INDIANAPOLIS — The joint heads of the San Francisco 49ers in general manager John Lynch and Kyle Shanahan appeared at the NFL Combine much more rested and in far finer spirits than the funeral-like, sleep-deprived vibe they understandably had in their final availability of the season just a few days after their heartbreaking Super Bowl loss.
Shanahan’s much-needed Cabo reprieve, and his record-setting golf game with 49ers quadruplet
The loss wasn’t exactly removed from Shanahan’s mind. He described the 2020 Super Bowl loss as “harder than the last one” he experienced as the Atlanta Falcons’ offensive coordinator in 2016.
A significant part of that is surely the fact that this is Shanahan’s operation, and while the infamous collapse to the New England Patriots was a far more seismic blunder, it’s not just the level of involvement that made the LIV loss a tougher pill to swallow.
“The hardest thing for me is, I thought we were the best team in the NFL, and when you really believe that — and I thought it for a while. It wasn’t just like the last couple weeks of the year,” Shanahan said Tuesday. “In Atlanta we kind of got hot at the end of the year and so I felt pretty fortunate. This year I thought we had it, and we were the second worst team in the league last year and now we got to live with being the second best, which I’m proud of, but that that is harder because I truly believe it was there for us.”
Shanahan said he didn’t watch to game film right away, but had no choice, thanks to those pesky reporters — “Definitely have to watch it before I answer questions for you guys so it’s fresh in my head.” He said he watched the film back “a number of times right after” and went back and did so a week ago. That won’t be the last time he brings it back.
“I’ll do it gradually as the year goes,” Shanahan said. “I always mix it in. You can always get something out of it, but it’s not always fun to revisit.”
A requisite part of getting over that loss was a break. Shanahan, known for his neurotic, obsessive nature, often has a hard time stepping back. Enter Cabo San Lucas, Mexico.
Shanahan vacationed there just before heading to Indianapolis.
On that trip, he ran into four 49ers — George Kittle, Trent Taylor, Nick Mullens and Levine Toilolo — and played what he deemed a record-setting golf game with them.
“I was out in Cabo and saw a couple players out there randomly,” Shanahan said. “I got to play golf with a few of those guys, which was fun. I think we broke a record because we played nine holes in five hours. Besides that, I think we’ve all been getting away. I just came back here on Monday, so just getting back into it and I’ll start catching up with people here in the next week or so.”
Some of Shanahan’s answers, in terms of cutting players like Marquise Goodwin, or his assessment of specific prospects, were a clear result of one, not wanting to divulge information related to the 49ers’ offseason process and maintaining leverage in both negotiations and trade propositions, and two, that Cabo effect.
“Someone asked me about a defensive player, I’m like, ‘I don’t know any of them, yet,'” Shanahan said, chuckling, when recalling a question about LSU linebacker Isaiah Simmons.
One final note from that Cabo trip — Shanahan was asked if there was any awkwardness with Kittle regarding the likely monumental contract extension he has coming his way. Shanahan said no, but that his wife, Mandy, got some not-so-inside information from Kittle.
“No. There’s always little jabs here and there, but he told my wife how much he liked liked it here,” Shanahan said. “But he told my wife to promise not to tell me until after he signed so she told me, she’s my wife so…”
Treading water while CBA negotiations linger
The NFLPA’s 32 team representatives and 11 executive board members, including Richard Sherman, are reportedly in Indianapolis to discuss the proposed collective bargaining agreement with NFL league officials and the eight members of the NFL’s Management Council.
Those discussions have held up some offseason moves as teams wait to see what impact a new CBA, or lack thereof, would have on contracts, salary cap, etc.
The 49ers have yet to franchise tag Arik Armstead, with Tuesday representing the first opportunity to do that. Armstead can be tagged at any point between now and March 10.
“That’s all been a little fluid with the CBA thing, got pushed back a couple of days so you know with respect to Arik, as I said right after the season, that is an option on the table, and we haven’t made that decision yet, but it is certainly an option that is at our disposal or, you know, may work for both sides but we’ll see where that goes,” said Lynch. “I mean we’re prepared. It’s kind of like we got option A, we got option B… We certainly have a plan, but that plan is fluid for the CBA for other reasons, I think things are happening and because we have a lot of real talented players.”
Shanahan after asserting that the 49ers “wouldn’t release Marquise Goodwin… No,” sort of walked back that statement. Goodwin (who just welcomed his and his wife Morgan’s first child, a daughter, Marae) will likely have to be cut by the 49ers given that doing so will save the 49ers about $3 million in cap space this season and $8 million next season.
“Oh [the CBA is] a big thing too. If I was Paraag [Marathe] here that would be his reason to tell you guys he can’t answer any other questions,” Shanahan said. “I can’t answer them way before that and even if I did have all the football stuff that would be the part to where alright, I don’t understand the numbers either. And also, I’m like three days removed from Cabo, so…”
Cuts, restructuring and Jalen Hurd… lots in flux for 49ers
There’s never much clarity at this point in the offseason, especially for a team which just played in a Super Bowl and whose staff is still working on going through last season’s game tape and only now shifting to focus on the draft process, as Shanahan said. His offensive lieutenants are here, he said, but the defensive staff is back in Santa Clara.
- Jerick McKinnon restructuring? The only way McKinnon avoids being cut is by taking a pay cut. The 49ers will save about $4 million by cutting him, and by all accounts, do not need him (unless they were to cut Tevin Coleman and lose Matt Breida as a restricted free agent). If McKinnon is indeed back on restructured deal, that could mean the end of Tevin Coleman’s 49ers tenure, given that cutting him would save the 49ers $4.9 million with zero dead cap hit. That could be in play regardless of what happens with McKinnon.
- Lynch said McKinnon was medically cleared at the end of last season (he rejoined the team towards the end of the season after rehabbing in Florida) and suggested that talks between his representatives and the 49ers are ongoing.
- Jalen Hurd’s slow-healing back: Hurd had a promising preseason, with two touchdowns in one game, and brought a size and physicality at 6’5″ that the 49ers were (are) lacking in the wide receiver department. He was placed on injured reserve three weeks into the regular season with a stress reaction (or fracture, the 49ers haven’t been all that clear about which one it is). Lynch expressed a very cautious optimism that he’d be available for the start of the 49ers’ offseason program:
“For it to completely heal, it happens on different timelines and we found that his has been stubborn,” Lynch said. “We think we’re nearing towards a much better place to where he’ll be cleared for all activities. Don’t want to officially give that word but there’s some recent scans and things that give us a lot of hope that that’s going to be the case and then come April one our offseason program, it will be a full go.”
- That bizarre one-day Ethan Westbrooks tenure: The 49ers may genuinely have failed to do their research on defensive linemen Ethan Westbrooks, who they cut promptly after signing. Westbrooks has been arrested on multiple felony gun charges. Lynch’s less-than-direct explanation for Westbrooks’ cut seemed to reveal plenty without saying anything:
“Well, we changed course on that obviously,” Lynch said. “That’s something that we were happy with doing, we wanted to add some depth and we had some other you know conversations, so we made a move and unfortunately for the kid, we ended up the reverse of course on that. So, that’s just what it is.”
- Another, perhaps final demand for Dante Pettis to improve: Shanahan explained that Pettis’ role evaporated because the team had locked in with Emmanuel Sanders, Deebo Samuel and Kendrick Bourne as its three wide receivers, with Richie James Jr. as the fourth and punt return option. Shanahan made yet another call for Pettis to come into camp aggressive this offseason, with a bleak proposition if he doesn’t.
“I want to see that he while he was away, he’s been on a mission. And I think that’s what some guys go through, I think Dante did that more his rookie year trying to make the league and stuff I think he took a little documented step back in the second year which I’ve been around a lot of players who have done that.
“And the players I’ve been around which has been a ton, they go one way or the other. They keep being like that and then they usually filter out, or it’s a wake up call for them and they come back and you can kind of see it in April, like all right this guy treated January to April so much different than the year before.”
- Why hasn’t Pettis returned punts instead of James Jr. (who fumbled twice on punts, including in the Super Bowl, and looked less than secure making return decisions):
“We didn’t think he was our best guy. And I’d like him to be. He knows that, and I think he’s got a chance to be, but we felt more comfortable with Richie, and I hope Dante tries to take that job from him, but that’s, that’s not my decision. I mean it’s his decision, he’s got to show it and I guess it comes down to my decision but he should make it for me.”
- Shanahan really, really wants Emmanuel Sanders back: Shanahan said the 49ers haven’t yet decided which restricted free agent tender they intend to use on Kendrick Bourne, while Emmanuel Sanders will hit free agency. There’s no ability to rely on Dante Pettis, and with a wide receiver class that’s been touted as very deep, there’s a chance the 49ers could look elsewhere if Sanders’ asking price is too high. That’s not the scenario Shanahan prefers:
“I do not think we would have got to where we got to without Emmanuel and I would love for anything to have Emmanuel back — bad. But we got to see how that plays out too,” Shanahan said. “And when you look at all our young receivers, we’ve invested in those guys in the last few years, and I think it is hard and risky to invest in receivers because it’s just a different type of game, but I do know that every receiver in our building, a lot of our young guys have had success already. And the guys who haven’t had success yet, they have the ability to do it. Now, they got to get healthy, and they need to get better in some areas but we got some players in our building.”