SANTA CLARA — The quarterback of the 49ers’ future walked into the auditorium Tuesday and sat in the middle seat behind the podium, with general manager John Lynch to his right and head coach Kyle Shanahan to his left.
“I’d like to start off just thanking everyone from this organization, you know, starting with Jed (York, the 49ers CEO), Paraag (Marathe, the executive vice president), John and Kyle here,” Jimmy Garoppolo began. “It’s a privilege to be here.”
After Garoppolo had scribbled off a few more Hallmark cards, Lynch chimed in.
“I think Kyle will tell you a great quality of a quarterback, taking charge. I thought I was starting, but hey, have at it Jimmy,” Lynch said with a grin.
It was unusual, sure, but why not? Lynch and Shanahan already have an unconventional relationship, by NFL standards. Go ahead and loop the quarterback in for group decisions from this point forward.
The 49ers got the quarterback they wanted on Monday and introduced him to the world on Tuesday. And they are convinced it’s another triumph for the unique power structure here in the same offices where Trent Baalke and Jim Harbaugh once had to labor to tolerate one another.
“You know, there’s been a lot of talk about that,” Lynch said of the dynamic. “But, hey, Kyle and I came in here and we never made any bones about it. We were going to do this as a team, and we do. Through good times — there haven’t been a whole lot of those in the regular season — but throughout the whole process, we’ve been together. That’s the way we operate. I actually think that’s a cool thing. This process was no different.”
Lynch makes it sound like he and Shanahan are on the verge of communicating solely with emojis.
Not that everyone is thrilled with the setup. Sunday, CBS Sports’ Jason La Canfora wrote that he talked to three NFL team executives who reported difficulty in engaging the 49ers in trade talks. The execs complained that the Niners’ asking prices were generally Whole Foods-level ridiculous, and that Lynch couldn’t pull the trigger on a deal without consulting with Shanahan first.
“When you think you might be getting somewhere, Lynch says that he has to make sure Kyle is on board,” one source told La Canfora. “It’s not a great process.”
Except it might be a great process, at least for the 49ers.
Alienating other NFL front offices would be counterproductive in the long run, it’s true. Maybe the 49ers shouldn’t have demanded an entire slate of draft picks and a Fabergé egg for running back Carlos Hyde. But it’s hard to argue with the result in this case.
Garoppolo, who turns 26 on Thursday, can lay claim to exactly two NFL starts, 690 yards and five touchdowns. He is an unproven talent whose primary claim to fame is that he was allowed to attend quarterback meetings with Tom Brady and share his avocado ice cream for 3½ years. But there is no doubt he was a hot commodity.
Back in March, several news outlets reported that the Patriots were shopping Garoppolo and demanding two first-round draft picks in return. There were no takers. When the 49ers traded for the quarterback Monday, the cost was a single second-round choice. Granted, San Francisco is 0-8 and that is likely to be a HIGH second-rounder. Still, it’s clear the Patriots had moved Garoppolo’s No. 10 jersey to the clearance rack, and Lynch and Shanahan were happy to play the role of bargain shoppers.
It should be stated here that, as of Tuesday evening, few details had emerged on how, exactly, the trade negotiations went down.
“We agreed with the Patriots that we are going to leave the details,” Lynch said. “There’s a lot of details. As Bill (Belichick) said, it’s a big puzzle and I think it’s very complex to get into and we’re just going to leave it at that.”
Translation: The Patriots coach and Supreme Commander said he would have Lynch kneecapped by midweek if he so much as mentioned Belichick’s name.
We know a little bit, though. For example, we know that Shanahan scouted Garoppolo extensively when the QB was entering the NFL draft and Shanahan was the Cleveland Browns’ offensive coordinator.
“I put a lot of time into Jimmy throughout college, studied a lot of tape on him at Eastern Illinois, got a chance to go down there and work him out when he was coming out, got to go out to dinner with him,” Shanahan said.
Generally speaking, Lynch has control over the draft and setting the 90-man training camp roster, while Shanahan is in charge of the final 53-man active roster. But that is an inadequate description of their relationship, as evidenced by the complexity of a midseason trade. Safe to say that Lynch leaned heavily on Shanahan’s knowledge of the passing game and the quarterback position in this case.
“One thing that Kyle and I did when we first got together, we spent as much time as we could, just the two of us and watching a lot of film and seeing what’s important to Kyle at each position,” Lynch explained. “You know, perhaps Jimmy was a guy we watched a lot of this offseason. We were looking for qualities that (Shanahan) covets.”
Lynch bends toward his coach more than most NFL general managers, but that’s no surprise. Remember, the 49ers hired Shanahan first, and the coach sat in on Lynch’s interview with York and Marathe. From the start, it has been a true collaboration.
And Lynch played a big role in the Garoppolo acquisition, too. He spent training camp with the Patriots in 2008 before deciding to retire, and has remained friendly with Belichick since. Lynch had inquired frequently about Garoppolo earlier in the year. So when Belichick decided the Pats wouldn’t be able to re-sign their backup passer, who is playing on an expiring contract, it was Lynch he called.
This isn’t Lynch’s first triumph as a GM. On draft day he received two third-round picks and a fourth-rounder from the Bears, just for agreeing to swap the No. 2 and No. 3 overall selections.
Ultimately, the 49ers’ decision-makers will be judged on their talent evaluations rather than their bargaining power. If guys like Solomon Thomas (the defensive lineman the 49ers took at No. 3 in April) and Jimmy Garoppolo prove to be flops, then Lynch and Shanahan will flop along with them, and York will rue the six-year contracts he gave them.
To be determined, as they say. For now, give the 49ers credit. Lynch and Shanahan haven’t won a single game together, but they know how to win the deal.
You can reach columnist Phil Barber at 707-521-5263 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @Skinny_Post.