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49ers brass heads into offseason set at QB

By
Dave Del Grande, The Sports Xchange
San Francisco 49ers QB Jimmy Garoppolo drops back to pass in a game against the Jacksonville Jaguars on December 24. Photo by Terry Schmitt/UPI
San Francisco 49ers QB Jimmy Garoppolo drops back to pass in a game against the Jacksonville Jaguars on December 24. Photo by Terry Schmitt/UPI | License Photo

INDIANAPOLIS -- The San Francisco 49ers arrived at the annual NFL Scouting Combine this week with about 21 things on their mind.

Not having a 22nd -- what to do at quarterback -- made general manager John Lynch and head coach Kyle Shanahan feel a lot better than a year ago.

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"Last year that was a primary focus, finding our guy," Lynch said of acquiring a replacement for Colin Kaepernick, who would eventually opt out of his contract.

Lynch and Shanahan had recently been hired by the 49ers before the start of the Combine.

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"It was one of the first things after Kyle and I got together, we talked about the culture we want to set and all that, but I think we both agreed you have to find that guy at that position. It's of such premium importance," Lynch said of having a quarterback. "It didn't happen in the draft process last year, but some fortuitous things kind of broke our way during the season."

Thank you, New England Patriots, who delivered the 49ers' quarterback of the future, Jimmy Garoppolo, on Oct. 31 for a second-round draft pick.

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"We didn't have a quarterback on the roster, so we had to add a bunch of guys," Shanahan said of drafting C.J. Beathard in the third round before signing Brian Hoyer and Matt Barkley in free agency. "You look into all free-agent possibilities, you look into draft possibilities and you look into trade possibilities.

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"Jimmy was one of those guys going into the last year of his contract that I think everybody knew there was a trade possibility, especially with the starting quarterback they had there. We looked into that, just like every other situation, and they weren't interested at all early on at this time last year. I don't think they were later. I think they became a lot more realistic right before the trade deadline. I think that pushes a lot of teams to have to make certain decisions."

Patience. It sums up not exhausting a high pick in the draft on a quarterback, and not exhausting big money in free agency. And it explains Shanahan's approach to Garoppolo, who saw no action in his first two games as a 49er, then got only mop-up duty after Beathard had gotten hurt late in a one-sided loss to Seattle.

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"I really commend Kyle for his patience once we got Jimmy and allowing him to take time to learn his system the best he could," Lynch praised. "Everybody was saying, 'Play him,' ... 'Hey, you traded for him, let's play him.' He made sure that he was at a spot where we were setting him up for success and then he went in and as we like to say he balled out -- he played really well and he made our team better."

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Garoppolo has since signed a five-year, $137.5 million contract with the 49ers, again prompting the fans to get excited. But once again, Lynch and Shanahan don't appear to be in a big hurry to fast-forward into the future.

"We're very much a work in progress," Lynch cautioned. "Our goal is to be a team that competes and competes for championships. That's why I got into this thing. That's why we got into this thing together. That's what we talk to our players about. But I think the important thing, and what Kyle does a great job (doing), is just focus on what you can control.

"Timetables, I'm not going to do that. But, yes, having a quarterback it makes you better. He made us better last year and we expect that going forward."

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Added Shanahan, "We were hoping that we would have our quarterback by our second year, so I think it's gone as planned. We got him and we feel great. I think it's nice going into free agency and the draft that we feel pretty good about our quarterback room. It's just part of the process and we've got to keep adding a lot."

--Lynch admitted at the Combine that star linebacker Reuben Foster's pending legal issues will impact the 49ers' approach to the position in the draft and free agency.

Foster was arrested Feb. 11 on suspicion of, among other things, domestic violence. A decision is expected before March 13 if formal charges will be filed.

The NFL, meanwhile, has been doing its own investigation and has the ability to impose a suspension even if Foster is cleared of all charges.

His uncertain future, especially at a position where the 49ers cut NaVorro Bowman last season and stand to lose Brock Coyle in free agency, has the 49ers making contingency plans.

"That would be something that we have to take into account, whether it be in free agency or not, whether it be re-signing our own guys or whether it be in the draft," Lynch noted.

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Lynch said the 49ers have met with Foster since the arrest, but offered no details about the incident.

--One chief area of concern for the 49ers this offseason is running back.

Veteran rushing leader Carlos Hyde is a free agent; smallish backup Matt Breida, undrafted last April, seems best suited to a change-of-pace role; and Joe Williams, highly regarded out of Utah as a fourth-round pick last year, is coming off an ankle injury that cost him his rookie season.

The 49ers, who are more than $70 million under the salary cap, surely have the financial means to buy themselves a new backfield. Or draft one with one of the four picks they currently own in the first three rounds.

"That whole dynamic of that position, in many people's mind (is) losing value," Lynch observed. "But I think much like a quarterback: When there's a great one, it's tough to deal with. I know that from having played defense.

"Is that changing? I don't know. I think everyone's got their own perspective on that. But that is a position where you can affect the game in a great way."

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Added Shanahan, "Everyone says you can get running backs later in the draft, which you can. You can also get them early in the draft. I think if Le'Veon Bell came out this year, I'm sure he'd be a top-five pick. I think he went in the second round. I think David Johnson would be the same.

"People always want to find those top running backs. People have found a lot of running backs later in rounds like what Kareem Hunt did this year. You always go back to Terrell Davis and those people. You don't have to get them in the first round, more like you do a tackle or an elite pass rusher. But still, if there's a running back there that you think is going to be like some of those guys I mentioned, then that guy is worth the first pick in the draft."

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