Against all odds, 49ers are again one of NFL's top destinations

Jed York

The holidays are costly for everyone, but the Yorks had one of the most expensive Decembers in NFL history.

The 49ers’ owners paid a sizable tab for providing room and board for all 175 members of the organization who relocated to Arizona during the final month of the season.

The York family hasn’t always been this willing to spend. When they took control of the team in 2000, it was quite the opposite. Their reputation for cutting corners was known throughout the league and made San Francisco a less attractive destination for free agents and coaches. 

Twenty years later, Jed York, who was named CEO in 2008, has changed the narrative. The team has shed its penny-pinching ways and is once again one of the most desirable landing spots in the NFL. 

In his season-ending press conference, general manager John Lynch was asked if Santa Clara County’s ban on contact sports due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the 49ers' subsequent relocation to Arizona would be a hard sell to future players. 

Lynch was adamant that how the 49ers handled the adversity of the season was more than admirable. Lynch believes that the steps they took throughout the season showed that the organization is willing to go above and beyond normal protocols to take care of its players, coaches and staff. 

Kyle Shanahan detailed how the 49ers did their best to bring the comforts of home with them to Arizona. From setting up the weight room in a conference hall in the hotel to installing a higher speed WiFi system, nothing was overlooked, and the head coach was appreciative. 


“Everything that we did do, from the hotel we had, to all the meals, to bring the cooks down there, bringing everybody down there that they could,” Shanahan said. “[To] still try to give the players the same thing we had here is nice.

“Because when they don't feel good about that stuff, like a lot of buildings I've been in, the players start to get irritated with you, the coach.”

This was a pricey venture for the York family, who, at minimum, provided transportation, hotel rooms, stipends for alternative housing if needed and meals. This generosity is in stark contrast to the thrifty reputation the Yorks earned at the beginning of their ownership. 

As newly named owners, the York family was following in famous footsteps. Eddie DeBartolo Jr., who owned the team from 1977-2000, was known for his lavish spending habits when it came to the team. 

DeBartolo sold the team to his sister Denise York and her husband John after it was discovered that he was involved in a federal investigation. DeBartolo pleaded guilty in 1998 to failing to report a felony in a bribery case, which led to former Louisiana Gov. Edwin W. Edwards getting sent to federal prison.

DeBartolo was the first NFL owner to charter planes for his players and staff for road trips, realizing the positive effect it had on his team’s performance. When players spent less time traveling and slept better in more comfortable accommodations, their productivity increased. 

Derrick Deese, who played for the 49ers for six seasons during DeBartolo’s tenure and four of the York's, shared with NBC Sports Bay Area how noticeable the change in ownership was from a player’s perspective. The offensive lineman revealed that players were willing to take a smaller paycheck to stay in San Francisco under DeBartolo because no one wanted to leave. 

Under DeBartolo’s ownership Deese recalled the team would travel to their road trip destinations on the Friday before games, which was unheard of in that era. For East Coast trips, in particular, players could acclimate their body clocks in preparation for their Sunday contest instead of arriving the night before. 

Deese remembers how his travel schedule shocked an envious player from another club. That jealousy came to an end with the new regime. 

“There was stuff that changed that had never been changed, like being charged for stamps,” Deese said. “If you mailed something, they would take it off your check. They locked up the water and Gatorade at night.

“It went from being a place where everybody wanted to be, even from the outside. Free agents wanted to be there. Guys wanted to be part of the organization. Now you got guys who wanted out.”   

The most surprising story Deese recounted was when special teams coach Bruce DeHaven (2000-2002), was given the game ball after a win. A week later, the amount for the cost of the ball was deducted from his paycheck and the assistant coach gave the ball back.  


NBC Sports Bay Area analyst Jeff Garcia was the quarterback for the 49ers from 1999-2003. He also remembers the cost-cutting ways of the organization.

“I remember coaches having to monitor notebooks and pencils that were being used and given out to players,” Garcia said. “It got that tight around there. It was why they released me.”

According to Garcia, he was set to make a $9.75 million base salary in 2004 after hitting several escalators, such as being named to the Pro Bowl for three consecutive seasons (2000-2002). The team asked the quarterback to take nearly $4 million less, and after an unsuccessful negotiation, Garcia was cut.

Jed York, John and Denise’s son, was named CEO of the 49ers in 2008 and has harkened back to the days of his famous uncle. The 49ers spent more than $1 billion on Levi’s Stadium, which opened in 2014, and no longer require reimbursement for postage fees. 

Upon hearing the news that his team would have to relocate to Arizona, York immediately started drawing up plans to accommodate all 175 people. The CEO wanted to supply as many amenities as possible during the team’s lengthy stay in the desert. 

“That's all by the Yorks,” Lynch said. “I'm pretty sure of, yeah. We lost our home and we had to deal with finding a new home and they're in charge of this organization. 

“I've been in buildings where you can feel guilty taking two water bottles instead of one. Just little things where you can feel it -- I keep asking our assistants for a pen and they're having such a hard time bringing you one and it's because we've got to order some new ones. It was always the minimum.” 

The 49ers' reemergence didn't happen overnight.

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Discord between York and former head coach Jim Harbaugh became public growing pains for the CEO, but moving on from three head coaches in as many seasons proved that the organization was willing to spend money to get it right.

In 2017, York hired Shanahan and Lynch to lead the team and within three seasons the club fell just short of winning its sixth Lombardi Trophy. The pair was extended during the 2020 offseason, creating stability for the foreseeable future.

While the 49ers' 6-10 record fell below expectations, the potential of their fully-healthy roster and stable leadership has players wanting to stay with the team, which is akin to the DeBartolo era.

The 49ers now are faced with the challenge of trying to maintain the caliber of their roster this offseason, with 40 players set to become free agents in conjunction with a shrinking salary cap.

Working in the team's favor: A supportive ownership that has proven that they will do what it takes to be successful. 


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