Kyle Shanahan made a classic rookie coaching mistake. But before I get into that, I want to praise him.
Some of the moves he has made this offseason were good.
Starting with the players he released, or chose not to retain. Along with rookie general manager John Lynch, Shanahan was ruthless. He cut Torrey Smith, the 49ers’ blockbuster free-agent signing from just two years ago and the third-highest-paid player on the team. He was getting worse and had no place in the 49ers future. Goodbye, Torrey, more bust than blockbuster.
Shanahan also cut Antoine Bethea — a Pro Bowler in 2014 — and Marcus Martin — a former third-round pick. Goodbye, Antoine and Marcus. You don’t fit the new 49ers’ schemes.
And goodbye, Colin Kaepernick. Reports indicate Shanahan would have cut him if Kaepernick hadn’t opted out of his contract. No sentimentality for the quarterback who took the 49ers to the Super Bowl in 2013. I admire Shanahan for focusing on the future.
I also admire how active and aggressive he has been during free agency. The previous general manager, Trent Baalke, who was awful, typically waited until the second wave of free agency to sign second-rate players on discount. Shanahan signed eight players before free agency even officially began.
Shanahan signed nickel back K’Waun Williams, nose tackle Earl Mitchell, linebacker Malcolm Smith, quarterback Brian Hoyer, fullback Kyle Juszczyk, tight end Logan Paulsen and wide receivers Marquise Goodwin and Pierre Garçon.
Last year, Baalke signed only two free agents — Zane Beadles and Thad Lewis — even though the 49ers were coming off a five-win season and had almost $50 million in cap space. Baalke essentially promised the fans the Niners would stink last season, and stink they did.
Shanahan is giving fans a reason to be excited for 2017. He’s making moves which suggest he thinks the team can be competitive right now — or at least watchable. I admire his confidence.
I like two of his signings in particular — Juszczyk and Hoyer. Juszczyk is a 25-year-old Pro Bowl fullback who can play tight end as well. He caught 78 passes for the Baltimore Ravens the past two seasons. He will be a key player for the 49ers in the present and future.
Hoyer is not someone who figures into the team’s future, but he’s important for 2016 and here’s why.
Hoyer played under Shanahan in 2014 when Shanahan was the offensive coordinator for the Cleveland Browns. Hoyer knows Shanahan’s system and offensive terminology. Hoyer can serve as a quarterback-caddy for the starting quarterback Shanahan signs or drafts this year, whoever he may be.
Hoyer can help the starter learn the playbook, show him what to do during quarterback meetings and tell him how to adjust to Shanahan’s coaching style.
Or, Hoyer can be the starting quarterback himself in 2017 and give Shanahan the option to wait until 2018 to draft a rookie replacement. Hoyer gives Shanahan flexibility.
Now it’s time to talk about Shanahan’s rookie mistake, and it’s a big one. I downplay Lynch because this is Shanahan’s team.
Shanahan paid a premium for free agents he’s comfortable and familiar with. Six of the eight players he signed have played for Shanahan or one of his assistant coaches.