No question, the 49ers’ brain trust—especially GM John Lynch and coach Kyle Shanahan—took their lumps around the NFL in the past week with the trade of Trey Lance to the Cowboys. The Niners got a mere fourth-round pick in returns, after having given up three first-rounders and a second-rounder to bring in Lance just two years ago.
That swing-and-miss has mostly been forgiven because the Niners still have some capital left over from the Super Bowl appearance in 2019, and because they rebounded to go 13-4 last year with seventh-round pick Brock Purdy seizing the reins at quarterback.
But, still, is it possible that Lynch and Shanahan, who both joined the franchise in 2017, could be on the hot seat heading into this season?
Sports Illustrated insider Bert Breer fielded exactly that question this week. His answer: No. But with some qualification. “Not yet at least,” Breer wrote.
Performance Still Matters for 49ers’ Brain Trust
While the Lance situation certainly dinged the team’s ability to add talent the past two years, it was one miss against an otherwise strong track record for the Lynch-Shanahan combo. Breer pointed to the number of top players the Niners have drafted and helped turn into stars, as well as the presence of Purdy—who is comparable to New England’s Mac Jones, the player the 49ers would have taken if they’d not gone with Lance.
Breer went to far as to say the Niners have the league’s best overall roster:
The Niners have probably the best roster in the NFL. They’ve become a draft-and-develop machine, with homegrown stars like Nick Bosa, George Kittle, Fred Warner, Arik Armstead, Brandon Aiyuk and Deebo Samuel creating the foundation of a team that’s positioned itself to add vets like Trent Williams and Christian McCaffrey along the way. And they have a quarterback, in Brock Purdy, that they believe can approximate what the quarterback they passed on in 2021 (Mac Jones) would have given them, that they drafted in the seventh round.
Job Security Picture Could Change for Lynch, Shanahan
Now, again, the 49ers made a mistake with Lance. There’s no doubting that. And they might have made a mistake by letting go of him too quickly, by going all-in on Purdy after what was, effectively, a good half-season. Lance could yet develop into the quarterback the 49ers thought he could be, but the team felt that in a win-now environment, they couldn’t afford to keep Lance on the roster, where he would neither be the backup nor would he get a chance to develop.
And perhaps, down the road, Lynch and Shanahan will pay for that with their jobs. If the talent-heavy 49ers can’t win a Super Bowl in the next few years, the job security will erode.
“Kyle Shanahan’s coaching staff has remained among the NFL’s best despite a steady stream of attrition over the past few years, and that staff has gotten the team to three NFC title games in five years and a Super Bowl, with a group of players still young enough to have a few more swings at the Lombardi Trophy together,” Breer wrote.
“And, sure, the time may come when not getting that Lombardi could raise larger questions about where the Niners are going. But I certainly don’t think we’re close to there yet.”
Sean Deveney is a Heavy editor with a focus on the NBA and basketball in general. He has covered the league on a national basis for 20 years and has interviewed stars from Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Jerry West to Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant to LeBron James and Kevin Durant. He is the author of seven nonfiction books, including “Fun City,” “Before Wrigley became Wrigley,” and “Facing Michael Jordan.” More about Sean Deveney