For the past five years, the San Francisco 49ers have been viewed as a pinnacle of consistency in the NFL.
Kyle Shanahan is an offensive mastermind. Trading up for Trey Lance was a great move, etc. The list goes on and on. The league, as a whole, has been raining down praise on the 49ers’ current leadership scheme for a long time now.
However, following a disappointing 2-3 start to the season, people are beginning to switch their viewpoints.
The 49ers are no longer immune from criticism
While the 49ers’ NFC-winning season in 2019 deserves a ton of credit, it’s worth acknowledging the 49ers’ overall poor record since general manager John Lynch and head coach Kyle Shanahan took over.
As Michael David Smith points out, the 49ers are 31-38 over their past 4-plus seasons. To make matters worse, they don’t have their first-round pick in 2022 or 2023.
That’s not exactly a glowing endorsement for Lynch and Shanahan.
There’s a healthy amount of context that needs to be highlighted when evaluating Lynch and Shanahan for what it’s worth. Their 2018 season was a rebuilding one due to Jimmy Garoppolo being injured, and 2020 saw so many key players injured that it’s impossible to blame the leadership for their lack of success.
However, the point about the lack of future first-round picks is worth acknowledging as well. Lynch and Shanahan have essentially hinged their San Francisco futures on Trey Lance’s ability to develop into a franchise quarterback.
Trey Lance needs to be special
Trading up for a young, exciting quarterback prospect is a pretty common tactic in today’s NFL. However, the 49ers’ aggressiveness to go up and get Lance puts a ton of pressure on the former North Dakota State QB.
The 49ers mortgaged their entire future for Lance. They did this while already having a pretty good quarterback under contract in Garoppolo. It was an extremely bold decision, to say the least.
Granted, there’s a pretty fair argument that Lance’s ceiling is far higher than Garoppolo’s and that aggressively trading up for Lance was worth the risk. However, that doesn’t negate the giant bullseye target that’s now been placed on Lynch and Shanahan.
If Lance doesn’t blossom into a franchise quarterback and the 49ers’ win-loss record continues to worsen moving forward, fingers will start pointing toward the leadership duo.
What next for the 49ers?
It’s doubtful the 49ers will consider firing their well-respected head coach/GM duo anytime soon. Over the past few years, the organization has committed too many resources to simply give up after a few bad starts. Ownership presumably wants them around to oversee this new era of 49ers football being built around Lance.
However, it’s still worth keeping an eye on the state of things in San Francisco. If the 49ers fail to recapture their winning ways of 2019, it wouldn’t be too surprising to see changes be made.
Unless you’re Bill Belichick or Mike Tomlin, it’s pretty rare for coaches/GMs to have too long of a shelf line in the NFL. Owners will always make changes if winning isn’t occurring.