We posed the question on Niners Nation’s Twitter handle Wednesday asking which move during the John Lynch/Kyle Shanahan tenure that looks worse now that we have hindsight would you do over again?
Because it’s the internet, half of the responses took that question the wrong way. This isn’t about drafting Solomon Thomas instead of a quarterback or a handful of other obvious mistakes the team made. Every team in the NFL has those blunders.
We talked about which player the team added at the time that seemed like the correct decision but doesn’t look so hot now. For example, Dante Pettis was an electric receiver in college who was a dynamic return man. He seemed like an ideal fit for the 49ers' offense, and we saw those flashes during Pettis’s rookie season.
Let’s get into the four moves that come to mind, with a few honorable mentions.
At the time of the signing, Jerick McKinnon was coming off a season where he ran for 570 yards and had 421 receiving yards. His explosiveness was evident, and McKinnon was a nightmare for linebackers to guard out of the backfield.
After missing the entire 2018 and 2019 seasons due to knee injuries, McKinnon’s “juice” evaporated. Hopefully, after a season removed from the injury, McKinnon’s athleticism returns. It’s tough to fault the 49ers and Shanahan for signing McKinnon after what he put on the field during the 2017 season — especially knowing Shanahan valued that type of player in Atlanta.
Reuben Foster was and remains one of the most violent linebackers that have come into the league since 2017. When Roob ran into you, you went in the opposite direction:
From a talent perspective, Foster had everything you want. The type of mentality Foster played with is rare for a linebacker and affects the rest of your defense.
The issue was always going to be — on the field — if Foster’s style of play could hold up. We don’t have to get into the legal issues off the field. Some of them predated Foster’s time with the Niners, so the front office shouldn’t have been surprised at the result. We see teams make a gamble on these types of talents each year.
Trading for Dee
My selection is Dee Ford. He was an animal for the Chiefs in 2018. Think of Sports Info Solution’s “total points saved” as baseball’s WAR stat. In 2018, Ford led all defensive lineman with 55 total points saved. That’s two more than Aaron Donald and his 20.5 sacks that season.
Lynch’s philosophy was clear. He wanted multiple superstars upfront to harass quarterbacks every time they dropped back to pass. When you can acquire a player coming off one of the best pass-rushing seasons in recent memory for a second-round pick, it’s a no-brainer.
Ford didn’t come without risk, as he had missed ten games the season prior. We saw how valuable Ford was in the 11 games he played in ‘19. Unfortunately, San Francisco paid him to play. That didn’t happen, and it’s unlikely Ford suits up with the team again given his contract.
Paying Jimmy G
The 49ers traded a second-round pick for Jimmy Garoppolo and made him the highest-paid QB in 2018 after only five starts during 2017. Looking back, Garoppolo’s TD/INT ratio was 7/5. Jimmy won every start, and while the team wasn’t playing for anything, it’s how he played that matters.
Garoppolo was a playmaker. There’s no other way to describe him during the end of the ‘17 season. He avoided pressure, ran out of sacks, and seemingly always found a way to move the chains. Jimmy G finished tenth in QB rating that season.
SIS had Garoppolo earning 39 points in five starts, which was more than Andy Dalton, Eli Manning, Joe Flacco, Mitch Trubisky, and Jay Cutler earned in full seasons. This past year was supposed to be the season where Garoppolo took the next step as he was a year removed from his ACL injury, but another ankle injury prevented us from fully evaluating Garoppolo.
The team has a difficult decision to make with Garoppolo’s contract this offseason. Garoppolo’s cap number looks bad now because he’s missed so much time. The 49ers were correct in paying Jimmy G at the time for what he showed he could do on the field during the end of the ‘17 season. You can only wonder how Jimmy would have grown under Shanahan had he not suffered multiple injuries.
Best of the rest
Weston Richburg was one of the best centers in the NFL during the 2016 season. As is the case with most of these players, injuries have gotten the best of Weston, and he hasn’t been able to stay on the field.
Kwon Alexander brought a different type of leadership to the locker room. I’ll “die on the hill” that Fred Warner isn’t the player today without spending time around Kwon. Warner’s confidence went through the roof. Alexander helped Warner and Dre Greenlaw in ways that we cannot quantify.
The DeForest Buckner trade was never going to look good after Year 1. Buck turned around the Colts defense, while the Niners relied on a rookie defensive tackle to take his place. Moving on from Buckner was never as simple as comparing him to Arik Armstead. It was a package that involved signing multiple players and freeing up cap space. The comparisons aren’t apples to apples.