SANTA CLARA — Thursday afternoon, the 49ers held a press conference to introduce the recent players they signed in free agency — center Weston Richburg and running back Jerick McKinnon. Cornerback Richard Sherman did not show, but was a major topic of discussion.
Richburg and McKinnon sat on the stage in the 49ers auditorium along with head coach Kyle Shanahan and general manager John Lynch.
Here’s what Shanahan said about McKinnon: “He’s an extremely good runner. I’ve loved him since college. It was harder to evaluate him in college, because he was a quarterback. But he was a very good running quarterback. I always knew he had running skills.
“And then, to be able to study him on NFL film when he’s actually at the running back position, to be able to see that he can make people miss, he can create arm tackles and he has the strength and power to break those arm tackles.
“And the huge bonus is when you talk about the pass game. When it comes to separating and beating linebackers and safeties in man-to-man coverage, I definitely think he’s an issue for teams. I think this league, when it comes to third downs, you move the chains based off matchups, which allows you to get points in the long run. Jerick is very versatile. He can do a lot of things.”
McKinnon fits Shanahan’s offense, but has started only 10 games in his career. Is unproven. Has never carried the load for an NFL offense. Does he feel he can now?
“One hundred percent,” McKinnon said. “This is the opportunity I’ve been waiting for, not just since I’ve been in the league, but since I’ve been playing football, period.”
After breaking down McKinnon’s skillset, Shanahan introduced Richburg.
“There are a lot of good players, but when you have a difference-maker at (center), what I have found and in my experience through my career is it has been a lot easier to run an offense.”
While Shanahan considers Richburg a “difference-maker,” Richburg never has gone to a Pro Bowl. And in 2017, he missed 12 games with a concussion.
“This is the first concussion I’ve ever had, honestly,” Richburg said. “I was feeling good near the end of the season last year. I’m excited to be here and move forward. It’s a new start.”
During the press conference, Lynch emphasized how excited he is to have Richburg and McKinnon.
“These were the top two guys on our priority list. So, to land them, that’s pretty special for us.”
Teams often say the players they signed were their top targets. But according to Art Stapleton of NorthJersey.com, the 49ers tried to sign guard Andrew Norwell before they went after Richburg. Norwell turned down the 49ers and signed with the Jacksonville Jaguars. Four hours later, the 49ers signed Richburg.
The 49ers also tried to sign running back Dion Lewis, according to NBC’s Pro Football Talk. Lynch even pressed the “like” button on a tweet that said, “Yo @DionLewisRB! You know the team to rock with! @49ers @JohnLynch49ers.”
But Lewis signed with the Tennessee Titans on Tuesday night. The next morning, the 49ers signed McKinnon.