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49ers graduate to watchable with new free agent class

SANTA CLARA — Wearing matching red polos, the seven newest 49ers sat together on stage beside Kyle Shanahan and John Lynch Friday at Levi’s Stadium. There’s so many new players, we couldn’t fit them all into one photo.

Outside of Pierre Garcon, there weren’t many recognizable star players gathered together — a typical calling card of free agency press conferences.

The facts are simple: The 49ers didn’t need to make splashy moves in March to upgrade their roster. They just had to make moves, period.

The first wave of free agency from the brand new regime was about out with the old, in with the new. It was about sound, calculated moves to get the program up and running, while also preserving cap space down the road. There is no timeline for this rebuild, but Shanahan and Lynch’s immediate goal in San Francisco will be jumping from the basement of the NFL, back closer to the middle — and that starts this season.

“We’re very confident in all these guys,” Shanahan said. “It’s going to be part of the process of us winning games.”

“In football, one year can turn everything around,” Garcon said soon after.

Unless things go unexpectedly haywire in September, gone are the days of 13-game losing streaks and ranking 32nd in both offense and defense. The 49ers will have an aggressive playing style, and they approached free agency the same way in order to make sure they win football games next season.

The 49ers have a couple of new toys they didn’t have a few days ago. Garcon and Marquise Goodwin — who called himself the fastest player in the NFL — bring entirely different elements to what has been the NFL’s most under-performing wide receiving corps the last two seasons. Brian Hoyer’s statistical track record the last 17 games is as good as Alex Smith’s. Kyle Juszczyk is a matchup weapon in the passing game the 49ers haven’t had since William Floyd. If you believe in Shanahan’s coaching abilities, this team is going to move the football up and down the field more consistently.

The biggest takeaway from Friday — other than the fact that this team is categorically better — is that it didn’t take much reconstructing of the 49ers’ image at all during the recruiting pitch. These players wanted to help Shanahan and Lynch build something from the ground up. The coach and GM didn’t even have to explain the toxic ways of yesteryear.

“Kyle’s the number one reason I went to D.C., Kyle’s the number one reason I’m here now,” said Garcon, who didn’t officially meet with any other NFL team.

Hoyer was weighing offers from the Jets and Bills — “It was like my draft say,” he told me — but a gut feeling drew him back to Shanahan.

“To know that they want you to help start their era, was very flattering,” Hoyer said. “You talk about a gut feeling, when I knew that I had a chance to work with this guy again…because I feel like we kind of have some unfinished business from Cleveland. We didn’t get even a full year.”

While fielding simultaneous offers, Juszczyk checked in with former Shanahan players Owen Daniels, Matt Schaub and Justin Forsett.

“They all just had outstanding reviews about his offense and told me how well I would fit in,” Juszczyk said.

Kicker Robbie Gould wanted to reunite with special teams coordinator Richard Hightower from their Chicago days; Malcolm Smith mentioned the same about defensive coordinator Robert Saleh. Logan Paulsen told me he turned down other offers from teams with lighter depth charts at tight end just to get a crack at being with Shanahan again.

When players feel wanted, and a sense of comfort, there’s less drama to have to worry about all around the building. The 49ers targeted players on tape for free agency, but they also believe they brought in football players who will be completely invested into this rebuild. That matters.

“We set out with a vision and it’s really cool a month later to see kind of the fruits of that labor,” Lynch said.

There’s still years of work that needs to be done to this roster in order for Jed York to parade around Market Street. Hoyer knows his leash behind center won’t be long if he’s not playing well, and he’s ready to fend off a rookie challenger come August. Garcon knows the team will be looking to add another top flight receiver next to him. None of these free agents’ roles are set in stone forever.

But it’s hard not to applaud Shanahan and Lynch for how quickly they’ve injected new faces and skill sets into this roster. In my estimation the 49ers have graduated from dreadful to watchable in a matter of days. That’s impressive.


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