An emotional Kyle Juszczyk spoke to the media at the close of the 49ers 2020 season. Heading into the second free agency of his career and a shrunken salary cap across the league, nothing was promised for a return to San Francisco.
"Kyle (Shanahan) is going to do everything he can to keep us all together," Juszczyk said back in early January.
The 49ers head coach kept his word, bringing back several key players at the start of the new league year, including Juszczyk, who was signed to a five-year extension through the 2025 season. Juszczyk adds to kicker Robbie Gould as the 49ers lone remnants of John Lynch and Shanahan's first free agency class.
Amid Juszczyk's criteria for potential landing spots, San Francisco was his top destination entering into free agency. Location, scheme fit, Super Bowl contention, compensation and being near his hometown of Cleveland all influenced his decision. The 49ers checked all (but one) box, including his closeness with the 49ers staff.
A series of unexpected late-night Tweets from owner Jed York and Lynch dropped distinct hints that a deal was underway for the fullback. While celebrating York's 40th birthday, the 49ers were simultaneously securing the finishing touches of Juszczyk's extension, which led to an impromptu (and undisclosed) series of premature celebratory FaceTime calls.
"Honestly, it's so cool to be a part of that and to get FaceTimes from your owner and your GM and your head coach and speak with their families and be comfortable like that," Juszczyk recalled. "It's just real conversations and real genuine joy. That's why I feel so connected to this this program.
In addition to the 49ers front office, Mike McDaniel was another of the many congratulatory FaceTime calls the fullback received. Back in January, McDaniel was promoted to offensive coordinator after serving as the team's run game coordinator (2018-20) and run game specialist (2017). He helped orchestrate San Francisco's offense that averaged 131.1 rushing yards per game, ranking sixth in the NFL between the 2019-20 seasons.
View some of Juszczyk's best moments since joining the 49ers in 2017.
McDaniel and Juszczyk's connection developed since their arrivals in 2017, where both Ivy League products would collaborate on plays on the nights leading up to games. Their relationship grew beyond the X's and O's when McDaniel was a guest at Juszczyk's wedding in the summer of 2019.
"My relationship with Mike had a huge, huge influence on me coming back, because I'm extremely comfortable with him," Juszczyk said on a conference call on Wednesday. "You saw my wife posted a FaceTime with him (on Instagram). That's a regular thing, him and I FaceTiming in the offseason and in season. He's a guy that I can talk to at any time and someone that I just have so, so much respect for.
"The tremendous job that he does in putting together a game plan every week. I'm definitely hopeful that having my guy more involved in the passing game might get a few more looks my way. So that'll be something we'll see in the fall."
Now that the intricacies of contract negotiations are a thing of the past, Juszczyk says he's ready to get into the preparations for the 2021 season. While the 49ers sought out to "keep the band together," San Francisco has already begun bolstering their 2021 roster with the re-signing of several veterans while adding outside talent to help fill a number of voids.
The outcome of the 2020 season was a far cry from what San Francisco expected coming off of a Super Bowl run just a season prior. But with the pieces falling back into place, Juszczyk and the 49ers believe there is light at the end of the tunnel, which might be closer than what many may think.
"Last season left a bad taste in your mouth, and the only way to get that taste out of your mouth is to get back on the field and start playing," Juszczyk said. "I speak with George Kittle regularly about how we have what it takes…We have a squad, that when healthy, is ready to win championships."