PHOENIX — John Lynch, the 49ers first-year general manager, is rapidly learning the executive grind. Tuesday, he revealed that the 49ers have identified 30 prospects to visit the team’s facility in Santa Clara before the April 27-29 draft. The first one, Alabama linebacker Reuben Foster, was on site recently.
Meanwhile, Lynch keeps working the phones with college coaches to glean information on their potential drafted players. One coach Lynch hit up via cell phone while here at the NFL meetings was Jim Harbaugh, the former 49ers coach.
“He was great,” Lynch said. “He has a lot of players who are draft-able. Gave me a lot of great information. And it was entertaining, as it always is with Jim.”
In a recent radio interview, Harbaugh had taken the opportunity to insult 49ers owner Jed York and former 49ers general manager Trent Baalke, saying they didn’t know enough about football to “blow up a small balloon.” But any Harbaugh grudge clearly didn’t carry over to Lynch and his new regime.
“He just said, ‘Fired up for you, man,’ ” Lynch said of his conversation with the University of Michigan coach. “Then we started talking about his players. He had to go to a meeting and I had to go to a meeting, so it was quick.”
Quicker than Lynch wished, in fact. When he reached Harbaugh on the phone in one meeting room here, brother John Harbaugh was nearby. When John realized that Lynch was talking with Jim, the conversation took a pause.
“John came over and before I could get on the phone, John and Jim were talking,” Lynch said. “I told him, ‘Hey, you’re cutting into my time, give me the phone.’ We had a good time talking. He’s got one of the bigger lists of players in the league.”
With the 49ers owning the second pick in this year’s draft, Lynch is keeping his cards close to his vest. But he has rapidly learned to be specific and not ask general “lazy questions” in speaking with college coaches, who tend to be huge fans of all their players, for obvious reasons. A better tactic, Lynch has learned, is to ask specific questions about whether a player might be more suited to one position or another, which tends to bring out a coach’s more clinical feelings about a prospect.
“Sometimes silence after you ask a question speaks volumes, too,” Lynch said.
In the case of Foster, at least, Lynch was able to have a face-to-face conversation at 49ers’ headquarters. The Alabama first team All-American won the Dick Butkus Award as the nation’s top linebacker. But a the NFL scouting combine earlier this month in Indianapolis, Foster was dismissed and sent home early after an alleged confrontation with a local hospital worker. Lynch addressed the incident with Foster.
“He came in and we had a nice visit,” Lynch said. “I think that’s why you do those things. You try to gather information, and then, you know, react and make decisions accordingly.”
Foster, as the draft’s top linebacking name, could also fill the bill in one other Lynch goal.
“We’d love to come out of this draft with some game-changing players,” Lynch said. “I think at No. 2, you have that opportunity. And that’s your goal. And you really want to do that–you know, Tom Brady, they found a game-changing player. That’s why every pick is so important. We need some stars. We need some of those guys. But I think you go about that through exhaustive preparation and looking at every place, every player.”
And has the 49ers’ field of potential picks been narrowed, say, to three or four players?
“That has not transpired,” Lynch said. “I can tell you with full disclosure that has not been decided. There have certainly been scenarios that we’ve run though where we’re, ‘Would you be comfortable with this guy here?’ ” I think we’ve run through that scenario with more than a half dozen. I don’t know the exact number. But we have run through multiple scenarios. There’s so much at play. You know, what is Cleveland going to do at No. 1?”
Tuesday, the 49ers did make one small piece of news, literally, when they re-signed 5-foot-7 running back DuJuan Harris to a one-year contract. But another running back name floating around in the NFL ether remains intriguing–Marshawn Lynch, who officially retired as a Seattle Seahawk before last season but has been seen working out frequently and strenuously at his old East Bay high school, Oakland Tech. Rumors are afoot that Marshawn Lynch may seriously be considering a comeback, something that John Lynch does not rule out.
“I’m reading it like everyone else–is it real or not?” John Lynch said. “Marshawn’s kind of unique. I kind of feel he would make some team better if he did (come back). But sometimes I’ll talk about how, at the end of my career, I took two weeks off and I didn’t train–I was always a huge trainer–and Bill Belichick brought me into New England and I felt like I had shut the valve off, mentally and physically. And it was hard to get that back. Once you kind of turn off that hose, it’s hard to get that thing going again. But I think Marshawn is a unique talent. It’s going to be a lot of, does he still want it and love it? And all those things.”
Another big name gurgling on the rumor wire is Colin Kaepernick, the former 49ers quarterback who is a free agent but has not yet signed with a new team. There’s plainly no interest from the 49ers in re-signing him. But last week, John Lynch told one radio interviewer that he knew of one team that had been very interested in signing Kaepernick.
“There was information that came to us that he was very close,” Lynch said. “Obviously it didn’t happen. I don’t know what happened.”