John Lynch, Kyle Shanahan's first 49ers free-agent class proves hit and miss


John Lynch, Kyle Shanahan's first 49ers free-agent class proves hit and miss

John Lynch and Kyle Shanahan are entering their third season with the 49ers. That means it's time to look back at their first moves in control of the franchise, some of which worked out well and others that did not.

The first free-agent class that the general manager and the coach signed looked full of promise. In the introductory press conference, the new regime emphasized the need to bring in players of great character and a desire to win.

Of the seven players introduced on March 10, 2017, arguably the most productive, Robbie Gould, now enters free agency. He started all 32 games of his two-year contract, made 72 of 75 of his field-goal tries and missed just four extra-point attempts. The team hopes to work out another deal with the kicker.

Fullback Kyle Juszczyk and wide receiver Marquise Goodwin are the only other two players whose 49ers futures remain solidly in place. Juszczyk has missed just two games since signing with the 49ers. Goodwin had a very productive first season and signed a three-year contract extension through 2021.

Of the four other players, two are on other teams -- quarterback Brian Hoyer (Patriots) and tight end Logan Paulsen (Falcons) -- and wide receiver Pierre Garcon and linebacker Malcolm Smith remain with the 49ers, although they could end up being released this offseason over their lingering health issues.

Garcon has played just 50 percent of regular-season games since joining the 49ers. After spending his first season on injured reserve with a torn pectoral muscle, Smith played in 12 of 16 regular-season games in 2018. At times, he was used only sparingly as a result of issues with his Achilles.

Lynch and Shanahan have stayed true to their philosophy of bringing in players with great character. Through two losing seasons, the locker room has remained close without any noticeable in-fighting.

Lynch also has followed his original statement of needing to be smart about using their available salary-cap space. The 49ers rolled over a little more than $35 million into the 2019 season, giving them the third-most cap space in the NFL.

“I think that while there’s a lot of numbers,” Lynch said in 2017, “we didn’t reach for anything. We found guys that fit it. If not, we’ll wait. And so while I think the numbers are big and we’re really happy about that, we felt like we found guys that we were excited about being here. Not just guys because we needed guys.”

Lynch added that the staff looked for specific types of players to physically fit in as well, particularly for Shanahan’s offensive system.

“We were very strategic with where we felt we needed to improve our team," the GM said. "But then let’s not do it with just any player. Let’s find if there’s people out there that fit what we’re looking for. I think that’s one thing we’ve done extremely well, is have a great definition. Have a clearly defined idea what we’re looking for at each position and the type of of person.”

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Several of the players in that first free-agent class had a history with Shanahan, which was something that influenced the decision to add them to the roster.

“The advantage to having been with someone,” Shanahan said, “is you know the type of guy they are. There’s always a risk when you see the tape and you bring someone in that you don’t know. You don’t really know exactly what you’re getting that you can’t see on tape.

The pressure is on both Shanahan and Lynch in their third season. After their top two signings of 2018, Jimmy Garoppolo and Jerick McKinnon, both spent all or most of the season on injured reserve, the need for their 49ers to perform is an understood necessity.

Kwon Alexander will fill Reuben Foster's void, John Lynch believes

Kwon Alexander will fill Reuben Foster's void, John Lynch believes

49ers general manager John Lynch acknowledged that he signed Kwon Alexander to fill the void left by former 49ers linebacker Reuben Foster, who was released last season. 

In an interview with 49ers.com, Lynch spoke about how he and his staff brought back several familiar faces to the linebackers room. He was also very frank about what the team lost in Foster as a player. 

“Let’s be honest,” Lynch said. “We had a void that we thought we had filled with Reuben Foster. Things transpired there. We had a void there and that stinks but you can’t just sit there and pout, you gotta say ‘OK, let’s do something.'

“We needed a dynamic football player at that position. It’s a very critical position in our scheme and this became the guy. Kwon became the guy that we wanted to be that guy.” 

Alexander has many of the same on-field characteristics as Foster. He’s known as a hard hitter who flies around the field, making players think twice about going across the middle. He may make some mistakes in the game, but his passion and heart are recognized by his teammates. 

“I think what stood out to us with Kwon,” Lynch said, “he’s a dynamic football player. He’s a tone setter. You need tone-setters on your defense. 

“I think he’s a guy that when you watch him, when you talk to people who played against him, people who played with him, he’s exactly that. His type of play running all over the field, hitting people, getting the ball, it’s contagious. We need that.” 

The 49ers' admiration for Alexander grew as they did more research on him. They understand it may take some time before he returns to 100 percent health.

[RELATED: Kwon Alexander overcame tragedy, adversity]

“The more we watched him the more we liked,” Lynch said. “We knew he was coming off an ACL injury but we got comfortable with the medical part and also got comfortable with 'Hey, we are going to wait as long as it takes.' This is a long-term investment. He’s doing very well in his rehab.” 

The staff ideally would like to see Alexander lined up next to Fred Warner, who had a stand-out rookie season. They also brought back Elijah Lee, special teams contributor Mark Nzeocha, and signed ex-Panther David Mayo to a two-year contract to fill out the linebackers room.

Top NFL draft prospect Josh Allen thinks he's best player available

Top NFL draft prospect Josh Allen thinks he's best player available

Josh Allen does not lack confidence.

The edge rusher out of Kentucky, who is linked to both the 49ers with the No. 2 pick and Raiders at No. 4 in next month's NFL draft, spoke highly of his abilities during his pro day Friday.

"You can just watch the film, watch the games," Allen told ESPN on Friday. "If you're talking about stats, I mean, I finished second in the nation in sacks, playing in the SEC, which doesn't throw the ball as much as other conferences.

"I'm physical. I played the whole season. I played every game. I'm healthy. I just think I'm the best edge rusher, the best pass rusher, the best overall player in this draft."

OK then.

Allen put up tremendous numbers in his senior season at Kentucky, totaling 17 sacks and 88 tackles, including 56 solo. The 49ers and Raiders both desperately need someone who can rush the quarterback, so Allen fits the mold for both teams.

Allen told NBC Sports Bay Area's Matt Maiocco that he has scheduled pre-draft meetings with both the 49ers and the Raiders.

The latest speculation is that the 49ers will draft Ohio State edge rusher Nick Bosa with the No. 2 pick, as the Cardinals -- who own the No. 1 pick -- have been heavily linked to Oklahoma quarterback Kyler Murray. If both Bosa and Allen are available to the 49ers, GM John Lynch will have his pick of the two edge rushers.

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The Raiders, meanwhile, have to wait until No. 4 to see if Allen is still available. If both the Cardinals and 49ers pass on the Kentucky standout, only the Jets at No. 3 would stand in their way of getting -- as Allen puts it -- "the best overall player in the draft."

Time will tell whether Allen lives up to his bold proclamation. But it seems as if the 49ers or Raiders would be lucky to find out.