On-Air Now
On-Air Now
Listen Live from the Casino Matrix Studio

Honeymoon period with 49ers new regime is coming to a close



Honeymoon: a traditional holiday taken by newlyweds to celebrate their marriage.

That’s exactly what the last five months have been like for Kyle Shanahan and John Lynch. Positive vibes are oozing out of the facility in Santa Clara. Projections of a prosperous future aren’t far-fetched. Let’s not downplay this. Winning the offseason was a big deal for what’s routinely been one of the NFL’s most toxic franchises.

Lynch strutted through the doors and projected a new air of confidence using transparency with the media. His charisma has team employees, from scouts to cafeteria workers, enthusiastic about the 49ers. Shanahan got to scoop up some of his favorite veteran players in free agency and his expertise in the film room is bringing the team closer together. Paraag Marathe fleeced the Chicago Bears in a draft day trade that netted Solomon Thomas and Reuben Foster. The team immediately cut starting cornerback Tramaine Brock when a police report surfaced about domestic violence. The first-timers haven’t had one hiccup yet. Meanwhile, Chip Kelly and Trent Baalke are currently out of football. Jed York flipped the momentum and direction of this football team.

Credit was due and it has been given, but the time for talk is coming to a close. Lynch himself said one of the main reasons he walked away from the broadcast booth was he missed when the scoreboard mattered.

“I remember when he told me why he wanted to be a general manager and he really missed someone winning and losing at the end of a game,” Shanahan said of Lynch during February’s introductory press conference. “He enjoyed doing the announcing and being a part of the NFL, but the fight to go through something with a group of guys and what we go through together and it is not easy and it’s a grind for everybody, but it is worth it.”

Here we are, Johnny boy. The conversations about are about to begin regarding Shanahan’s coaching decisions, the way he constructed this roster and the outcomes of games. Oddly enough, the 49ers have put themselves in a spot where anything less than 6-10 would be considered a disappointment.

Without securing the surefire answer at franchise quarterback, Lynch and Shanahan deliberately added an overabundance of veterans to the roster. A whopping 11 new players are 28-years-old or above. A few of those guys are warm bodies to fill a gutted roster. But a lot of the older acquisitions will have significant roles every Sunday. Elvis Dumervil (33), Brian Hoyer (31), Jeremy Zuttah (31), Pierre Garcon (30) and Earl Mitchell (29) headlined the regime’s first free agency class.

The point is the 49ers aren’t some young, inexperienced football team. This is a rebuild, but the 49ers have purchased more of their crops instead of farming them. They are choosing to be a competitive football team over developing more of the young talent. Realistically, Solomon Thomas, Reuben Foster and George Kittle are the only rookies who could start Week 1. Arik Armstead will likely lose reps to Dumervil. Last year’s first round pick Joshua Garnett appears to be on the outside looking in for a starting guard spot.

I don’t disagree with the strategy of relying on veteran players. Shanahan needs to not only establish his offensive system with smart players, but establish a bond within the locker room. Shanahan’s not a fiery, rah-rah guy, but players at his previous stops have wanted to go to war for him. Hoyer and Garcon will reinforce that feeling. But the best players will have to play to garner that respect.

I asked Joe Staley if Shanahan has raised expectations earlier in June.

“I mean I think when you have leadership like that, you kind of have to raise your game,” Staley said. “You know you have to be exactly on your assignments and your techniques because he leaves no stone un-turned. It’s not going to be a situation where like, ‘Hey, man. Coach never covered that.’ Yeah, they did. Because they cover everything. They expect every single person to know it. Offensively and defensively.”

So, if you have this many veterans, the expectation can’t be a 3-13 season. The 49ers aren’t going into this year tanking. They think they’ll be competitive. Shanahan believes he can out-coach most defensive coordinators, even if this roster isn’t fully stocked. If they finish below 6-10, it really should be considered a failure. Some will say it’s better for draft position to completely muck up the season anyway. Some will say not having a franchise quarterback never really gave this team a chance. But that’s not the actual plan.

If the 49ers do go 3-13 and the Redskins sneak into the playoffs with Kirk Cousins, San Francisco may have cost themselves the opportunity at securing a franchise quarterback. A lot more is on the line during this 2017 season than many people realize. Which is why the 49ers opted for the win-now strategy.

There certainly are some young projects on the roster who are under development, mostly on defense. Rashard Robinson (21) is still tied for the youngest player on the roster. DeForest Buckner is coming off a six sack debut season. Draft picks Joe Williams and Trent Taylor will be given bite-sized roles but could leapfrog veteran players on the depth chart. Several undrafted free agents — running back Matt Breida, tight end Cole Hikutini and safety Chanceller James — could make the 53-man roster.

This column is a reminder that just in case the wheels fall off during the 2017 season, the 49ers can’t claim in late November that the plan was to tank in Year 1. Until C.J. Beathard takes the field over Hoyer, this isn’t a tank job, like others in the league have planned for. The Cleveland Browns played mostly unproven, cheap, lower round draft picks at starting spots last season and ended up with Myles Garrett at No. 1. The New York Jets are setting themselves up to tank this year, starting Josh McCown at quarterback and releasing several productive but expensive veterans. The 49ers aren’t the Browns or Jets. The 49ers are planning on winning some games.

A first-time head coach and general manager combination isn’t supposed to light the league on fire Year 1. But because they aren’t planning on slowly rebuilding with young players, Lynch and Shanahan know their talent evaluation will be harshly critiqued if the season does end up going haywire.

One thing we shouldn’t expect: some leaking war within the media. Lynch and Shanahan have formed a strong enough bond to rebound just in case 2017 doesn’t go as planned.