I’m sure you had a similar reaction to the 49ers hiring John Lynch to be their next GM, but here was mine:
Talk about rolling the dice. Lynch’s resume consists of nine Pro Bowl appearances, inclusion in the Buccaneers’ Ring of Honor (he’s in the Broncos’ Ring as well), eight and a half years behind the mic as a Fox broadcaster and—here’s the kicker—not a single day of NFL front office experience. Zero. Zilch. Nada.
As history has taught us, that can go any number of ways. Matt Millen, who was hired under similar circumstances in the early 2000s, was a colossal failure during his nine-year stint as Lions GM (seriously, how did he last that long?). John Elway has had much more success, though he was able to draw on his experience as an executive in the Arena Football League before he joined the Broncos as their GM and VP of Football Operations.
What’s particularly baffling about the hire is that Lynch wasn’t even a CANDIDATE before Sunday. For at least a week, the Niners had led us to believe that their GM search was a two-man race between Cardinals VP of Player Personnel Terry McDonough (brother of ESPN Monday Night Football announcer Sean McDonough) and Vikings Assistant GM George Paton. Both candidates traveled to Atlanta last weekend to meet with Falcons OC Kyle Shanahan, who will be officially announced as the Niners’ next head coach after the Super Bowl. Lynch reportedly volunteered for the job by calling up Shanahan, whose father Mike Shanahan coached Lynch for four years in Denver. Amazingly, that phone call along with a face-to-face meeting with Shanahan in Atlanta was enough to bypass the other nine candidates that interviewed for the job.
If anything, the Lynch hire proves that Shanahan will be the one calling the shots in San Francisco. That may have been what made the Niners job so appealing to him. San Francisco’s roster is admittedly bare bones and will probably require a complete overhaul. But the understanding that the 49ers won’t be competing anytime soon gives Shanahan considerable freedom to shape the roster—and apparently the front office as well. He may not have gotten that opportunity elsewhere. Hopefully the Lynch/Shanahan pairing gives the Niners a sense of continuity that’s been sorely lacking in recent years. Shanahan will be the 49ers’ fourth coach is as many seasons.
The way Lynch leapfrogged nine other GM candidates, all with legitimate front office credentials, has understandably rubbed some people the wrong way. It’s a reckless hire on the surface but the Niners are likely to put in plenty of safety nets to combat Lynch’s relative inexperience. A report from PFT’s Mike Florio suggests former Buccaneers GM Mark Dominik could be brought in to help ease Lynch’s transition. Dominik comes with an extensive background in scouting and could be installed as the 49ers’ Director of Player Personnel. Broncos Director of College Scouting Adam Peters is also being considered for that position. Whoever the Niners end up hiring to fill out their front office will likely be tasked with mentoring Lynch while he learns on the job.
Lynch was handpicked by Shanahan, which suggests the two have a similar vision. Let’s hope that’s the case. The Colts are a perfect example of what can go wrong when a GM and head coach don’t see eye-to-eye. This past season, GM Ryan Grigson’s relationship with coach Chuck Pagano deteriorated to the point where the team had to bring in a psychologist to help them settle their differences. In the end, the relationship was beyond repair. The Colts eventually fired Grigson, replacing him with Chiefs Director of Football Operations Chris Ballard.
Indy’s decision to hitch their wagon to Ballard was met with more approval than San Francisco’s outside-the-box hiring of Lynch, but at least Shanahan and Lynch appear to be on the same page. Already there seems to be some disagreement in Indianapolis over Chuck Pagano’s job status. Ballard was reportedly in favor of replacing him with Chiefs special teams coordinator Dave Toub, but owner Jim Irsay put the kibosh on that pretty quickly. Ballard insisted in his introductory press conference that Pagano’s job isn’t in danger, but saying and doing are two different things. After missing the postseason in back-to-back years, Pagano is on an extremely short leash.
In Defense of the Pro Bowl
Every year we discuss ways to improve the Pro Bowl. Occasionally the conversation will shift to whether it’s even worth having. Admittedly, the Pro Bowl has several factors working against it. For starters, it’s played at the end of the season when players are worn out and would rather do almost anything else. And when football is watered down, the product really suffers. Often the Pro Bowl becomes a glorified game of two-hand touch. Not to mention that it’s held the week before the Super Bowl, which automatically excludes any of the players competing in that game.
Despite these shortcomings, I’m happy I tuned in this year. The game was fairly competitive—the AFC won by a single touchdown and needed a late interception by Lorenzo Alexander to seal the victory. That interception was especially notable because it featured an excellent hustle play by Kirk Cousins. After being intercepted, Cousins ran the length of the field to catch up to Aqib Talib, who was headed for the end zone after receiving a lateral from Alexander. Cousins came from behind and stripped the ball away, though the AFC was able to recover it. The game’s hectic conclusion, though ultimately meaningless in the grand scheme of things, was a welcome change of pace from the yawn-inducing Pro Bowls of years past.
That’s not to say the exhibition resembled anything close to an NFL game. Jimmy Graham threw a tantrum for getting tackled, Von Miller was flagged for blitzing and Odell Beckham was seen checking his phone throughout the game. Casey Hayward and Reggie Nelson were picking dandelions when Doug Baldwin breezed past them for a 47-yard touchdown. The running backs, as usual, had nothing to do, while most of Everson Griffen’s “sacks” (a Pro Bowl sack is more like a long hug) were often accompanied by embarrassingly over-the-top celebrations.
It won’t be remembered as a masterpiece, but the game was harmless fun, sort of like an Andy Samberg movie. As usual, the Pro Bowl attracted a ton of talent, which is always entertaining. How often do you see Drew Brees share a field with Ezekiel Elliott, Richard Sherman and Dez Bryant? The events leading up to Sunday were a success including the much-anticipated Dodgeball game (of course Andy Dalton was the first one out) and a skills contest that centered around balls dropping from drones. The game’s proximity to Disney World also led to some pretty great shenanigans, including this trailer for Chris Harris and Michael Bennett’s upcoming buddy comedy. And I think we can all agree that returning the Pro Bowl to its AFC/NFC format was an improvement over the convoluted fantasy draft structure used in previous years.
Some players might view the Pro Bowl as just another paycheck (players on the winning team received $61,000 compared to $30,000 for the losers), but for Philip Rivers, it meant something more. For Rivers, Sunday was his last chance to represent the San Diego Chargers, who will be moving to Los Angeles next season. As many of you know, Rivers has a zillion kids and one of them just happened to be having a father/daughter dance back in San Diego this past weekend. Rivers could have easily blown off the Pro Bowl for his family commitment but instead he went out and won the Precision Passing Challenge on Thursday night, traveled home for his daughter’s dance and then returned to Orlando for the game on Sunday night. All so he could be a San Diego Charger one last time. The Pro Bowl is far from perfect but I’m glad we still have it and I bet Rivers is too.
Quick Hits: Apparently Arian Foster is happy in his retirement. The former Texans and Dolphins running back said he plans to pursue a degree in physics now that his playing career is over. Foster majored in philosophy as an undergrad at the University of Tennessee … Michael Vick admitted that his career is likely over. Vick’s 6,109 career rushing yards are the most ever for an NFL quarterback … According to the Denver Post, the Broncos could pursue Ted Ginn in free agency. The 31-year-old has scored a combined 14 touchdowns over his last two seasons … Ex-49ers coach Mike Nolan landed a job as the Saints’ new linebackers coach. He’s replacing Joe Vitt, who was fired shortly after the season. Nolan’s last job in the NFL came in 2015 when he served as the Chargers’ linebackers coach … Ryan Tannehill suffered a minor ACL tear late in the season but he should be able to avoid surgery. For now, it looks like Tannehill will be good to go for Week 1 … Former Bills and Jets coach Rex Ryan will join ESPN for their Super Bowl coverage this week. CBS, Fox and NFL Network also pursued Rex before he chose ESPN … The Texans made a splash Monday by hiring Wes Welker as an offensive assistant. The five-time Pro Bowler last suited up in the NFL for the Rams in 2015 … Following an exhausting 2016 campaign, Carson Palmer isn’t sure if he’ll play another season. “I’d like to play if my body responds the way I hope,” said Palmer in a text message to AZCentral’s Dan Bickley. If Palmer retires, Cardinals teammate Larry Fitzgerald would likely follow him out the door … Darryl Slater of NJ Advanced Media believes the Jets could make a run at Colin Kaepernick if the 49ers release him this offseason. Ryan Fitzpatrick and Geno Smith are both expected to leave the Jets in free agency, leaving Bryce Petty and Christian Hackenberg atop the team’s quarterback depth chart … The Raiders’ proposed move to Las Vegas has hit a roadblock. Casino magnate Sheldon Adelson has pulled his funding while Goldman Sachs is reportedly “reevaluating” its involvement in the team’s new stadium proposal. League owners were expected to vote on the Raiders’ relocation bid as soon as March, but that may have to be pushed back … Devonta Freeman’s agent said his client deserves to be paid like an “elite back.” Despite sharing work with Tevin Coleman this year, Freeman rushed for a career-high 1,079 yards while earning his second straight Pro Bowl nod … Falcons OC (at least for the next week) Kyle Shanahan panicked after misplacing his backpack (which had the Falcons’ playbook inside of it) at Super Bowl Opening Night. Apparently he switched bags with Art Spander, a veteran sportswriter for the San Francisco Examiner … Martellus Bennett said he won’t be making the trip to Washington if the Patriots take down Atlanta in Super Bowl LI. Super Bowl champs are usually honored at the White House after the season, but obviously Bennett wants nothing to do with Donald Trump.