The NFL Scouting Combine began on Tuesday in Indianapolis with all 32 teams in attendance. It’s John Lynch’s first chance to get a look at the vast majority of prospects as the San Francisco 49ers’ general manager prepares for the 2019 NFL Draft on April 25. Lynch spoke with the media this week at the start of the combine. Here’s some of his notable talking points:
Paging all pass rushers
It’s no secret that an edge rusher capable of threatening opposing quarterbacks is among the 49ers’ most pressing roster needs. With the No. 2 overall pick, Lynch is in a prime position to fill that void. Lynch was asked on Thursday what the team’s scouting departing is looking for in regards to a pass rusher.
“You have to have a guy who can close out games, close out halves,” Lynch said. “When you have them, they can be a difference maker. I think we’re also looking for powerful players. The great thing about Kris Kocurek and what he’s going to do and what we’ve wanted to do and why we were interested in him, he cuts these guys loose. They’re going to be playing with a quick trigger and getting after it. But, those are guys that can get to the quarterback and finish him.”
In addition to the draft, the 49ers will also turn toward free agency to reinforce their defensive front. San Francisco is slated for roughly $70 million in salary cap space after the expected departures of veteran players. There’s an impressive crop of pass rushers slated for the open market, but as Lynch points out, many of those will never reach free agency. Defensive end Brandon Graham, a strong target for the 49ers, was taken off the market on Friday when he signed an extension with the Philadelphia Eagles.
“As I’ve learned, typically those guys get what Robbie Gould got and they never reach the market, they get franchised, the good ones. So, there’s a lot of options out there and how you weigh that, I think you spend a lot of time and if there’s someone, obviously the one thing about free agency is that you’ve seen them at our level.”
Long-term is the goal for Gould
The 49ers used the franchise tag this offseason for the first time since 2012. Kicker Robbie Gould, after a historic two-year stretch, was slated for free agency in March. Over his last two seasons with the 49ers, Gould made 72 of 75 field-goal attempts - the second-highest in league history over two years. Lynch spoke of Gould’s impact at the combine, ensuring that a long-term deal was still the goal.
“We’re very hopeful,” Lynch said. “We did put the franchise tag on him, but we’re very hopeful that we continue talking and try to come to an agreement to keep him around for a while. We had hoped to get a deal done and I think Robbie did as well. We weren’t able to do that so at that point, that decision became very easy for us.”
The 49ers have until July 15 to work out a contract agreement with Gould before the $5 million tag becomes guaranteed.
Lynch likes Murray and you should too
Despite being just one pick removed from the top spot, the 49ers still have a host of possibilities to prepare for as the first-round of the draft quickly approaches. Among those is Kyler Murrary, the Oklahoma quarterback and Heisman Trophy winner whose stock is rising to the point of consideration with the No. 1 pick.
“We obviously aren’t in the market for a quarterback, but I keep throwing his darn film on because he’s so fun to watch,” Lynch said via NBCS’s Matt Maiocco. “He’s an electric player.”
Whether it’s the Arizona Cardinals or another team trading up, Murray going first-overall would push the draft’s top pass rusher, Nick Bosa, into the waiting arms of Lynch and the 49ers. It would also dramatically increases the value of the 49ers’ pick, with teams needing a quarterback now scrambling to move up for Dwayne Haskins, who’s also in the mix as the draft’s top quarterback. If the 49ers aren’t sold on Bosa, they could trade back for a handsome fee.
“I just know he’s special,” Lynch said, undoubtedly hoping that another team thinks so too.
49ers open to three quarterbacks
The 49ers fielded three different starting quarterbacks in 2018. Jimmy Garoppolo started the first three games before suffering a town ACL against the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 3. Backup C.J. Beathard took over for five games before a hand injury forced the Week 9 debut of former third-string quarterback Nick Mullens. The competition for Garoppolo’s backup spot will be a key offseason storyline, one that Lynch isn’t ready to call.
“Well, I think we never close the door on anything” Lynch said. “But, we really like the three quarterbacks that we have. It is an extremely important position in this league and we like each and every one of those guys for what they bring to the table, both in their talent and who they are as people. We’re big believers in all of them.”
In his five starts, Beathard completed 60% of his passes for 1,252 yards, eight touchdowns, seven interceptions and a 81.8 passer rating. In eight games, Mullens completed 64% for 2,277 yards, 13 touchdowns, 10 interceptions and a 90.8 quarterback rating. As the offseason progresses, Shanahan and Lynch will have to decide if there’s more value in keeping three experienced quarterbacks versus opening up a roster spot for another player. A team calling with trade interest in Mullens or Beathard is also a possibility.
“Traditionally, we’ve been of the believe that you keep two because it allows you to do things with your roster.” Lynch said. “But, never close the door on keeping three, either.”