General manager John Lynch followed Kyle Shanahan and George Lynch after practice to discuss Kittle’s deal, and much more.
I’m just wondering, with TE George Kittle’s contract, the amount that he brings to the team, the importance he has to the team and kind of the level that tight ends have been paid through the years, what was your philosophy in breaking out of that mold a little bit, but also kind of recognizing what the comps were for that position?
“I think that’s what made it so challenging. I think I had an interesting perspective, personally, because I played a position that had lagged behind in terms of getting paid and I felt like the position and the nature of the position had changed. At one point, I became the high-water market safety for about 24 hours before [former Philadelphia Eagles S] Brian Dawkins did, but you also kind of feel a responsibility to the game, to the other players at your position. I knew we were dealing with some interesting dynamics there and I knew as a result, it would be a challenge. There never was a challenge in terms of the like-mindedness, the shared motivation to get it done. It was just finding, where is that spot? Typically, these things kind of fall right into place. Here, we had to kind of create that and therein lied the challenge. I just want to thank, first of all, George and his family for their patience throughout it. I obviously want to thank the York family for making it all possible and [JB Sports agent] Jack Bechta did a tremendous job. It wasn’t an easy negotiation, but everyone stayed positive and resolute through the whole thing that we were going to find a way to get it done and we did that and that makes everyone happy.”
Can you share kind of when a breakthrough occurred? It just seemed from everything people were hearing, it was kind of like nothing was eminent. Broadly or specifically, can you share maybe what pushed the ball forward finally?
“In terms of a breakthrough, I think there were a lot of breakthroughs throughout the process. In the last couple of weeks, we felt like we were drawing nearer. Jack did a great job of fighting for his client and I think he knew he had had some time. In terms of deadlines, there really wasn’t one on this because George was under contract for this year, but I think everybody felt, maybe not a need, but a want to get this done before we stepped on there with helmets, 11-on-11 and all that. I felt confident that we were making progress throughout and really felt like in the last two weeks, really, that any day could have been the day. We had movement on the day it eventually got agreed to. So, I guess that would be the breakthrough, but there were a bunch of breakthroughs throughout the process.”
George just spoke to us about how excited he is that TE Jordan Reed is in the tight ends room with him, on the field with him. How much of that addition was about George? You have such a huge investment in him now, about sort of longevity for him and perhaps lightening his load a little bit for this season coming up?
“We’ve talked about that. We’ve talked about having a compliment to George. First of all, schematically, I think it’s, because of the nature of that position and the different ways in which you can use them with our staff. How creatively they use the tight end, I think it’s just an advantage for us. Any time you get a player in the ilk of a Jordan Reed and you can come to an agreement and feel like health-wise it’s worth, I guess, the inherent risk involved. It was a good decision for us, also to protect George, but George is going to play and he’s going to play a lot of football. He doesn’t like coming off the field and it’s hard to take him off the field because he is so complete, but it doesn’t just stop with Jordan Reed. I think another year, the development of [TE] Ross Dwelley who really showed us what a valuable football player he is to this team, drafting [TE] Charlie Woerner, who we really have a great vision for as a staff. I think now we have some compliments. We feel much better about that position and that’s a really good feeling.”
I know you just got this one done, but obviously, you’ve got a lot of guys who are due up after this year. LB Fred Warner’s coming soon. I’m just curious, how much does having some cost certainty with George help you in that regard and how do you kind of go about prioritizing what comes next?
“I think we’re going to exhale a little before we think about anyone else, but it’s a great issue to have. When you’ve got a lot of players worthy of being paid, that’s a good thing. We’re doing our jobs right. You used the word cost certainty. That was another element of challenge throughout this thing in the midst of a pandemic, really not knowing without an agreement between the owners and the PA exactly where the cap numbers were going to fall. We still don’t know that, but we got a better idea and that helped us craft this deal, frankly. Now, I think we go back to the drawing board and start prioritizing and looking at when people are coming due. Just like we always do, looking three years out, looking two years out. Thinking about the present and always thinking about the future.”
You just mentioned maybe having a little bit better of an idea of what the salary cap situation next year could look like. Are you optimistic that a TV deal could get done and there might be more revenue, that you might not be at that $175 million floor next year?
“I wouldn’t say optimistic, I’m hopeful. I’ve talked to a lot of different people to that point. If there is a new TV deal, does it kick in right away or is that down the line? I think there’s new media rights and such that might kick in right away. So, I think we do know that 175 is the floor and hopefully it’s higher than that, but I think we have to start preparing for the worst-case scenario, that 175 is the number and that’s exactly what we’ve done.”
QB Jimmy Garoppolo and George Kittle, how do they work so well together that you see and going forward, how that relationship can grow?
“They’re both extremely hard workers. They’re both extremely talented and gifted, but that’s when you have a chance to be special as a player, when your work ethic kind of matches with the prerequisite that you’re a talented guy. I think they both love the game. Jimmy brings a little bit of a linebacker approach to the position, and I think George brings a little bit of a linebacker approach to the tight end position. I think they kind of see eye-to-eye on how the game should be played. I think as your shared experiences grow, you continue to grow, but they seemingly, much like Jimmy had early his first year with [WR] Trent Taylor, just kind of intuitively know what each other’s thinking. That’s a great advantage for us. I think they’re both really good players and we’re fortunate to have them.”
Can you detail what that linebacker mentality would be for a quarterback and a tight end?
“I used to play a quarterback all the way through my junior year at college, I switched over. I think a lot about Jimmy. I think early on we talked a lot about just what a good teammate he is. I think quarterbacks oftentimes, because there’s so much demanded at that position, they don’t get to be as much a one of the guys. Their job is different. So much is asked of them and so it’s hard for them to connect as well as other positions. Jimmy kind of just innately gets that. That’s who he is and I think a lot of that goes to his family. But a lot of it, he loves every part of the game, the physical part of the game, even. I think George, obviously, you watch him play. He probably wouldn’t like me saying it’s a linebacker mentality, but that’s kind of how I think as a defensive player. I love the way he plays the game. I battled against him hard during my career, but [former Green Bay Packers QB] Brett Favre was the guy I probably respected most because he had so much damn fun playing the game. You’re in an intense moment and you look over and he’s doing the YMCA in the huddle or something while you’re at Green Bay. George is very reminiscent to me of that. In the midst of intense and tough and tight situations, you just see an exuberance with him that’s special. I think that’s contagious and when you’re like that, you better be a really good player. We’re very fortunate that he is, he’s a great player.”
I have one more about the negotiations. When the cap is uncertain and you look forward to 2021, 2022, was it possible to move some of the cap hit back to a time when you think that the cap might be higher in the future? Was that something that might’ve caused this to take a little bit longer, as far as negotiations went?
“That’s where I think we’re most thankful that Jack Bechta and the Kittles kind of approached this as a partner of ours. They were going to get what they deserved, but there was a spirit of, ‘Hey, can you work with us?’ In particular in ‘21, we needed their assistance, because of that worst-case scenario, the cap hit, something that we could take on. They were great, [president of 49ers enterprises & executive vice president of football operations] Paraag [Marathe] and his group, [vice president of football administration] Brian Hampton, are so bright. So, working through these things with them and Jack was great working with us to the point where his client, it’s certainly not a back-loaded contract, but there’s some creative things that were done within the contract to make it such that it behooves everybody. George wants to win championships, and he knew there was an element to that as well. He didn’t give in on anything, but he did work with us to make it good for everybody. That’s what I feel great about this deal, because that’s what you want in a deal, especially with a player of this magnitude that means so much to your team for so many reasons. You want it to be a win-win and you want him and his family and everybody on their side to come out feeling like this was a win for us, but I think also a win for the other side. I believe that’s how everybody feels on this deal.”
In these unique times, how much have you guys looked about just kind of thinking outside the box, especially with some of the younger players and not only have them cross train at different positions, but cross train on different sides of the ball? Is that something that you guys have looked into as you guys get closer to the regular season on how you might be able to compensate for some of the possibilities that could pop up? If so, which players would you consider prime candidates for that?
“Well, I guess we were just talking about it, Kittle and Garoppolo could play linebacker. No, I’m just joking. We have not done that, but we’re challenging ourselves and it’s kind of like the Wild West. We have a new 16-person practice squad with six veterans and so we’ve challenged everybody in the building, ‘Hey, we want you to come up with ideas and there’s no wrong answers.’ They were looking for the best. How do you comprise a practice squad for all the possibilities that could happen during these times? That’s where you can gain an edge. Fortunately, we have a really great bunch of individuals, both in the coaching staff and in the personnel staff, that are incredibly bright, who take a lot of pride in what they do and from their perspective, are coming up with great ideas on how we best do that. Then we put them all together and we’ll come up with a really good plan, but that’s ongoing. Thinking of creative ideas, preparing for worst case scenarios. More than anything, trying to mitigate risks. Our staff, our players have done a tremendous job of doing that. Frankly, our set up here, sharing our practice field with our stadium allows us to have more space, but it still took a lot of hard work, but that’s what’s most important. Yes, you have to be creative. We haven’t gone so far, I don’t think we’re cross training one offense and defense, but that’s a fun idea to think of who may be capable of doing it.”
With that worst-case scenario and the cap potentially dropping significantly and the reality that veterans might have to get cut with expensive contracts, do you think there might be an increased premium on draft picks in the coming years?
“Oh, there’s no doubt about it. We always put a premium on draft picks, but the other side of that is the inherent challenges with college football and a lot of conferences likely not happening this year. How do you take that into effect? I think there’ll be more challenges to scouting players than ever before, but at the same point, I think, for a team like ours, who’s up there against the cap and was budgeting at 220 million on a cap for next year, we’re going to have to be creative. We’re going to have to really be great in the draft and that’s where the continuity between our coaching staff and our personnel and our process, I think will really come in handy. I think we’ve improved at our draft process each and every year. We’ve got a lot of continuity, a lot of familiarity and that will be needed this year. Yes, the draft will be incredibly important.”
I think the last time we spoke, you hinted that a new GM deal was imminent and it appears that was right, but is everything official now? Is everything done with that?
“Yeah, it is. I signed, I think I signed two weeks ago. [CEO] Jed [York] and I shook hands and signed the deal. [Vice president of communications] Bob [Lange] let me know prior to coming in here that apparently, we haven’t announced that. I think a lot of that, that’s not what’s been on my mind. The approaching season, George’s deal, as I told you, I felt like that could happen. This is a player’s league. It’s about the players. I’m incredibly grateful to the York family that they saw fit during these times with the amount of time I had left on my deal to extend my contract out. [Head coach] Kyle [Shanahan] and I, we’re having a blast doing this. I think we’re making great, great progress and so I’m incredibly grateful to the York family. A handshake and a signed contract is good enough for me, but I guess at some point we should probably release something. That’s the answer there.”
I’m just curious, there are a bunch of tents now on the practice field. I assume those are all for weightlifting. Do you know about how many are out there and how players are responding to using them instead of the normal weightlifting setup?
“Yeah, it’s a Venice Beach North. We love it. Great, great thought process by [head of player health & performance] Ben Peterson, [head of strength & conditioning] Dustin Perry, [head athletic trainer] Dustin Little, that whole group, our health and performance staff. As part of these COVID protocols, how many players can you fit in our weight room per square feet? That’s how they’re operating here and so it forced you to be creative, and they came up with a great idea. Again, very thankful to the York family for allowing us to use every resource available to us. I think the numbers were, had we stayed inside, I think we could have trained 15 players at one time. With the tents, we can train 45 players at a time and the way we like to do it and still distance them correctly and still not compromise the workout. There’s the ingenuity of our staff coming in hand and our players have really bought into the approach. I think they actually like being outside. Probably wouldn’t have been the answer the last two days as it’s been up towards 100 degrees, but I love that kind of thinking and it’s benefiting us. It’s not just for show. There’s a tangible benefit from that and a job well done by that staff for coming up with that idea.”