San Francisco 49ers general manager John Lynch spoke to Sports Illustrated’s Albert Breer to reflect on the offseason and some of the main talking points surrounding the 49ers. Lynch told the story on the decision to move on from star defensive tackle DeForest Buckner and what led the team to make that move.
When thinking about future contracts such as Buckner, Arik Armstead, George Kittle, and Nick Bosa, Lynch said, “We knew the Buckner domino was going to be the big one.” At the NFL Combine, Lynch, Kyle Shanahan, and Paraag Marathe met with Buckner’s agent, Joel Segal, for a cordial discussion. The 49ers’ brass found out from Segal that the average per year on any new deal would have to start with a “2,” which led to the Niners realizing they wouldn’t be able to meet DeFo’s needs:
“We started to see the true reality of that,” Lynch said. “We wanted to keep both him and Armstead in the worst way. And then we had to start looking at every iteration. OK, what if we keep Armstead under the franchise tag, and we keep Buckner? We looked at every different way it could work. Our motivation certainly wasn’t getting rid of Buckner, because he’s one of our best players and one of our best people. He embodies 49er way.”
Lynch told Segal, “Buck’s earned it, so if you believe you can get that number, go get it. But you better bring back a first-round pick.” To Lynch’s surprise, Segal delivered faster than either side anticipated. Lynch told Breer:
“Not only did he bring back a first-round pick, he brought back the 13th pick. And then, it’s like, ‘Whoa, I didn’t think he’d do that.’ By that point, you start looking at how we can keep our team together. And I guess a long story short, it’s not something we wanted to do, but at a certain point, we felt like that was the best decision.”
Segal was determined that his client received the money he wanted, and Segal came through. I’d be curious to know how often these deals happen where the agent does most of the legwork. We found out when Buckner was first dealt that he wanted Aaron Donald money, and Lynch confirmed as much above.
In Lynch’s mind, the 49ers received more than just the 13th overall pick in exchange for Buckner. Now San Francisco could hold onto Armstead, Jimmie Ward, and bring back critical depth pieces such as backup center Ben Garland. Lynch said, “It is a daunting task though—How do you get better when you’re losing one of your better players? That’s what we set off to do.”
Speaking of getting better, Lynch also talked to Breer about the Tom Brady fiasco. Lynch told Breer the team studied Jimmy Garoppolo for three to four days before realizing Jimmy was the best long-term answer. From there, the conversation turned to replace Staley, and how the 49ers passed on Iowa’s offensive tackle Tristan Wirfs, who the Niners had ranked “incredibly high,” per Lynch.
Washington’s head coach Ron Rivera told Lynch other teams had entered the equation of acquiring Trent Williams. That held up the two sides getting a deal done, as the additional teams complicated Lynch’s original request to get a deal done before the draft. So, the 49ers are sitting at 13 with a decision: Do we take Wirfs or do we take Javon Kinlaw, who the team had pegged as their top guy among those likely to fall to 13, per Breer. Then Tampa Bay called, and Lynch knew the Bucs were looking for a tackle, so the Niners picked up an additional fourth-round pick, which could potentially help them land Williams down the line. Here is Lynch on the topic:
“By that point, what I’d tell you is, I wouldn’t say it was a great deal of confidence, but we knew we were in the Trent Williams thing,” Lynch said. “We knew that we’d have a shot. And you start looking, What are some of the reasons we were in the Super Bowl last year? Well, I think when we were right when we were healthy, we overwhelmed people with our defensive front. And you don’t want to lose that, and we lost a key piece of it.”
Breer said replacing Buckner “wasn’t No. 1 on the grocery list,” but Kinlaw checked off a need and added much-needed size. Kinlaw now gets to work with highly-touted defensive line coach Kris Kocurek. Lynch said, “it was a perfect match for what we ask our D-linemen to do, which is tee off and wreck stuff.” I love that quote so much.
Lynch feared a deal with Minnesota could help them land Williams, as reports came out that the Vikings needed a tackle as well:
“Also, we knew Minnesota was in on Trent. Did we just arm them with the ammunition they needed to go get him? Like, Oh, gosh,” Lynch said. “That thought went into it as well.”
Lynch said their original offer to Washington was the third-rounder selection for 2021 and the fifth-rounder from 2020, and that was the best San Francisco could do:
“It was the best we could do, really,” Lynch said. “I think at that point … that’s what delayed us, the other teams, I can’t speak for them, but some other teams said, ‘Hey, we might get some picks here that would enable us to go do something.’ Washington, probably rightly so, exercised some patience to try to get the best thing they could for their organization, and ultimately our offer was.”
Lynch pointed to his experiences as a player when talking about letting Buckner go. He brought up how the Patriots had to make tough decisions like letting Richard Seymour and Chandler Jones go. He also brought up when Tampa Bay let him and Warren Sapp walk. Lynch used the word “agonizing” repeatedly when talking about moving on from Buckner, who did everything the 49ers asked of him, and the team could still not pay him. That’s another area where Lynch brought up his own experience of playing:
“You understand that great feeling is fleeting. Now, it’s time to go to work. And that’s the hard part, even if going to work now is virtually going to work.… But I’m proud that, for the most part, we kept the continuity of our team together. I think that will go a long way.”