First-time general manager John Lynch is learning on the job. This week's lesson: supply-and-demand economics.
The 49ers badly wanted to sign the top fullback in free agency, the Ravens' Kyle Juszczyk. The problem was that other teams did, too, especially the Buffalo Bills.
"What I’ve learned very quickly: The price goes up in free agency when there’s numerous suitors," Lynch said Friday. "There were numerous suitors for him and at some point Kyle (Shanahan) and I said, ‘Wow. This is getting real.’"
The 49ers eventually outbid the competition for Juszczyk by offering him a four-year contract worth as much as $21 million. That's higher than any other fullback in the league and may be a larger sum than what the two of the most prominent NFL tailbacks of the last decade, Adrian Peterson and Jamaal Charles, get on the open market.
Twenty-one million dollars for a position that's fading from the football landscape? Lynch said he and Shanahan got over their sticker shock by noting that Juszczyk (pronounced: YOO-check) won't be used in a traditional manner.
"I forget who coined it, but we said, ‘Let’s not think of him as a fullback. He’s an OW,'" Lynch said. "So, if you see OW, that stands for offensive weapon. We saw an offensive weapon that (can be) used in a number of different capacities and I think that kind of is symbolic of our approach."
That Shanahan and the 49ers had creative ideas for Juszczyk also made his decision easier.
Juszczyk (6-1, 248) was listed as a tight end at Harvard and left the school in sixth place on its all-time receiving list and third in all-time touchdown catches. In reality, he did a little bit of everything in Harvard's wide-open offense. He lined up as a slot receiver on some downs, was an in-line blocker on others. When Harvard was in short-yardage or goal-line situations, Juszczyk was a lead blocker in the backfield.
That versatility fits Shanahan's approach: He wants to be able to throw or run equally well out of the same formations and personnel groups.
"When you have guys that can be used in different roles, that you can use on run and pass (plays), it forces a defense to choose what kind of personnel they want to match up with," Juszczyk said. "… And that can really dictate what advantage the offense has. You want to run against a light box. So if they bring a bunch of DBs out there, you start pounding the ball."
So what did Juszczyk, the NFL's $21-million fullback, study at Harvard?
Economics, of course.