It’s been quite the inaugural year for the San Francisco 49ers general manager John Lynch. Recall what took place this time a year ago. Without any prior front office experience, the former NFL All-Pro safety-turned broadcaster became a surprise hire as the organization's GM. Not even a full calendar year later, Lynch, in tandem with head coach Kyle Shanahan, is orchestrating a turnaround in the Bay Area.
His first season as the 49ers top personnel man was never going to be about wins and losses. The chief goal was to reestablish a culture of winning that had waned in recent years.
Lynch inherited a 2-14 team and spent last offseason overhauling the roster. The 49ers started off the year as one of the most active teams in free agency, signing several key players in their initial rebuild, namely Marquise Goodwin, Pierre Garçon, Kyle Juszczyk and Robbie Gould. Lynch and Shanahan's shared vision then led to a weekend of savvy moves in the 2017 NFL Draft. The 49ers acquired both Solomon Thomas and Reuben Foster in the first round, and acquired several other impact starters throughout the remaining six rounds.
The mid-season acquisition would prove to be the catalyst in San Francisco's late-season turnaround. After the 49ers started the season 0-9, the team won six of its last seven contests with Garoppolo winning all five of his starts to close the year.
A number of San Francisco's offseason acquisitions, both free agents and draft picks alike, helped the 49ers become the only NFL team to go undefeated in the month of December.
Despite not making the playoffs, ending 2017 on a high note offered Lynch and the 49ers much to be encouraged about heading into 2018.
“I’ve got a great deal of pride with the way we finished. That’s so much to becoming a successful organization, is finishing everything you do. I’m really proud of the way Kyle and his staff kept the team positive and upbeat, but at the same time never lowered our expectations of what we expected out of them,” Lynch said of the 49ers 6-10 finish. “That’s what you want to see during the course of a year, particularly with young players, any player. I saw players getting better right down to the finish. That is very encouraging.”
San Francisco's most notable wins came in Weeks 15 and 16 against the playoff bound Tennessee Titans and Jacksonville Jaguars.
The team's ability to keep fighting following an abysmal start is a testament to both Lynch and Shanahan. It's also tangible evidence that the regime's desired shift in culture is already taking place. That's what tells Lynch that he made the right decision to abandon the broadcast booth and run San Francisco's front office.
“I feel it’s by no means even close to a finished product. We still have so much work to do. But, I think more than anything, I’m just glad I did it. I did it because I wanted to be back in it. I wanted to be back invested in something,” Lynch said. “I feel like we’re a better organization, mindful though that the work never stops in this league. We’ve got so much work to do. But, I’m really proud of the mindset that this team developed. I thought we became physically and mentally tougher. We grew. That’s what we wanted out of this first year. I love the way we finished."
There's even more evidence that suggests that the 49ers on-field product was vastly improved as well. In 2017, San Francisco ranked 12th in total offense, ninth in passing offense and its defense ranked seventh in yards allowed per rushing attempt. A year ago, the 49ers finished 31st, 32nd and 32nd in those categories, respectively.
There's no arguing that the 49ers closed the year as one of the NFL's hottest teams.
“Had we taken care of business early (and) were able to sneak into the playoffs, I don’t think many teams would have wanted to face us,” Lynch added. “We were playing good football.”
The 49ers finally have stability in place from a leadership standpoint and a franchise quarterback within their grasp. It's a promising foundation that could lead to a fruitful 2018 for one of the NFL's most historic franchises. But there's still more bricks to be laid.
“If our players think just because we finish this way it’s just going to roll on over, that doesn’t happen in this league. That’s one thing I learned over and over, is that you’ve got to go create it,” Lynch added. “It’s a new year, it’s a new team. The way we work, the way we go about our business is going to affect how we play as a team into next year.”