Just shortly after it was reported that draft prospect Jabrill Peppers had a failed drug test at the combine due to dilution issues, San Francisco 49ers GM John Lynch spoke to the media about his draft preparation. Several of the questions centered around “character issues” and how those affect a draft board.
Lynch has played with several colorful characters during his time in the NFL, including Warren Sapp. He noted that although Sapp has had some issues, it was important to point out that he always “protected the team.” Lynch said he never like playing without Sapp on the field adding that he made Lynch’s job much easier.
There is, of course a fine line that an organization has to walk when drafting players that have had off the field issues in their past. Lynch said that he and head coach Kyle Shanahan do not have a blanket policy but that each player’s background will be handled on an individual basis. When asked about character and the now infamous “winning with class” statement, Lynch replied:
I think the one thing to know, and I’ve learned from playing, and this process, is a lot of people have issues, just like a lot of people in life have issues. So, if you’re looking for a bunch of choir boys, that ain’t happening, you know? (laughing) It’d be hard to fill a team. But we believe in football character. Do they love football? Are they dependable? Are they accountable? Those types of things. I think each circumstance, each player deserves and will get to be looked at in a unique and thorough way.
That influenced how Lynch and his team shaped the 30 prospects that they had official meeting with. Instead of pulling in the players with character issues, they brought in guys who they just wanted to feel the presence of one more time. Players that they didn't get enough of in the 15 minute combine meeting.
Taking that into consideration, part of Lynch’s goal in free agency was to build a solid locker room with leaders, like Pierre Garçon. Here is why:
I think that’s part of growing this nucleus of players that fit and embody what we’re all about, because I think the more players you have, and I think free agency for us was trying to develop that on the limited knowledge that we had. There were some people that may have been more talented but we didn’t feel embodied what we want to be all about, and brought in people that do represent that. What I’ve found is that when you have locker room that’s strong, maybe you can bring some people in that have seven of the ten qualities but three of them aren’t there. It’s when you surround them with great examples with what you’re looking for, then it’s a lot more doable.