The recent comments from 49ers G.M. John Lynch about 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan being “in mourning” following the trade that brought quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo to town raises an intriguing question about the power structure in San Francisco: Who’s really running the show?
The manner in which Lynch was hired — he called Shanahan unsolicited to discuss the possibility at a time when everyone knew Shanahan would be the next coach — created the impression that Shanahan would be the boss, and that Lynch would be the table setter. The notion that Shanahan was “in mourning” about the disruption to his supposed “master plan” to acquire Kirk Cousins in free agency invites speculation that maybe Shanahan isn’t really running show, after all.
The truth may be that he is, but that he reluctantly realized that the best option for the franchise was to roll the dice on Garoppolo, giving up a second-round pick for the chance to evaluate whether keeping him made more sense than pursuing Cousins. If Garoppolo hadn’t panned out, they could have let him leave in free agency (getting strong consideration for compensatory draft picks in 2019) or attempted a tag and trade.
Then there’s the fact that, as of late October, it wasn’t clear that Cousins would even be available. Indeed, if the 49ers hadn’t acquired Garoppolo, Washington may have been less inclined to let Cousins hit the open market by not applying the franchise tag, motivated by a desire to keep Cousins and Shanahan from being reunited. (Yes, it would have been very petty for Washington to do that. But if you think Washington wouldn’t have at least considered doing that, you haven’t been paying close attention to that team in recent years.)
Whatever the reasoning, it makes sense to keep an eye on the broader power dynamic as the post-Baalke-Harbaugh-Tomsula-Kelly 49ers continue to develop. Of course, if the team keeps performing like it did late in the 2017 season, it won’t matter who’s making the decisions, because it will mean they’ve been making great decisions.