Grant Cohn: 49ers GM tips hand — drafting Reuben Foster a mistake

The talented LB from Alabama had an excellent rookie season, followed by a trouble-filled offseason.|

John Lynch and Kyle Shanahan spoke publicly at the NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis on Wednesday and Thursday, spoke publicly for the first time in almost three weeks. They won't speak to the media again until free agency starts mid-March. Their words are limited.

I didn't attend their interviews at the combine — I'm not there. I watched on TV and read quotes online just like you. And I drew conclusions.

These are my top five.

1. The 49ers regret drafting Reuben Foster.

Here's what Lynch said: 'We knew we were going to have to put great structure around (Foster). One lesson I learned, it's probably a lot easier to do that in the college environment than in the NFL. These guys have to be men.'

Lynch thought he could keep Foster out of trouble, just as Alabama head coach Nick Saban kept Foster out of trouble in college.

But, Lynch forgot or didn't know or didn't care that NFL teams can't babysit their players year round — the Collective Bargaining Agreement forbids contact between teams and players during the offseason. Almost five months.

Every year from January to May, the 49ers will have to cross their fingers and hope Foster doesn't get arrested. They're in a position no other team would want to be in. That's why everyone else passed on Foster during the first round of the draft last year.

If Lynch could get a do-over in the 2017 draft, he probably would pass on Foster. Drafting Foster was one of the growing pains Jed York said Lynch would experience as a rookie GM.

2. The 49ers plan to make big moves during free agency.

Here's what Lynch said: 'I think that's a huge bonus for us that we have (Jimmy Garoppolo) locked up going into free agency. I think it makes us a place where a lot of people want to be and we're excited about that.'

Lynch stressed the importance of finishing Garoppolo's contract before free agency, so the 49ers could use him to draw the best free agents. That must mean Lynch is targeting some of the best free agents.

Last year, the 49ers signed a bunch of low-to-mid-priced free agents, most of whom had played for Shanahan or defensive coordinator Robert Saleh in the past.

The coaches were the draw for free agents.

Now, the quarterback is the draw. And Lynch believes the quarterback can draw top talent.

Look for Lynch to target an elite guard — Justin Pugh, Andrew Norwell or Josh Sitton. And look for Lynch to target an elite cornerback — Trumaine Johnson, Rashaan Melvin or Aqib Talib if the Denver Broncos release him, as they may according to reports.

3. The 49ers are prepared to lose Carlos Hyde.

Here's what Lynch said: 'We've had discussions with Carlos all the way through the season. We haven't been able to come to an agreement, but those discussions are ongoing.'

The 49ers probably made Hyde an offer, not a whopping big offer. Hyde probably thinks he can get a better offer from another team and almost certainly will. Expect him to leave. He could be a Pro Bowler in a shotgun offense. His career rushing average is 4.9 yards per carry when the quarterback is in the shotgun.

Hyde averages a mere 3.3 yards per carry when the quarterback is under center, as he is most of the time on running plays in Shanahan's offense.

Hyde's backup, Matt Breida, averaged 4.5 yards per carry when the quarterback was under center last season. Breida is a better scheme fit than Hyde. Shanahan may see Breida as the starter next season.

4. The 49ers are pumping up Trent Brown's trade value.

Here's what Shanahan said: '(Brown is the) best pass-protection tackle I've ever seen in my life.'

If the 49ers really like Brown so much, they would have extended his contract. Brown will be a free agent in 2019.

Here's why Lynch said they haven't extended Brown's contract: 'I think there's more pressing things right now. That's not to say that wouldn't happen in the future, but right now there's some other things that are more pressing.'

Such as re-signing Brown's backup, Garry Gilliam. The 49ers did that Wednesday.

'When you're a big man,' Lynch continued, 'certain things are going to be a little tougher. (Brown) really responded and answered the call of what was being asked of him. It wasn't perfect, and there are some things that he's always going to deal with, but I was proud of him.'

Brown always will deal with weight problems. The 49ers may not feel comfortable committing tens of millions of dollars to him long term. He doesn't fit their system, anyway — he's too slow for an outside-zone blocking scheme. They apparently prefer to praise him publicly, raise interest around the league and deal him to the highest bidder.

5. The 49ers may keep three quarterbacks instead of two next season.

When a reporter asked Lynch if he will scout quarterbacks even though he has Garoppolo and C.J. Beathard, Lynch said, 'I don't think we can just turn a blind eye to the quarterback position.'

No matter how good Lynch thinks Garoppolo and Beathard are, Lynch doesn't know for sure. Those two combined have started only 12 games in the NFL. The 49ers should draft another quarterback this year for insurance.

Last year, they took Beathard in the third round — they thought they might have to start him down the line. This year, they can wait. They don't need a starter. They need someone to develop, someone they can trade for draft picks in a few years if Garoppolo stays healthy and plays well. And they need someone if Garoppolo gets hurt and Beathard is a bust.

Look for the 49ers to take a quarterback in the fifth round — either Luke Falk from Washington State, or Mike White from Western Kentucky.

That's what I heard.

Grant Cohn covers the 49ers for The Press Democrat and in Santa Rosa. You can reach him at

UPDATED: Please read and follow our commenting policy:

  • This is a family newspaper, please use a kind and respectful tone.
  • No profanity, hate speech or personal attacks. No off-topic remarks.
  • No disinformation about current events.
  • We will remove any comments — or commenters — that do not follow this commenting policy.