INDIANAPOLIS – In the midst of a busy week of evaluating talent, general manager John Lynch addressed the media during the NFL Scouting Combine to provide several player updates ahead of the start of free agency and the draft. Here are eight takeaways from the 49ers general manager.
1. Arik Armstead's Future in San Francisco
According to ESPN's Adam Schefter, the start of the franchise designation period has been pushed back from Tuesday Feb. 25 to Thursday Feb. 27 while the NFL and NFLPA work out terms for a new collective bargaining agreement (CBA). It's worth keeping your eyes on Arik Armstead's status, as the fifth-year defensive lineman admitted to being open to the franchise tag in order remain in San Francisco for another year. According to the general manager, there hasn't been much movement on San Francisco's sack leader's future with the 49ers, however it is still a possibility, as the window to place a tag on a player closes on March 12.
"With respect to Arik, that is an option on the table," Lynch said. "We haven't made that decision yet. But it is certainly an option that is at our disposal. It may work for both sides, but we'll see how it goes."
2. Another Year for Staley?
Joe Staley is expected to enter the final year of his two-year contract extension in 2020. There was speculation that the 13-year veteran left tackle could hang up his cleats for good after the 49ers 2019 run. Staley missed nine games in the regular season due to injury, however was stout when on the field in San Francisco.
"I don't think you know with certainty with any player, but all indications is Joe is really happy being a 49er," Lynch admitted. "He's healthy and that's all good. I think he performed at a really high level when healthy this year. We love having Joe around and hopefully we can keep doing this song and dance for years to come. But we'll see what's on Joe's mind, but right now I think he's in a good place."
Staley allowed just seven pressures in 240 pass-blocking snaps this season for a pressure rate of 2.9 percent that trailed only Baltimore Ravens Ronnie Stanley and Tennessee Titans Taylor Lewan at left tackle, according to Pro Football Focus.
3. Reinforcements on the O-line
With no "certainty" when it comes to Staley, the 49ers were fortunate enough to have well-performing backups at tackle in 2019. Daniel Brunskill and Justin Skule were called upon at various times during the season to step in for Staley and Mike McGlinchey, who also missed several games due to injury. With Staley nearing the end of his NFL career, San Francisco's reinforcements along the offensive line could allow the opportunity for the 49ers to fulfil other needs in April's draft.
"(Brunskill and Skule) picked us up in a big way, that's for sure," Lynch said. "I give a lot of credit to our personnel department and our coaches because you have to find them and then you have to develop them. And I think our coaches did a tremendous job with that. Brunskill, a tremendous story. A former tight end - a practice squad player in Atlanta, played in the AAF. Had a really good workout. We brought him in never knowing how well he could play for us. I give Danny, first and foremost the most credit because he picked us up in a big, big way, as Justin Skule did as well. Those guys were huge for us. There's only room for growth for those guys going forward."
4. Jalen Hurd Update
San Francisco's third-round pick missed the entire 2019 season while dealing with a stress fracture in his lower back. According to Lynch, the 49ers are hopeful Hurd will be cleared for offseason workouts in April.
"Jalen had that stress fracture deal and for it to completely heal, it happens on different timelines," Lynch said. "We found that his has been stubborn. We think we're nearing towards a much better place to where he'll be cleared for all activities. I don't want to officially give that word but there's some recent scans and things that give us a lot of hope that that's going to be the case. And come April 1 for our offseason program he'll be a full go."
5. 31st-overall Pick
For the first time since 2015, the 49ers are not scheduled to select a player in the top 10 of the draft. The 49ers own the 31st-overall pick in April's draft, which changes Lynch and Kyle Shanahan's approach opposed to years' prior.
"It's certainly different," Lynch said. "A lot of our success has been deep in the draft and I'm very confident in our ability to do that. I think there's a number of reasons to why we've been successful. I think each and every year we get better. I want to continue to do that. I think I like the reason to why we're drafting late. But this time of year is fun when you're drafting high too, I will say that."
With the 31st pick in the draft, the conversation arises with San Francisco's option to trade out of the first round. The 49ers currently own six picks in the draft. A trade opens up the opportunity for San Francisco to acquire more capital in a year where they could potentially see several free agents walk.
"I think the important part right now is that we're prepared for all scenarios," he added. "So, the best way to do that is to do our due diligence in terms of getting ready for the draft class, the free agent class and evaluating our own players. That's where our mindset is. I think those things will take care of themselves as our plan and our vision for making our team better this year develops further. Right now, the most important part is that we work really hard in trying to assess the talents and the opportunities to improve our team."
6. The Return of Jet
In his two seasons with the 49ers, Jerick McKinnon has yet to play a snap in San Francisco. McKinnon suffered another setback from his surgically repaired ACL ahead of the 2019 season, landing on Injured Reserve for the second-straight season. According to Lynch, the running back was medically cleared at the end of the season to play. McKinnon recently admitted to be willing to do "whatever" to remain in San Francisco, hinting that he's open to take a pay cut in 2020. Lynch and Co. haven't closed the door on the opportunity and expect to have talks in the coming days with McKinnon's agent on his future with the 49ers.
"I would tell you we would like nothing more than to see him actually on the field. That's no fault of Jerick's. That's just the way it's been," Lynch said. "We admire the way he's worked through the various issues that he's had and we would love to see that through in some form or fashion. I think this week will be important talking with his representatives and trying to find something that works for both sides to come back and see Jerick on the field."
7. Sticking with Jimmy
One of the hot topics coming out of Super Bowl LIV was the 49ers decision to stick with Jimmy Garoppolo at quarterback, or seek another option under center. Lynch confirmed that Garoppolo will be the 49ers quarterback for the foreseeable future despite recent reports tagged to other NFL players.
"We're extremely proud of Jimmy and committed to Jimmy moving forward," Lynch confirmed. "He's our guy. As I said, from the day he walked into our building, he made us better and we continue to feel that's the case. That's the most exciting thing about him is the room for growth. He's not come close to hitting his ceiling. I think the room for growth, the more experience he gets in this system, the more experience he gets playing in general, we think the arrow's up, and that's a good thing."
8. 2020 Wide Receiver Class
With Emmanuel Sanders' status unclear and the 49ers hopeful for Dante Pettis' reemergence, it begs the question, how do the 49ers approach the draft? According to national analysts, the 2020 draft class is strong at the wide receiver position.
Aside from the two aforementioned players, Hurd is another option who is hoped to make a full return in 2020. Trent Taylor, whose third season with the 49ers never took off after undergoing several surgeries on his left foot, is also expected to make a return by training camp. Despite the surplus of wide receivers on San Francisco's roster, the 49ers are in a good position to upgrade their talent through the draft.
"We like our group, I think we like the core of our group," Lynch said. "The draft class is incredibly strong, this is my fourth combine and it's as good as I've ever seen. The depth of it, the top-end players, it's a really good class. You kind of get whatever flavor you like. If you like a smaller quicker guy, those guys are there. If you like the big guys that can move, those guys are there. If you like speed, that's there. If you like separators. And so, I think the whole league is smiling about that. We do in fact really like our group. We feel like one way of looking at it is that we've got some players coming back to us. Jalen Hurd was a third-round pick and we never got to see him, so he's got to show that he can do it but we think he's got some talents. Dante Pettis is still a guy we have a lot of belief in and it's incumbent on him to have a tremendous offseason so that he sets himself up for success and Trent Taylor was having a tremendous camp. So, we see some guys that can add to what we already had and then who knows whether we add to it via the draft or any other avenue."