San Francisco 49ers general manager John Lynch took some time out between meetings to talk with a few of us in attendance at the NFL annual meeting. He covered many topics including how the team is not quite done with free agency, how they are still looking for a franchise quarterback and how the team is preparing for the draft. Here is the full transcript:
How was your first annual meeting as a GM?
Coming from the voting portion and I think you have an appreciation of knowing a couple of people on the competition committee, knowing that they’ve been out here a full week. They put a lot into making this game what it is and whether you agree with everything or not, you understand that there’s a lot of people putting in a lot of hard work to make this huge operation go and I think it gives you a better appreciation. Part of me says you wish players would have an opportunity to see all of the work and the intention because I think lots of times as a player, they just want to, they're just doing that for this reason and really what you see is the intention is to make the game as good as it can possibly be and to keep the game healthy.
Do you have opinions on any of the rule changes?
I think my opinion was right inline with where it ended up. It’s intriguing, listening to Bruce Arians in there, and his offensive players played like 97 plays and what happens if you’re playing a Thursday night? He was talking about a lot of them, just out of pure exhaustion, could barely practice next week. And if you’re playing on a Thursday night, which they very much could have, that becomes an issue but then there’s the flip side, you move it, and what if a couple people got up, so you’re saying, if someone were to drive the ball for 9:56 and and kick a field goal, game over. Part of you as a defender says well, stop them, but the other part says you really would like for each team to have an opportunity to at least have it. So, that’s why I think it was tabled, because it was intriguing but still has some clarification and some thought to be put into it.
Do you think the college rules aren’t viable for the NFL?
I don’t think it’s not viable, I think I’m kind of a traditionalist so when you when you start going in rapid departure, but it is intriguing from the standpoint where they have a very compelling deal where both sides have a chance, an opportunity, but the plays are also a lot shorter. I think they average 13 plays in college, so there’s a side of that where a traditionalist says that’s not what we’ve done. So that’s the balance and the challenge to weight those kind of factors.
What is your role with your first draft? Who is leading the charge?
I was hired to lead the charge.
I mean evaluating.
Yeah, I’m leading that charge. I’m really proud to have acquired a talent like Adam Peters. He’s very well versed in this draft and the whole evaluation process but we jumped in and ultimately it’s going to be my name and Kyle’s name. We were hired to do a job that’s on those decisions so that’s part of the challenge. That’s why I have these black things under my eyes because you’re putting in a lot of time playing catch up to study up on all these guys because we are going to take everyone’s opinion but ultimately I’m charged with making good decisions there.
Is there a difference between how you watch tape now and how you watched it as an analyst?
I think there’s a big difference in my responsibilities that pull me away from watching tape now. I think as things get closer here, it’s prioritizing this time. That’s actually been the easiest one. When I first got the job the scouts were here and the college scouts were her so we had dedicated meetings and sometimes I’d get pulled because there’s other things that fall under my purview or whatever and had to be addressed and were important to be addressed. We’re trying to reset a culture so that encompasses a lot of things and I think they all deserve attention so that’s been the challenge. Finding the time but fortunately we’ve made a lot of those decisions and that will be ongoing but now it’s time to really buckle down and we have our draft meeting starting next week and we’re going to hit it hard and really prioritize spending the time, which have been anyway, but there’s been a lot of other stuff going down but really time to laser focus on these guys.
Do have the #2 pick narrowed down to 4 possible or 5 possible guys?
You know, I’d say we aren’t even close to that process yet. Obviously there have been discussions, would you be comfortable with this guy here, but by no means is it set in stone. I can tell you with full disclosure and transparency and honesty that that has not been decided. There’s certainly been scenarios that we’ve run through. You feel good about this guy here, so I don’t know if there’s an exact number but we have run through multiple scenarios but there’s so much at play. What is Cleveland going to do at number one? People think it’s clear but we don’t know that.
So how many people have you talked about being comfortable with at #2? Half dozen?
I think we’ve run that scenario through with more than a half dozen but the number we’ve arrived at, I’m not sure because those aren’t set in stone. We’ve kind of stacked our board, now we’re going to go back in, post combine we restacked and now we’re going to take one more shot at really clarifying things and solidifying those thoughts.
How many of your 30 visits have you solidified?
All the 30 visits are set. We have only done one thus far.
Who was that?
We brought in Rueben Foster from Alabama. He came in had a nice visit with him.
How much of the discussion was over what happened at the combine?
You know, I think that’s why you do those things. You try to gather information and then react and make decisions accordingly and that’s why these things are valuable.
Can you say how many quarterbacks will be coming through the doors?
No. [laughing] You know who I’ve seen.
You’re looking for football guys. How do you judge the intangibles like that?
We’re looking for a lot of things but that is a big part of the equation, particularly at that position because they drive the bus. By the nature of that position they are often thrust into a leadership position and so I think the traits that the best ones have, often times include that and also the guy has to be a quick process. The guy has to be able to thrive with chaos all around him so there’s so many things that go into that position that are unique to it. I feel very fortunate that we’ve got a coach who I think has a very clear mindset on what he wants out of that position. I have my own thoughts and we are kind of melding that process and we’re taking input from a lot of people. I think it’s been very healthy. That’s a position that you obviously pay close attention to because we all know how important it is to success.
Does the spread offense in college make it more difficult to evaluate the talent?
It does. I think offensive talent in general. It’s one thing I’m seeing for the first time, but I think this whole league is getting accustomed to dealing with it because you really are projecting because most of the time they aren’t doing things that they will be doing offensively in our league. It’s really an interesting paradigm. You have defensive players that I think are sharper than ever because that offense, the pace, all the options that it has, run pass options, it really forces defensive players to think on their own and think quickly and that shows up in the interview process where defensive players are extremely...corners, I think in the past, cat coverage, I got that cat, you got that cat. Now these guys can break it down, on this coverage we’re doing that, and so I think it’s something that as you talk to other evaluators around the league they’re feeling it too. Whereas with offense it’s all about how fast can you play, how much pressure, but very simple. Maybe they can’t explain things as well as they once could because they aren’t asked to do a whole lot. It’s fairly simple. So it’s an interesting reality of the players we are getting in and it is tough on the offensive side because you truly are projecting.
How much do you talk about the timing of finding a franchise quarterback?
I think the thought process is as soon as possible. It’s something we set out from the very beginning, putting a huge priority on so as soon as possible. We are very happy with the guys we brought in. Hopeful that they will play great, but we’re still always looking. We’ve been very upfront about that. Always looking to improve ourselves there. You know, Kyle had the MVP last year so you saw how close that got them to the ultimate goal. So, I think he knows well. I played on a Super Bowl team. We had Brad Johnson who I thought was great, but a lot of people look at him like he doesn’t fit in that typical guy that’s wining Super Bowls these days, but Brad was perfect for our team, so you can do it in a lot of different ways but we’re certainly trying to get that MVP candidate you know? The would be fun.
Is that something that’s something that’s exclusive to that position? If you get the wrong guy, it can set you back. How do you balance that?
I think that position probably takes on greater import than any but I think that’s with any decision you make. You make good decisions, it really helps your franchise, you make bad ones, particularly high up in the draft, it really hurts you, but that’s for any round and that’s how you look at the teams with great success. Drafting and developing really good players, and then filling in with free agency and all that. We had to go quantity this year because we had to get better in a lot of places and we wanted to be able to arrive at the draft and pick the best players as opposed to saying “we have this need, this need this need” and I can tell you that after free agency our depth chart looked a whole lot better than prior to us.
Are you done with free agency?
There are a couple of things we’re still working on and I think DuJuan [Harris] is now official so that’s done, but there’s a couple of positions we’re still looking at improving ourselves prior to the draft.
What do you make of this Marshawn Lynch stuff?
You know, we’ve always joked that he’s my cousin. The first time I tackled him he looked up and said “I keep telling them we’re cousins.” I’m a huge fan of Marshawn Lynch and I’m reading it like everyone else. Is this real or is it...
He’s working out every day at Oakland Tech track. What would be a challenge for him?
Marshawn’s kind of unique. I gotta feel like he’d make someone better if he did. Sometimes, I will say, at the end of my career I thought I was done. I took two weeks off and I didn't train. I was always a huge trainer, that was part of my edge and I didn't train for two weeks and Belichick brought me in to New England and I felt like I had shut the valve off both mentally and physically and it was hard to get that back because once you kind of turn off that hose it’s hard to get that thing going again, but I think Marshawn, like I said is a pretty unique talent and it’s just going to be a lot of “does he still want it and love it” and all of those things.
Do you think in free agency you put your roster in a spot where you have NFL starters starters now and in the draft maybe you get people leapfrog the people you have? Is that the goal?
Yeah. I think NFL starters? Would we want to improve on that at multiple positions? Yes. I would also say that depth and competition brings out the best in everyone so you improve the depth at the back end of your roster for a lot of reasons, because you just want overall quality but also to bring out the best in everyone. We want to continue to push the envelope there and look at every avenue to improve as a team and that’s how you do it.
Is the goal at the draft to get foundational players to build around?
You know broadcasting each week, the quarterback, you obviously focus on and then you focus on game changing players. We’d love to come out of this draft with some game changing players. I think at #2 you have that opportunity, and that’s your goal and you really want to do that. You know Tom Brady, they found a game changing player. That’s why every pick is so important. We need some stars. We need some of those guys but I think you go about that by finding guys that thought anything else, exhaustive preparation and turning over every...looking at every place and every player. That’s what we need.
There was a report about adding Morocco Brown to front office.
We never talked about that so I don’t know where that report came from. Whether we are done in the front office, I think that’s still fluid, there’s discussions. Right now we’re happy where we’re at and we’re going to stay put. But that was a report I wasn’t familiar with and I think I would be. And no disrespect to Morocco, he’s very well regarded in this league, it’s just not a conversation we’ve had.
Do you talk to college coaches?
Yeah, I talked to an old 49ers coach yesterday and he was great. He’s got a lot of players that are draftable and he gave me a lot of great information and it was always entertaining as it is with Jim. It was fun because right when we called, I had some of these meetings set up, his brother was right there and I said ‘Hey John, I’m about to talk to (Jim),’ so John came over and before I could get on the phone John and Jim were talking. I said ‘Hey, you’re cutting into my time, give me the phone’ so we had a good time.
Any congrats or advice?
No, he just said ‘Fired up for you man’ and then we started talking about his players. He had to go to a meeting, I had to go to a meeting so it was quick. That’s something I’ve tried to do and will continue to do it. He’s got a big list, he’s got one of the bigger lists in the league this year.
Doesn’t every college coach think that?
A lot of that is the questions I’m asking to challenge, be specific, don’t just say ‘What do you think about your guys?’ That’s a lazy question. I won’t ask lazy questions.
What’s a non lazy question?
Is he better suited here or is he better suited there? Those kind of things. Then you get into more valuable conversation because all of them are going to say yes. I think also having past relationships, some guys are going to be a little more forthright. Or sometimes silence speaks volumes when you ask something.
Anything that’s surprised you first two months on the job?
I think most of it’s been good. I think it’s reaffirmed that a great opportunity was thrown at me and my family in very quick fashion and I can tell you that I debated as best I could but ultimately I didn’t want to look back in years and say I didn’t jump at a really cool opportunity. Not easy, we have high school kids, all those things but ultimately we decided it was something worth jumping into. So I think the hardest part is I have been up there grinding, haven’t been around my family. I’m not used to that so that’s been tough but like this week having them here and getting to feel that excitement of what I’m doing now, that’s been really neat. The job itself, it’s been great. It’s been fun and the challenge has been, it’s a big challenge. The team needed to be a lot better. But I keep saying, I think that’s where having played and played at a high level helps. What you learn as a player is control what you can control, take one thing at a time and do it to the best of your ability and then move on to the next thing. I think when you do that enough, good things happen.
How do you and Shanahan complement each other?
I think more than anything we both just try to be ourselves. I will say that we were both kind of aware as we started to spend more time together that we complement each other very well. Some people during the process in other places said Kyle can be abrasive, can be arrogant. I’ve never found that. He and I have a great deal of respect for each other that was born out of just conversations about football. I’m fond of his football intelligence and the way he goes about it. I hope he would say the same of me. I felt like we both felt we could make each other better. I think that’s been our experience thus far. We’re proud of what we’ve done (but) we’ve done nothing yet. It’s all going to be measured on the field.
What are some examples of making each other better?
I talk to his wife a lot. You’ve got a young coach who goes at it hard. Part of my job is going to be keeping him healthy or keeping him fresh mentally and all those things. Sometimes I’ll say ‘Get out of here, go home.’ It’s been easier because family hasn’t been here and now his family is going to be here. He’s a grinder, he works hard, sometimes forgets to eat meals and stuff so part of my job and I can’t do it myself but it’s like ‘Hey, that’s important. We want you to not only be great at this, we want you to last for a long time.’ I bring him lunch, room service.
Any thoughts about Vegas?
Haven’t thought of it. I’m thinking about it right now.
You were a player that played before the CBA. Do you feel it limits the development of players??
I know from talking to the players that they recognize it’s in an effort to do things to extend careers and stuff, but maybe some things need to be amended. Second, third year players who need time in the facility and need structure in their lives, issues outside of football, we get nine weeks during the offseason we don’t get and we get four hours a day. Our job is to win football games so most of that time is going to be dedicated toward winning football games but you would love to have the opportunity to improve the experience and improve the quality of life for NFL players both currently and in post career. So the sentiment in the meetings was if we have some more time, we feel like we are making their life better too and we can attend to some of those things. Right now, if you give us this much time it’s going to be all ball. So I think everyone is recognizing and I hope we find a better system moving forward where there’s restrictions and we’re keeping the health and safety of what you can do in the offseason – you need breaks – but also have the time to do what’s best for these players and their experience in the league. The quality of the game will improve.
I think you have an extra week. Extra minicamp. Three day minicamp. You get three practices and two walk throughs, a total of five. Not to use the full extent of it but we are taking the extra minicamp.
Phase one of offseason begins on April 10.
Have you thought about what you’re going to say to team that first day?
Kyle and I have talked a lot about it. First impressions are very important. So that’s another thing aside from free agency and draft. It’s been things like that. It’s been messaging in the building, the way we want to do things. All those things have been important. I think it’s important these guys know what we’re all about, what we want to be right away.
You mentioned on the radio that Kaepernick was close to signing with a team?
At one point, there was some information as were kind of going through our own quarterback thing and it’s kind of what happens in free agency, you get information and you set the market for guys you’re talking to and things and there was information that came to us and I know that thing has blown up and I don’t want to get in other people’s business but there was some information that he was very close. Obviously it didn’t happen. I don’t know what happened.
Did you have any more contact with Kaepernick?
We had that initial meeting. No, not (met) since.
Have you settled where guys will line up on the defensive line?
I think we’re kind of settling in. I think the thing that I feel good about is that and I say that in praise of Trent (Baalke) and the guys he brought in, sometimes you come into a situation and I’ve talked to people, I’ve seen it where they were in a 3-4 and they just don’t fit in a 4-3. We feel like all of these guys can play, the guys that are still here, they’re here for a reason. We feel like they can play and not only play but thrive in what we’re going to do. I think us cutting some of these guys loose, I’m excited to see an Arik Armstead when he’s in attacking posture as opposed to sitting on his heels. Some of the things he was asked to do, not that they’re wrong, we just feel like his best assets can really be brought out. That goes for a lot of these guys. And the other thing I would say is just the versatility. Arik can play both outside and inside. He’s one guy I’m talking about but there’s a lot of guys. I think that’s something where we’ve been pleasantly surprised although the numbers haven’t been there. We think we have some things to work with, we need to get better, we need to continue to add to that but we feel like we’ve got something to work with.
So you can be flexible with how that applies to the draft?
We’re figuring all of that out. That will be set in our mind prior to the draft so you can go attack it. I know when John Elway sat down to do this, he had a real great call with Ernie Accorsi, if you want to oversimplify, you’ve got to find the quarterback and you’ve got to find the guys to knock them down. So we’re looking for those.
How many pro days?
I’ve been to two and then we had a private workout. Heading back out on the road this week. Kyle and some of the coaches were up at Stanford. It kind of pained me not to be at my alma mater. David (Shaw) called and said “Really?”
Things just got mashed in. That same day we could have been at Ohio State, who has a lot of players. So it’s not a perfect system because you’re forced to choose where you’re going. I think we spread it out well.