As the draft ended and the question became whether, and when, any General Managers will be specifically targeted for replacement, a report emerged that some degree of tension exists between 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan and G.M. John Lynch.
Shanahan quickly dismissed the claim as “complete bullsh-t” (as opposed to saying, “Wow, that’s right, you got me”), and the notion that Shanahan and Lynch are careening toward a divorce seems to be misplaced.
That doesn’t mean there’s isn’t urgency. Surely, there is. With two disappointing campaigns (last year’s disaster came amid unreasonably high preseason expectations) tacked onto three straight subpar seasons, the 49ers find themselves stuck in a half-decade of underachievement. Shanahan and Lynch have been aboard for two of them, and they have four years left on their six-year contracts, which are fully guaranteed with no offset language.
After firing three coaches in three years, the 49ers needed stability. They now have it, and they’re not likely to abandon it so soon. Even if things haven’t gone as well as expected.
It doesn’t mean Shanahan is thrilled with Lynch’s performance. But there were bound to be growing pains, given that Lynch came straight from the broadcast booth to the front office.
Mistakes were inevitable; in the first year, Lynch didn’t know he needed to know, and he didn’t know what he didn’t know. How could he? That led to the organization erroneously puffing its 2017 draft, crowing that the 49ers got the guy they would have taken at No. 2 after trading down to No. 3 (Solomon Thomas) and that they got the guy they would have taken at No. 3 if the guy they wanted was gone at No. 31 (Reuben Foster). Both guys have been disasters relative to their expectations, with Foster cut after multiple off-field incidents for which there were red flags and Thomas on the trade block before the draft (the team has denied that, because of course they do).
While we’re not buying the denial of the shopping of Thomas, we’ll buy the denial of the potential that Shanahan and Lynch are already on the outs. With Shanahan finagling full control over the roster when he got the job, his ability to hire executives under contract with other teams was dramatically limited, giving him few options at G.M. Those limited options were destined to have inherent limitations. And Shanahan can’t be surprised that, two years in, those limitations have had consequences.
The question becomes, now that Shanahan and Lynch have two full seasons and three offseason together, what comes next? How much has Lynch learned? How much more adversity can the relationship bear? A season that results in a postseason appearance would go a long way toward ensuring that Shanahan and Lynch draw closer. Another season of disappointment could begin to push them apart.