Joe Williams

NFL rumors: Kyle Shanahan, John Lynch have demoralized 49ers' scouts

NFL rumors: Kyle Shanahan, John Lynch have demoralized 49ers' scouts

The 49ers begin training camp Friday, bringing the team together for the start of what will be a critical season for the franchise and the two people at the head of it.

Head coach Kyle Shanahan and general manager John Lynch are entering the third year of their six-year contracts, and after posting a combined record of 10-22 over the first two seasons, the pressure is mounting.

Some people thrive under pressure. Some wilt under it. While it remains to be seen which category the two men in charge of leading San Francisco back to its former lofty heights fall into, we know for certain that they'll face plenty of it this coming season.

And, according to Bleacher Report's Tyler Dunne, that pressure already is being felt within the front office.

Dunne references an anonymous former team staffer who conveys there's an ongoing rift between the 49ers' scouting and coaching staffs, due to the fact that the former reportedly is frequently being overruled by the latter. While it isn't unusual for a head coach or a GM to have the final say in an NFL franchise, the former staffer suggests what's occurred in San Francisco has gone over that line.

Specifically, the staffer mentions the NFL draft process, and certain selections that have been made under the Shanahan-Lynch regime that have either gone against scouts' recommendations, or made those scouts feel increasingly marginalized.

"Where Lynch sees 'synergy,' " Dunne wrote, "others see an imbalance. With Shanahan wielding so much control, coaches are far, far more empowered on draft day. As the staffer puts it, it is literally the scouts' jobs to study prospects two years at a time, so 'to see your work not valued as highly is demoralizing.'

"Voices are being heard," the staffer added, "but they're not the right voices."

To illustrate this disconnect, Dunne points to three specific draft selections made by Shanahan and Lynch: Solomon Thomas, Joe Williams and 2019 No. 2 overall pick Nick Bosa.

First, Thomas. The defensive lineman was the first draft pick of the new regime, selected No. 3 overall in 2017, ahead of future Pro Bowl quarterbacks Patrick Mahomes and DeShaun Watson. However, Dunne suggests that selection went against the scouts' recommendations.

"A handful of 49ers scouts who watched Thomas in person several times never viewed him as a top-five pick," Dunne wrote, "and the former staffer cannot recall one serious conversation about taking a quarterback."

As for Williams, the 49ers selected the running back in the fourth round of that same 2017 draft, despite the fact that he wasn't even on their draft board. That Shanahan pushed for his selection nonetheless -- and ultimately got his way -- reportedly was not received well among the scouts.

"Elsewhere, running back Joe Williams wasn't even on the draft board that same year, and scouts ripped him to shreds for quitting on his team in college,” Dunne writes. “But Shanahan loved him, so the 49ers picked him in the fourth round."

When San Francisco went on the clock with the No. 2 pick in the 2019 NFL Draft, some scouts reportedly wanted the team to consider Alabama defensive tackle Quinnen Williams (who ultimately went No. 3 overall), "but the choice was Ohio State defensive end Nick Bosa all the way."

Now, to be fair, Dunne also points to some successful picks made by Lynch and Shanahan's regime, in which they or another coach made the ultimate determination. For instance, he mentions how Shanahan pinpointed tight end George Kittle early in the 2017 draft process, and how linebackers coach DeMeco Ryans identified Fred Warner’s robust promise at the scouting combine.

[RELATED: Why 49ers players have Super Bowl-or-bust expectations]

Still, though, the collective tendency of Lynch, Shanahan and the coaching staff to overrule the scouts reportedly has had a cumulative effect, large enough to cause them to sour on their current positions.

"Some scouts, feeling powerless," Dunne stated, "are considering leaving when their contracts expire."

If the 49ers have the kind of season that Lynch and Shanahan hope, the seats will cool and the pressure will subside. But if it goes the other way, and they fail to take a step or two forward, expect plenty of heads to roll, coaches and scouts alike.

NFL draft: 49ers GM John Lynch on how he's learned from past mistakes

NFL draft: 49ers GM John Lynch on how he's learned from past mistakes

As 49ers GM John Lynch and his staff head into their third draft, Lynch admits that they are using lessons learned from Reuben Foster and Joe Williams to help prevent the same draft mishaps from happening again. 

Lynch has spoken about needing to be aggressive in taking players that will improve the franchise while taking into account a solid locker room environment. A few of Lynch's picks have backfired, but he says the team has learned from their mistakes. He spoke about how his past two seasons have been a learning process, while also admitting that sometimes you still have to take risks. 

“I think a combination of both,” Lynch said. “If you aren’t always learning, shame on you, shame on us. I think with Reuben, I think we somewhat accounted for it by where we drafted him. I think we had him at a certain value. We didn’t draft him there. That doesn’t excuse us. It’s a shame. 

“We’re very happy to have Kwon Alexander, but that came at a heavy price. We would’ve much preferred to have Reuben still playing here. So, of course, you learn a lesson.” 

The heavy price for the 49ers was Alexander’s five-year $54 million contract. Foster would have cost much less under his four-year rookie contract that was worth just over $9 million. 

Foster had a few red flags prior to the draft, including being sent home from the NFL Scouting Combine after a confrontation with a hospital worker and a diluted urine test. His troubles continued with assault allegations and other off-the-field issues. 

Lynch detailed the slight variations to their pre-draft vetting process that was made, in part, because of what they learned from Foster. 

“There are certain tweaks we’ve made,” Lynch said. “Our 30 visits this year, we brought people more in a group setting. We want to see how they interact with other people. So, those are subtle things that we do.”

Meanwhile, Williams spent his entire rookie season on injured reserve and then was released prior to the 2018 season. He was a player who had great game film, especially just before the draft when he ran for a record-setting 332 yards in the Foster Farms Bowl at Levi’s Stadium. 

As with Foster, Williams had his share of red flags as well. He quit football after being at Utah for a season to deal with issues regarding family matters. He rejoined the team when they were in desperate need at running back. 

Since drafting Williams, Lynch has been very vocal about acquiring players who love the game of football, almost reminding himself to not forget the miss in his first draft. The positive side is that the team released Williams after his second offseason instead of holding out hope that he would develop and pan out.   

“As to Joe, I think that was a pick, it didn’t work out,” Lynch said. “But, in every scenario, whether something worked or didn’t work, you take note. We try to do that in each individual case.”
 
“There’s so much that just goes into the research of these players. You learn something every year. I think the most important thing, you impart upon your scouts, upon your staff is, ‘We have to be as thorough as humanly possible.’”

[RELATED: Final first-round NFL mock draft]

For a GM without front office experience, Lynch surrounded himself with experienced people. The past two 49ers draft classes have been far from perfect -- but that can be said about every draft class. Lynch just hopes to improve each season by learning from his past. 

“Anything we can learn about these guys is valuable information,” Lynch said. “I’m real proud of the work we’ve done with our staff to get as much information to be equipped to make as good a decision as possible.”
 
“You work hard to try to identify what is the lesson that you learned. We know in-house what those lessons are.” 

49ers notes: Joe Williams, Erik Magnuson sidelined with injuries

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AP

49ers notes: Joe Williams, Erik Magnuson sidelined with injuries

Running back Joe Williams and offensive lineman Erik Magnuson, a pair of second-year players who are competing for spots on the 49ers’ 53-man roster, sustained injuries Saturday that will sideline them for at least the opening of the regular season.

Williams sustained a fractured rib and a deep hip bruise in the 49ers’ exhibition game against the Houston Texans. And Magnuson, who appeared to be in good shape to win a roster spot due to his versatility, is expected to miss six to eight weeks with a bad hamstring injury.

Head coach Kyle Shanahan, speaking on a conference call Sunday with reporters, said a decision will likely be made in the next week how to handle the injuries. Magnuson could be a candidate to begin the season on injured reserve and return to the roster after at least six weeks.

Backup quarterback C.J. Beathard sustained a foot sprain Saturday and could be limited in practice this week. The 49ers return to practice on Tuesday in preparation for Saturday’s exhibition game against the Indianapolis Colts.

The 49ers expect to get cornerback Richard Sherman back on the field this week to take part fully in practices leading up to the third preseason game. Sherman did not play in the 49ers' first two exhibition games.

Defensive end Arik Armstead (hamstring), linebacker Malcolm Smith (hamstring) and defensive back K’Waun Williams (ankle) are likely to begin taking part in individual drills this week.

Defensive lineman Solomon Thomas and offensive lineman Garry Gilliam are still going through the return-to-play concussion protocol. They sustained head injuries in the exhibition opener Aug. 9 against Dallas.

Elvis Remains an Option

The 49ers did not pick up the contract option on veteran defensive end Elvis Dumervil, who led the 49ers with 6.5 sacks last season. Shanahan said if he and general manager John Lynch determine Dumervil can help them upgrade a group comprised of unproven young pass-rushers, they will place that phone call to get him back with the team.

“Elvis is a guy I have a lot of confidence in,” Shanahan said. “He did a great job for us last year. And if we felt that was the right opportunity at the end of this, Elvis is a guy that John and I would not hesitate to reach out to.”

High Expectations for Pettis

Jimmy Garoppolo’s pass sailed high against the Texans on Saturday, but Shanahan seemed to place more blame on rookie receiver Dante Pettis for the second-quarter interception. Pettis jumped and appeared to get both hands on the ball. Shanahan said it was a pass that should have been a reception -- not a play that turned into Houston cornerback Johnson Bademosi’s interception.

“Without a doubt,” Shanahan said immediately after the game. “I’d love for it to be perfect (pass). It would make it a lot easier, which Jimmy is capable of. Jimmy has to take responsibility for that. But Dante should catch it every single time. He’s capable of it.”

A day later, Shanahan softened his stance. He said it would have been a difficult catch for Pettis, but it’s one he expects the second-round pick to secure.

“It was harder than I talked about, but my opinion doesn’t change,” Shanahan said. “And that’s because of what I think of Dante. I have a lot of respect for Dante, and I think he can catch just about anything that touches his hands. So when it does, I expect him to. And if he doesn’t, I’m disappointed.”

Garnett Knocks off Rust

Joshua Garnett played 35 snaps at right guard and his bothersome right knee checked out just fine afterward, Shanahan said. Garnett is in competition for the starting job with Mike Person and Jonathan Cooper, who has also been limited as he returns from knee surgery.

“Now I think he has to put that string of practices together and really improve,” Shanahan said of Garnett. “I know we’re coming toward the end here, but hopefully he can get this going in the next two weeks and give him a chance to win that position.”