The 49ers showed just how far their reputation has fallen when they hired a former player with no personnel experience as general manager.
But there’s one thing that new front office leader John Lynch can do to make his bosses look really smart: nail the quarterback problem on the first try.
If that sounds elementary, that’s because it is. But it’s also not often accomplished.
In the crazy world of professional football, where average careers are shorter than the life of almost all my sneakers, a good quarterback is the difference between 2-14 and 10-6, while a really good quarterback is the difference between the Patriots and everyone else.
Ok, so there’s more to football than just the quarterback. And a team can dominate with mediocre to poor quarterback play, as rare as that is.
Having a squad capable of winning in spite of mediocre play is important to get to the postseason, but a clutch quarterback is almost always necessary to win there.
That’s where Lynch must succeed. By any means.
If Washington doesn’t franchise tag Kirk Cousins, then offer him the moon. Hell, offer him all $80 million the team has in cap space in a front loaded deal. Or at least something that Cleveland can’t compete with.
And by the way, keep Colin Kaepernick if there’s any possible way he’d stick around. There aren’t many better backup options anywhere, and there’s still legitimate hope for reclamation if he is given the right support.
Most general managers live and die by their quarterback.
New Orleans’ Mickey Loomis inherited Aaron Brooks (nobody would fault you for not knowing who that is), until making a power play and trading for Drew Brees in 2006. Never has his job been in jeopardy since.
The rest of the league has been in a rotation.
Looking deeper, though, there’s an even bigger reason that Lynch needs to hit this one on the head, hard, and in his first try.
Quarterbacks that are decent bets to leave the NFL over the next six seasons — the length of Lynch’s deal — are a class of hall of fame candidates: Eli Manning (for his ups and downs, he’s epitomized clutch), Brees, Brady, Philip Rivers, Ben Roethlisberger, Matt Ryan, and Carson Palmer.
Lynch would have an easy time in the event that Washington didn’t keep Cousins with the franchise tag, even though that’s not probable, and perhaps highly unlikely.
He’d have the toughest time in the draft — not just because he was broadcasting when the peak of scouting seasons was underway, and has little familiarity with the college circuit relative to any other general manager — but because there simply isn’t that much talent coming out of college this year, and in the near-future.
Which just compounds the other major problem: Lynch is a rookie in professional personnel evaluation.
The deck is so heavily stacked against him, even when removing the fact that his boss is arguably the NFL’s least competent owners, that Lynch probably won’t succeed.
Then again, that’s the case with anyone hoping to play professional football. It’s also the case with players who find themselves on an NFL roster, and keep it that way for 15 seasons.
Lynch deserves the benefit of the doubt, regardless of how curious the hire is, and even if it signals that nobody currently in the NFL scouting circuit actually wants to work for the 49ers.
What he must now do, is win what could be his toughest game yet. The game where many have tried, and most have failed. The play that makes or breaks a season. He must pull a rabbit out of air, then have it cough hundred dollar bills and defecate gold nuggets.
Beyond Cousins, there’s a chance New England would budge and deal Jimmy Garoppolo for a second round pick, or another compensation package that doesn’t involve a top draft pick. Perhaps the 49ers could bring Zach Mettenberger aboard and see if he can fulfill his potential.
Or Lynch could snag Davis Webb in a later round of this year’s draft, and give him a year or two behind whomever is chosen to start.
However Lynch does it, he must acquire a long-term quarterback whose upside is uncapped. A guy who can take a team to the playoffs, and then begin to catch fire. A player with once in a decade vision and accuracy.
And he must do it in his rookie season of talent evaluation.
Jason Leskiw is SFBay’s Oakland Raiders beat writer and member of the Professional Football Writers of America. Follow @SFBay and @LeskiwSFBay on Twitter and at SFBay.ca for full coverage of Raiders football.