Going into their first draft under new management, the 49ers are becoming the league leaders in trial balloons. That means John Lynch, the new head of that management team, either has the drafting business nailed or is failing at the oldest draft trick in the book.
How these 11th-hour reports affect what the 49ers and the rest of the NFL do this weekend won’t make or break Lynch’s general manager tenure, certainly not this early. But they do give a peek into how he, in his first try at any aspect of this job, handles this position.
This isn’t the first time a pre-draft report leaked about who a team wanted to take, like the NFL Network report Monday that the 49ers might now, at the last second, take a quarterback second overall. Nor is it the first time a report like that has followed another report that the team is open to trading the pick.
Who wouldn’t take either report seriously after last season, when the top two teams traded their picks to teams that wanted quarterbacks? (And quarterbacks who didn’t begin draft season as the top prospects, at that.)
The Titans and Browns, respectively, pulled it off. They were both at rock bottom and with new general managers in charge.
Also, at least one, the Browns, have gotten roasted ever since for passing on a potential franchise quarterback. They’re the only team picking ahead of the 49ers on Thursday, so maybe they did the right thing, and maybe they didn’t. Sashi Brown’s rep is already riding on the wisdom of that deal.
On the other hand, the Titans (two weeks in advance) and Browns (one week) both made their moves well before last year’s draft. The 49ers and Lynch are playing this right up to the end. He was asked point-blank about it Monday afternoon in the team’s final pre-draft press conference — well, fairly point-blank; the actual question was whether the source of the quarterback report was inside the organization.
Lynch, eventually, said no: “I know that — I don’t know obviously — but like I said, I think the discipline out of this building’s been excellent. And so, I think that’s what (the reports) are, they’re assumptions … I don’t know who those sources are because there’s only a few people that know, and so we feel real good about that.”
As for the actual speculation itself — that they’ll either deal out of the No. 2 spot or go after their franchise quarterback — Lynch said what any GM would say, whether he’s been on the job for three months or 30 years.
"I’ve been very transparent from the beginning that we’ll listen," he said. “I think that will always be the case and it certainly is. We’re going to listen right up until draft day."
Everybody, of course, knows time is running out. So far, there isn’t as much thirst for the Mitchell Trubiskys and Deshaun Watsons as there was for Jared Goff and Carson Wentz. There always is extreme thirst for quarterbacks, though, and Lynch would be crazy not to try to capitalize on it.
But any decision the 49ers make has tremendous potential to blow up in their faces, and the fallout to fall all over Lynch.
Given everything the 49ers did to bring in Lynch, and what’s being asked of him, his first draft — and his first pick — can’t get much bigger.
The lures, ploys and misdirections have to be big, too. For his sake, he needs a hit, not a miss.