General manager John Lynch spoke with the media on Monday afternoon, touching on a number of subjects ahead of the draft. I focused on the five things that, I thought, were the biggest takeaways from his presser, and explained why those words from Lynch carry so much weight.
1. Trey Lance won’t be moved unless the 49ers are blown away with an offer they simply cannot refuse.
This one was probably pretty obvious to most 49ers fans, but given the persistent trade rumors and importance of the position, was still the most important takeaway from this press conference.
When Lynch as asked about the level of transparency he has had with Lance regarding any potential trade talks, this was his response:
“Generally, our policy, my policy, if we’re actively trying to trade a player, not trying to, if we’re having discussions. For instance, last year with Mike [McGlinchey], it became apparent that a year away from that, it was going to be tough to resign him with Trent Williams in the building and the reality of our roster. I brought Mike McGlinchey up and said, ‘Hey, Mike, from being a player myself I never want you to hear from anyone else that you’re being shopped, so I’m telling you, we are going to talk to some teams,’ if we’re fielding inbound calls, I think I’d be doing that every single day if I’m telling every single player. I do think with the sensitivity of Trey’s position, it may be a little different, so Trey and I have talked and we’re on the same page and Trey knows exactly where the situation is. His mindset is all about competing and I think that’s exactly where his mindset should be. We’re excited about the position he’s put himself in with the work he’s done this offseason to number one, get healthy, number two, improve upon some things that he really wanted to improve upon. And we don’t get to watch all of his workouts. I’ve got a good view. He’s definitely excited and I think he has reason to be, so yes, there has been good communication and we’re excited about Trey’s ability to go compete for a job.”
To me, this translates as a general manager who has been very matter of fact about what the young quarterback can expect regarding his future with the 49ers. There would be no reason to even draw the McGlinchey comparison unless a similar conversation has been had with Lance.
Given everything we have seen and heard, it feels pretty straightforward that the 49ers really mean everything they say when they talk about Brock Purdy being the guy. No matter how you feel about Lance, the belief in Purdy would naturally lead anyone to question what the role will be for a former top three pick entering their third year in the league.
If the 49ers can get a trade package back that could justify them moving Lance, they’re probably going to do it. Purdy is clearly their guy, and everything we have heard until this point indicates that Lance hasn’t quite earned that same vote of confidence from the powers at be.
As willing as they would be to make a move like this, they also won’t do it for pennies on the dollar should that market they are seeking never materialize. Even if he is not the week one starter in their best-case scenario, Lance still holds tremendous value to the team as a viable depth piece who has familiarity with the system.
Remember, this is the same front office that hung on to Jimmy Garoppolo for multiple off-seasons despite it being reported that there were a number of teams interested in acquiring him from the 49ers.
When Lynch or Kyle Shanahan talk about depth, and having options in their quarterback room, it’s more than just fluff or coach speak. They have seen four of their six seasons in San Francisco derailed by injuries at the position, and given the uncertainty of Purdy’s recovery timeline, Lance holds more value than he otherwise would have as an in-house insurance policy if needed.
Purdy is the guy if everything goes right. Unfortunately, the 49ers know better than most that typically you cannot count on things going the way you draw them up on paper, and hastily moving Lance for a minimal return could end up proving extremely costly if their depth at quarterback is inevitably tested.
2. The 49ers are extremely confident Brock Purdy’s recovery timeline won’t be an issue
You’d like to think that the 49ers wouldn’t be so transparent about taking calls on Lance if there wasn’t a certain degree of confidence in Purdy’s recovery timeline. Lynch seemed to echo that when he was asked how Purdy is progressing, emphasizing the importance of the 12-week post surgery milestone as a key indicator of where his recovery is at.
“Just what we expected, he’s attacking each day. I think he’s focused on each day. Dr. Meister had said that an inflection point will be 12 weeks because that’s when he’s supposed to start throwing, but right now he’s just really focused on maxing each day. I think with rehab, having gone through it myself, there’s a physical component to it. There’s also a psychological and emotional and mental component and part of that is just waking up and really being where you’re at. And I think that what Brock has done a really good job of and I get a lot of people reaching out saying that the high fives at the Giants game were really encouraging, but I think what’s more encouraging is what I’m hearing every day from our people, from Brock. He’s making great progress. As I have it, we’re six weeks out, just finished that six weeks and really doing a good job with it.”
Lynch also confirmed that Purdy has been on schedule with his recovery timetable up to this point:
“Yeah, he’s doing really well. And as I understand it, he’s definitely on schedule hitting all the checkpoints and we’re very encouraged by his rehab.”
Purdy is clearly Plan A for the 49ers, and the optimistic tone regarding his recovery is a major positive as the 49ers look to find some stability at the position moving forward. If things continue to progress at the rate Lynch alluded too, it's fair to be optimistic that Purdy should be good to go in time for the start of the 2023 season.
3. Results don’t always reflect intent
This goes for any level of operating a professional football franchise, but Lynch said something during this presser that was directly related to the draft. The 49ers made nine selections in the 2022 draft and didn’t make any moves to trade up or down the board during the duration of the draft.
However, that was not for lack of effort or interest on the 49ers part, as Lynch alluded to the fact that the 49ers actually had attempted to make some moves to reposition themselves on the draft board last year:
“Yeah, that’s something you have to take. We’ve had drafts where we’re incredibly active and last year we didn’t make one move that wasn’t for lack of trying, we tried to move around, nothing came to fruition. I think a lot of that’s just sitting there and it’s kind of painful to do when you’re sitting there just as it was last year, we picked at 61. It’s a lot of sitting and waiting and seeing names go off that you really like. I think what you start doing is saying, hey, if all the players we like are starting to go, okay, now, is this an opportunity for us to move up and go get one of the last few that we really have a high grade on? Those things can factor in, but I mentioned the quality of depth in this draft. I really believe at 99 at 101, 102, and 155, there’s going to be players we really like and want to add to our team and that has me encouraged.”
The 49ers have eleven selections in the 2023 draft, and it would be surprising if they made all of them in the slots they are currently assigned to. However, as much as the 49ers may want to move up or down at a given spot, it takes two to complete a deal. The end result may not reflect what Lynch and the 49ers front office truly desires to do with some of these picks regarding moving up for a player they like.
Another thing I thought was very telling was how Lynch singled out the three third round selections and their first pick in the fifth round as a range where they feel very confident in their evaluations. Perhaps that is the best range to target a potential trade up with some of the ammunition they have given their stockpile of day three picks, rather than a more costly and aggressive trade up on day two.
4. This roster could look a lot different in 2024
I always try not to read into something that isn’t there, or make mountains out of molehills. However, just taking a quick glance at the current 49ers under contract, and some of the blue chip talent they will have to sign to extensions over the next year or so, it's natural to wonder who gets left out in the game of musical chairs that will be played while constructing this roster moving forward.
While Lynch was asked about the future of Brandon Aiyuk, he said something within his answer that really stood out to me in regards to how they view the future of this roster. Here is his full answer when asked about the financial feasibility of keeping Aiyuk on the roster in the long term:
“Yeah, it’s a good question. It’s a fair question because I understand the line of thinking. You can’t keep everyone, we’re trying to do something special this year and Brandon is going to be a big part of that and beyond as well. And so yes, you always have to think out a few years, but we’re really excited about Brandon. I feel like he made another big step last year, and I think the best is yet to come and so we want him being a part of it and at some point, yeah, you have to figure things out and I guess we’ll take that as it comes, but as of right now and into the future, we’re really excited about Brandon Aiyuk and where he is at as a pro. The work he’s done to develop as a pro and become one of our core players here.”
The part that really stood out to me was “You can’t keep everyone, we’re trying to do something special this year and Brandon is going to be a big part of that and beyond as well”
The 49ers have a window that is as open as it will ever be in an NFC that doesn’t have a clear pecking order at the top for the first time in a long time. They have a roster that is loaded on both sides of the ball, that is ready to win now. Lynch knows that, and he also knows that there will be some extremely tough decisions to be made in the winter of 2024.
NFL stands for “not for long” so getting too caught up in how long you can extend a window as a true contender can be an exercise in futility, but it is also something you must always keep in the back of your mind, no matter where you stand in the present.
The 49ers seem to be well aware that 2023 is their best chance to capture that ever elusive sixth Lombardi Trophy, and that has been evident by their sense of urgency in bringing in some big pieces in free agency during this off-season.
I don’t think a massive drop-off is on the horizon anytime soon. They have done too good of a job stockpiling talent across the board for that to be a realistic outcome in the near future. However, there are some pillars of this roster who might be playing elsewhere sooner rather than later, and Lynch is not shy about acknowledging that.
5. Ran Carthon will be extremely difficult to replace within the front office
If you ask anyone who has worked closely with Carthon, they will tell you any organization would be fortunate to have him in their building. His track record speaks for itself, and there is a reason the Tennessee Titans hired him to be their general manager.
Part of the consequence of success is everyone is going to want a piece of the recipe that led to what made you so successful. The 49ers have felt that in spades, losing members of their front office year after year to promotions with other organizations.
While they have done a tremendous job maintaining stability in spite of the number of departures they have endured, the loss of Carthon just feels different from some of the others who preceded him.
Here was Lynch’s response when he was asked about other members of the front office potentially filling the void Carthon is leaving:
“Now Ran did play a part in our college staff, Ran’s a really solid evaluator. I think one of Ran’s most unique talents is he’s got a great feel for people. Ran was tremendous with the 30 visits, with the combine, just getting to know people and having a great feel for that. We collectively, those guys are skilled at that as well, but different roles. They’re both incredibly valuable to our organization. We’ve kind of made do without Ran, but you’re going to feel it when you lose a guy like that. And I just miss having around here. He is, one of the good people that I’ve worked with.”
What really stands out is Lynch’s remarks about how well Carthon was able to read the human element of evaluating football players. Every year there are hundreds of prospects to evaluate, and nearly every single franchise employs people who have a good idea of what kind of talent translates to the next level.
The thing that separates a successful team like the 49ers from those that aren’t, are the people like Carthon. Someone who is able to see what's beyond the shoulder pads and helmets, and identify the players who have what it takes to last in the NFL beyond the talent they display on the field.
Put yourself in the shoes of these teams tasked with drafting football players year in and year out. For a moment, let's forget about what is happening on the field. You are tasked with predicting how the next handful of years are supposed to play out for a group of young men in their early 20s, that are about to be handed life-changing money at a point in their lives where most of us are still finding our footing in the world.
Predicting how the future will play out in the early years of adulthood for players who are about to be subjected to a level of exposure they never could fully grasp until they are living it? No wonder the draft is such a crap shoot.
I can’t speak for everyone reading this, but I can say for myself that I was not making the best decisions when I was 21 years old. I made my share of mistakes, and I did that without having the pressure on me that these guys face from day one when they enter the league.
Which is why someone like Carthon is worth their weight in gold, someone who is able to get a good read on these prospects, and identify who has what it takes to make it in a league that will eat you alive if you aren’t ready to invest the time and work that is required to succeed.
The 49ers deserve the benefit of the doubt that they’ll find a way to adapt given their track record, but not all losses are equal. The loss of Carthon feels like one that will leave a sizable hole in the meantime.