General manager John Lynch on Tuesday said a confluence of events led to a late surge that saw the 49ers go undefeated in December:
1. They started to get healthy after a brutal string of early season injuries. 2. Young players, especially a heavily utilized rookie class, gained experience. 3. San Francisco traded for Jimmy Garoppolo.
That third element promises to dominate offseason discussions about the team. In Garoppolo, Lynch and Kyle Shanahan have located the biggest building block of their comprehensive roster revamp, a position that would have topped their offseason shopping list if there had been no trade with the New England Patriots on Oct. 30.
Garoppolo, however, is not signed for the 2018 season.
The 49ers almost assuredly can lock him in place for at least the upcoming season by giving him the franchise tag, which would be a one-year deal worth about $25 million. That can happen as early as Feb. 20. From there, the 49ers would have until July 16 to work out a long-term deal with Garoppolo and his agent, Don Yee, or he would play the 2018 season on a one-year tender.
Garoppolo obviously has flourished since arriving in Santa Clara. He went undefeated in his five starts, was one of the most accurate passers in the NFL and spoke multiple times about the positive atmosphere and outpouring of energy among the ascendant 49ers.
But he’s stopped short of saying he wants to be a 49er for the long term. When he arrived, both sides agreed that discussions about a new contract wouldn’t happen until after the season.
“I like being here,” Garoppolo said while cleaning out his locker on Monday. “I think we had a good thing going at the end of this year. And we’ll see what happens.”
The 49ers, meanwhile, clearly want to get a multiyear deal completed. On three occasions Tuesday, Lynch said the team wanted Garoppolo in Santa Clara “a long, long time.”
“That process is going to take place here,” he said. “You know, we’re eager to get that done, to have the opportunity. But I think one thing we really believe is that those things should take place between us and his representatives and not occur and transpire in the public. And that’s the way we’re going to treat that. You have our assurance – and the fans do – that we’d like nothing more to make him a Niner for a long, long time.”
Asked if he was concerned about the noncommittal stance Garoppolo has struck, Lynch said, no. “We’ve had conversations with him, and we know where he stands,” he said. “And we’re comfortable with that.”
The 49ers will head into the 2018 season with more salary-cap space – as much at $117 million – than any other team and should have plenty of room to accommodate a high-end quarterback deal.
That total will drop if the team reaches deals with any of its own free agents between now and mid-March. Among the most prominent are running back Carlos Hyde, safety Eric Reid and center Daniel Kilgore. Lynch and Shanahan said they’ve been meeting this week to discuss their pending free agents.
As far as outside free agents, Shanahan said the 49ers would be just as aggressive as they were last year when they added Pierre Garcon, Marquise Goodwin, Kyle Juszczyk and four other prominent free agents in the first few days of the new league year.
“I think we will do that year in and year out,” Shanahan said. “’How much money do we have available? And what are the (positions) available in free agency, trades, the draft?’ Whatever that is ... I do believe it’s all aggressive if you make the right decision and whatever you do, you go for it. What’s neat about having that (salary-cap) space is it allows you to make the right decisions.”
Et cetera – Linebacker Brock Coyle, who started 10 games at middle linebacker this year and is a pending free agent, had surgery to repair a torn labrum (shoulder) on Tuesday. His rehabilitation time is five to six months. If the 49ers were to re-sign Coyle, he and tackle Trent Brown (torn labrum) would be the only prominent players with injuries that might bleed into offseason practices.
▪ Lynch said defensive end Arik Armstead will have a bone spur removed from his toe. Armstead went on injured reserve in October with a broken hand.
▪ Shanahan said there were a few colleges and universities interested in some of his assistants but that he was hoping to keep his staff intact this offseason.