect and I think what it’s made people do more than ever is probably something you should always be doing which is watch the tape, trust your scouts, trust your eyes. But, we also know there’s certain things like when you bring a guy in for a 30 visit and you get to spend two days with him. I think a great example is sometimes you have the meeting at a Combine and it’s in front of 20 coaches, these guys are being run through the ringer and a guy just doesn’t have a real impressive 15 minutes. This has happened a number of times and then they come out for a 30 visit they loosen up, you get him comfortable and you say this is exactly the type of guy. So, there’s been some challenges there. I think the biggest challenges have been the medical ones. You think about guys that aren’t invited to the Combine. Number one they’re probably hurt by this most because you don’t have that opportunity other than talking to their school of getting the reports, but then also the guys who have been to the Combine, such things as rechecks and things. Oftentimes at the Combine you hear, ‘Hey he’s got a medical situation going on but we’re going to recheck here in six weeks and we’ll give you a much clearer picture.’ That really hasn’t been able to happen other than guys being proactive and their agents sending letters from doctors. Our doctors haven’t had the opportunity to get their hands on. So, there is some question there and I’m sure each team will handle that in a different way, but the medical is a huge part. You need healthy players and I think that’s a challenge. As for getting to know the players we found other ways around it. Just ask [The Athletic’s] Matt Barrows, he reports everybody we have a video conference with and [NBC Sports Bay Area’s] Matt Maiocco, those guys are on that. I’m always impressed with that. We work hard to try to find out different ways and probably relying on trusting relationships that you’ve built for a long time with college coaches, with people at the schools and that’s where our scouts and coaches have been really remarkable this year.”
Last year you were pretty clear you had DL Nick Bosa and New York Jets DL Quinnen Williams, I guess you call them foundational players, but you were at two so you could be maybe a little bit more open about that. At 13, do you have five foundational players you can say or seven? Are there 12? How confident are you if stay at 13, one of those guys will be there? Kind of positionally, philosophically are you and Kyle maybe not sure that you take a receiver at 13 just positionally on the value chart?
“Well, I think when you look at our receivers, you’ve got this group of guys that we call our red shirt class. Last year you got [WR] Trent [Taylor] and I giggle it wasn’t fun last year. The nice part is you’ve got guys like Trent Taylor who we got a lot of belief in and had a really rough time with that foot thing that got infected and, you know, we feel for him. Trent’s working extremely hard and doing very well, so we’re encouraged by that, but he’s got to come show it when we can finally return to football. [WR] Jalen Hurd is the same way. We are still very high on the guy that we drafted, we just haven’t been able to see it other than the 14 days. I think you can even throw in [WR] Dante Pettis for different reasons in that same deal, but we’re encouraged about all those guys and how that affects our draft. As to the number of foundational players, it’s difficult because there’s certain guys that you’re prepared if they were to fall, but as we anticipate, I would say about six guys, and I would still say we’re going through Kyle and myself now. It’s kind of boiled down to that process where Kyle and I are really zeroing in and challenging each other. ‘OK, is this a guy we’re not moving from?’ We’ve got the answer on most of those. We’re playing out a couple more scenarios in our head, but we’ll be prepared come draft day. Kind of a ballpark of where we’re at on that. That’s where we’re at there.”
Are there deals on the table, offers on the table, for 13 that you could take right now. Is there interest in 13 like that?
“There’s interest. No hard offers that we have a deal in place. That has not happened and we’ve been very forthright with other teams, kind of the same thing I’m telling you, that I don’t want to lead you on. It wouldn’t be fruitful to have a discussion where we have something in place because there are scenarios where we’re going to stand pat as well. So, I think a lot of that there will be continued conversations as we get closer and then that will go right up to once the draft kicks off.”
I’m wondering with your conversations with people throughout the league and just going off of your gut feeling, what’s your level of confidence right now that you will have a training camp, that you will have preseason games, even that the regular season will start on time?
“That’s a really good question. I would tell you that kind of changes based on the last person I talked to. It’s some people make a really compelling case that there’s no way this has happened and that scares me. Some people make a very compelling case that here’s what we’re playing and here’s how we’re going to do it. I think we’re like everybody else, we’re eager to do so. This draft, I’ve had conflicted feelings and you understand that people are out there hurting. They’ve closed their small business down. The real-life stuff that matters. They have people in their family who have been directly affected by this and at times I went through it. I’m sure a lot of people did. Like ‘What the heck are we doing having free agency? What are we doing having a draft?’ I will tell you after free agency, I can’t tell you how many people who called or touched base and said ‘Thank God you did that because it’s the only thing we’ve got to keep us entertained.’ Last night I had to stop my draft preparation to watch ‘The Last Dance’ because I wasn’t missing that. I’m a huge Michael Jordan fan and huge Chicago Bulls fan. You’re just craving for something that’s actually new and exciting. So, I think we’re all excited and the players, the same goes for them. I think the answer, the only one I know, is when it’s safe. How we arrived there? You know, that’s what [NFL] Commissioner [Roger] Goodell and his team of people get paid the big bucks for because I can’t answer that. I’m not going to try to answer that. What I do know is my charge right now has been prepare for a draft like we’re playing and that’s what our team has tried to do.”
I wanted to ask about the interior offensive line. First, what is C Weston Richburg’s status right now as far as his recovery? Then obviously you guys released former 49ers OL Mike Person so I was hoping that you could comment on that. Then, the potential plans for OL Daniel Brunskill and OL Tom Compton moving forward.
“First of all, talking with Weston, a second year running that Weston’s coming off a significant knee surgery. Is that a concern to us? Yes. Are we hopeful that he’ll be back? Yeah. We are. Coming off the torn patella this year in the Saints game. I would tell you, that’s why it was so important that we re-sign [OL] Ben Garland. Now will Weston be ready? He’s on target to be. Has the COVID situation, the shelter in place affected that a little bit? A little bit, but remember we’ve all been granted a kind of permission with the injured players that they can receive treatment, so they’ve continued on. Weston’s doing very well. Probably not as close as last year. He’s on target I should say to be ready to play if the season kicks off at the normal time. He’s on target for that. Last year it was deep into training camp. I think he’ll be ready for training camp. That’s our hope. So that’s the first part of the question. I think the next one was Mike Person, another tough situation. Mike picked us up in a huge way and we got two really, really solid years out of Mike. He played at a really gutsy and high level. Great teammate, battled his tail off and he battled with a lot of different things this season physically. You just get to those points you’ve got to make tough calls and it’s tough to do it with guys that you’re grateful for their contributions to the team. Those are tough decisions. Our staff did have familiarity with Tom Compton who had played with them before and we felt like he was a guy who could come in and we have some security that the guy’s played some games and started games in this league in this system. We know what we can get out of him at that right guard spot that was vacated by our release of Person. As for Brunskill, huge credit as I’ve given before to our guys in pro scouting, [Pro Personnel Scout] R.J. Gillen and [former 49ers scout] A.J. Highsmith who has moved on with the Bills. They saw something in him. We brought him in and he had a great workout for us but never did we know he’d end up saving us like he did. The neat thing about Brunskill, I really believe he could play all five spots on that offensive line. You have tremendous flexibility with him as well and he’s a big part of our plans going forward. We really think we’ve found something there and our coaches did a tremendous job developing him.”
Obviously, you said today that there’s some rumors that are out there, some are true, some are not. There is a report that S Jaquiski Tartt, LB Kwon Alexander and WR Marquise Goodwin were available for trade and you were fielding offers if it was available. Are cap issues something that you’re really focused on going forward?
“Yeah, at different times in this offseason we certainly, you know, there’s a lot to unpack and it’s that time of year where there’s reports of that nature. I’m not addressing any certain report, but as to those guys of the group you talked about, the one thing I feel comfortable saying is that the one guy where there’s actively discussions going on right now is Marquise Goodwin. That’s something we’ve been clear on. There’s also a scenario where Marquise can help us. He brings a lot to the table. We have been in discussions. It came close a couple of times. There’s a lot of different aspects to being able to close these deals and he’s a guy, because we know he has value, we continue to hang on and we’ll see if something happens here as we approach. Oftentimes things do when there’s a deadline or something that causes them to happen and I think the draft is often one of those things. So, Marquise is the one guy out of that group that you mentioned where there’s active discussions going on. The other guys we love and are really looking forward to playing with moving forward.”
You spoke a little bit about just having those conflicting feelings in terms of you know what are we doing here in free agency but also the response from people saying this is what we’re holding on for. Along those lines, when you think of this NFL draft and how huge it will be for the morale of not just the Niners fans but people across the country, how important is it for you guys to have been able to continue through with all of this?
“Well you know, I hope so. You know, like I said those conflicted feelings got better with free agency. I’m thankful for myself because you don’t sit there and you’re very focused on something that consumes a large part of your day. And then taking it further, I’ve talked about this elsewhere, the blessing in this thing. I go out for the breaks that we sometimes get. These are long days and I’ve got four kids at home and they’re all there and I know I’ve crashed their classes online or something. I have some fun and they tell me to get out of their room. The commute is really nice. There’s been no commute, but at the same time as I mentioned earlier you understand there’s people that are hurting because of this in so many different ways. So, you are conflicted and I think it really puts in perspective what’s important or at least what should be a priority and safety is number one there. I applaud the steps people have taken. At the same time, I am eager to come back and get things going, but I feel like I have been because I’ve been helping lead this process and I’m really proud of our group the way they’ve responded. One thing I learned from playing in this league and the way I was raised, when you’re given a charge or when you’re given a task, don’t talk about all the hurdles. Get it done and that’s what we’ve tried to do. So yes, it’s tough getting to know some of these guys, but that’s why we’ve had our scouts on these guys for two, three, sometimes four years. You trust the work, you trust your eyes, you look at the film and that’s been our mindset. Let’s not talk about ‘This year we just we don’t know.’ OK, if we can’t get there with someone then we have a decision to make, but it’s our job to know. I couldn’t be more proud of our group and the way we’ve gotten there. Now we got to go execute on game day, on draft day.”