The San Francisco 49ers officially announced their new general manager, John Lynch. You may know Lynch as one of the FOX Broadcast teams, or the Hall of Fame safety. If you haven’t heard of any of his NFL front office work, it’s because he has none. He essentially retired and walked into the broadcast booth, and now he walks to 4949 Centennial Boulevard to head the 49ers’ front office for the next six years. Kyle Shanahan will be the offensive coordinator for the Falcons on Sunday in the biggest game of his life, and after that, the never-before head coach is reportedly going to get a six-year contract of his own. What in the world is Jed York doing?
It’s easy to look at the last half-decade of the San Francisco 49ers and see exactly what Jed is doing. The best thing he ever put together, the Harbaugh 49ers, fell apart thanks to emotions. Reportedly, Jim Harbaugh was a bear to deal with, as was Trent Baalke. They frequently butted heads, and Harbaugh was eventually dismissed in lieu of keeping Baalke. The 49ers then had two consecutive one-and-done coaches in Jim Tomsula and Chip Kelly before York cleaned house and canned Baalke. There’s one thing he took away from the Baalke/Harbaugh interaction: the general manager and the head coach must be on the same page. So, York went out and got a GM and HC who will reportedly see eye-to-eye, and have already agreed to a split of personnel control.
Why the six-year contracts, though? Well, deep down Jed has to know that he destroyed the best thing he may ever have in his potentially long tenure with the 49ers, and every action since then has been a desperate attempt to recover the glory of the Harbaugh years (three NFC Championship Games and a Super Bowl appearance in three consecutive years). From all of this, two things have developed: Jed York’s itchy trigger finger and Jed York as the cause of the problem. The long contracts do two things, and both shield Jed from blame.
First, the length of the contracts is a tacit admission to the 49ers fan base that this is a long rebuild, and that they do not anticipate being better for a long while. Neither Shanahan nor Lynch, but especially the dark horse Lynch, had any real leverage. Giving them six-year deals (and freezing ticket prices for two more years) is York’s way of letting us know he does not anticipate a winning team for another few seasons. Betting on a huge unknown also lets Jed tell the fans in a few seasons that there are “growing pains,” and that Lynch has a great vision that needs time to be executed.
Second, the contract length and money acts as a deterrent for Jed. It will be more difficult to eat up the four, or even three remaining years on both Lynch and Shanahan’s contracts if this doesn’t go the way he wants it. He’s put a soothing balm on his itchy trigger finger, and he did it in the form of contract length.
York was gifted the San Francisco 49ers, but he is not a stupid man. He knows the reputation the 49ers have around the NFL, and he knows that he needs to get out of his own way to let the football men lead. York has been wonderful for the 49ers as a money-making organization, but he has been dreadful for their on-field product. The long-term deals to Lynch and Shanahan are signals to the fans that Jed York won’t be meddling nearly as much as in the past, half to save himself from blame, and the other half to stop himself from blowing it all up again.