49ers HC Kyle Shanahan was emphatic after the draft about just how much he loved WR Brandon Aiyuk, who San Francisco drafted wither their second pick in the first round. Shanahan had Aiyuk as his top receiver in a loaded class and would have been perfectly content taking him with the 49ers’ pick at No. 13. However, San Francisco elected to play the board a little, trading down one spot and taking DT Javon Kinlaw before going back up to get Aiyuk.
“I think it was two days before the draft, I said to Kyle, you know what? I know people might raise some eyebrows, but I really don’t care. At 13, if we get stuck and we can’t trade out, I’d be perfectly happy taking Aiyuk,” Lynch said via NBC Sports Peter King. “And he said, I’m so glad you said that ‘cause I feel the same way! I think we knew at that point that he had really become a guy that we had become intrigued with. I think the combination of strength and speed and separation ability and then the advantage, I think in a year like this, you have to trust relationships more than ever before. [Arizona State HC] Herm Edwards, he’s the godparent to my youngest daughter. I’m his son’s godparent. He coached me for a long time. One of my closest friends in the world. I called Herm and I said, ‘Herm, give me the skinny on this kid.’ One of the things he talked about is just how competitive and how important it was for Brandon to be great. That spoke to me and spoke to us.”
Even if you can reach the top of the mountain, the NFL is designed to create parity and push you back down. After losing the Super Bowl, the 49ers had to figure out how to replace key veterans with dwindling salary cap space. One of their solutions was what seemed like an out of the blue move, trading DL DeForest Buckner to the Colts for a first-round pick instead of extending him. But 49ers GM John Lynch said the team already knew it would face a bind this offseason and had been going over scenarios for a few years.
“I think you always have to take a hard look, when you have success, when you don’t have success—how do we get better?” Lynch said via Sports Illustrated’s Albert Breer. “And that was going to be a challenge for us, because if you look at our roster, both in quality and in quantity, we had a pretty strong group last year. Now, how do you keep that together? Probably for the first time since our group was assembled, we were facing some salary-cap realities. And players coming due. How do we keep it together? And how do we improve on that? A lot of our conversations were just towards that, how does this whole puzzle work? This wasn’t something that was unexpected. We planned two, three years out.”
The wheels started turning at the NFL Scouting Combine when the 49ers met with Buckner’s representation. After his agent said any new deal would need to start with a two, meaning more than $20 million a year, San Francisco realized they wouldn’t be able to keep both Buckner and DL Arik Armstead.
“We started to see the true reality of that,” Lynch said. “We wanted to keep both him and Armstead in the worst way. And then we had to start looking at every iteration. ‘OK, what if we keep Armstead under the franchise tag and we keep Buckner?’ We looked at every different way it could work. Our motivation certainly wasn’t getting rid of Buckner, because he’s one of our best players, and one of our best people. He embodies 49er way.”
Lynch told Buckner’s agent, Joel Segal, if they could get that money from another team, San Francisco would consider trading Buckner for a first-round pick. Before the Combine was over, Segal had linked the 49ers with the Colts.
“Not only did he bring back a first-round pick, he brought back the 13th pick,” Lynch said. “And then, it’s like, ‘Whoa, I didn’t think he’d do that.’ By that point, you start looking at how we can keep our team together. And I guess a long story short, it’s not something we wanted to do, but at a certain point, we felt like that was the best decision.”
- Per ESPN’s Lindsey Thiry, Rams HC Sean McVay says they plan to use some kind of committee with Darrell Henderson, Malcolm Brown and second-round rookie Cam Akers to replace RB Todd Gurley: “We feel we’ve got three really good backs. What does that mean in terms of the distribution of carries? I think that’s to be determined based on how things play themselves out.”
- Los Angeles’ other second-round pick, WR Van Jefferson, was surprised to be picked by the Rams but was excited to work behind their top receivers: “I didn’t have a FaceTime meeting with them throughout the whole process, so I didn’t know that there was interest. I’m excited to be there, excited to learn from guys like Cooper Kupp, Robert Woods and I can’t wait to get out there.”
- Sports Illustrated’s Albert Breer says the Seahawks plan to have first-round LB Jordyn Brooks work behind and maybe push LB K.J. Wright on the weak side as the 31-year-old Wright enters a contract year.
- Long term, Breer writes Seattle sees Brooks as a successor to LB Bobby Wagner in the middle, though Wagner is still just 29 and under contract through 2022.