TAMPA — John Lynch, the Bucs great, the franchise’s all-in avatar, who with Warren Sapp and Derrick Brooks formed the Super Bowl-winning triumvirate of one of the great defenses in NFL history, remains an all-time nice guy.
So, Lynch nicely asked for a favor.
“Go easy on this,” he said. “We’re only 5-0. We haven’t done anything yet.”
That’s the word from the third-year general manager of the surprising San Francisco 49ers, the NFC’s only undefeated team. Lynch’s club began the season by beating the Bucs in Tampa. Last Sunday, the 49ers went to Los Angeles and topped the Rams. Lynch shook every 49ers hand as they entered the winning locker room.
“There’s still nothing like being part of a team, even if you can’t hit anybody,” Lynch said with a laugh.
It is the team Lynch built, the one coached by Kyle Shanahan, whose father, Mike, coached Lynch in Denver, the team quarterbacked by Jimmy Garoppolo, who has returned after a knee injury, the one sprinkled with smart draft picks and veterans, with wise free-agent choices. It was just a matter of putting it together.
And it began to come together with the win in Tampa.
“We didn’t win any road games last year,” Lynch said. “Our guys showed a lot of grit and perseverance. We knew we had some depth and talent, but that was a great way to start the season and we’ve gone from there.”
And to think even some smart NFL observers dismissed Lynch as GM material when he left the TV broadcast booth before the 2017 season. He had no front-office experience. After going 6-10 in 2017, San Francisco went 4-12 last season as Garoppolo went down with a knee injury. Lynch heard the doubters.
“I knew that would be the case,” Lynch said. “My parents always told me people are always going to think what they think. Just believe in yourself and do your best. My career even, I didn’t have success year one, I didn’t have success year two, but year three, things started going well. The same thing in broadcasting. It wasn’t like I went to the top team right away, but by the end of it, I was knocking on the door.”
Lynch’s vision for the 49ers didn’t include chasing quarterbacks in the draft. He traded for Garoppolo, who was giving Tom Brady the itches as a backup in New England. Lynch then gave Garoppolo the biggest annual contract in league history at the time. People howled.
“We took heat for that, but we felt that the quarterback market was about to take a big leap, and it has,” Lynch said. “I think Jimmy has gone from being the highest paid to I think he’s the 11th or 12th highest-paid quarterback now. But there are people who say ‘Hey, dummy, you passed up on drafting Mahomes and Deshaun Watson.’ ”
Drawing on his playing days in Tampa, Lynch built up San Francisco’s defense. There are five first-round picks rotating on the 49ers defensive line, including Nick Bosa, the second overall pick in the 2019 draft, and Dee Ford, who San Francisco brought over from Kansas City.
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San Francisco has made some major draft finds, like tight end George Kittle (fifth round), defensive back Fred Warner (third round) and come up with nuggets like free agent runner Matt Breida of Spring Hill.
Perhaps the 49ers’ biggest get came before last season when it signed cornerback Richard Sherman. Sherman, who won a Super Bowl with Seattle, appeared at his introductory news conference in San Francisco on crutches, as he was recovering from a ruptured Achilles. Again, Lynch leaned on his own career experiences, namely overcoming neck problems after the Bucs dumped him in 2004 to become a four-time Pro Bowler for Denver.
Sherman has delivered. He returned an interception for a TD in Tampa to start the season.
“We took a big-time gamble with Richard, but we had a big-time need,” Lynch said. “We needed some legitimacy, some championship pedigree. A guy like that, as prideful as he is, you bet on him. When everyone thinks you’re done, and you have a prideful guy, he’s going to have a big chip on his shoulder.”
And there is Lynch signing former Bucs linebacker Kwon Alexander, despite Alexander was coming off an ACL injury.
“Kwon has been a tremendous addition,” Lynch said. “He was coming off an ACL, but to his credit, he’s come back and he’s playing outstanding football for us. He flies around, he hits people.”
Good thing Alexander is there, as he takes up for the troubled Reuben Foster, who Lynch selected in the 2018 draft. Go back to that 2018 game in Tampa, the day before. Foster was arrested on charges of domestic violence. The 49ers cut him.
Lynch is learning as he goes. Learning to bury the past, even how it ended in Tampa. In his work on NFL committees, Lynch has teamed with Washington GM Bruce Allen, once a heavy as Bucs GM. There’s hope yet for President Trump and Adam Schiff.
Lynch has still not cracked Canton and the Hall. He was a finalist in January, but again fell short.
Lynch said, “Is it disappointing? Sure. It’s tested my mettle. I really do feel I belong. But I’m not sitting up at night. What I do now keeps me busy. It’s all in, I tell you that. It never stops. … It’s such a proud place. Working here. I walk by five (Super Bowl) trophies every day. The motivation to get us back to that is truly powerful.”
“But we’re 5-0. That’s all. We’re just trying to find another win.”
Contact Martin Fennelly at email@example.com or (813) 731-8029. Follow @mjfennelly