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Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

John Lynch comments on 49ers’ free-agency haul

Mar 23, 2023 at 8:55 AM--

As usual, San Francisco 49ers general manager John Lynch was on hand for Stanford's annual pro day, when the Bay Area school touted its latest crop of aspiring NFL players. Before heading off to San Jose State's pro day, Lynch spoke with the few 49ers reporters attending the event, discussing the team's free-agency moves thus far.

Courting Hargrave

The most significant free-agent addition was former Philadelphia Eagles defensive tackle Javon Hargrave, bolstering the interior of new coordinator Steve Wilks' defensive front.

Lynch and the 49ers set their sights on Hargrave, eventually signing him to a four-year, $84 million deal. Not only does the move add to a defensive line that includes Arik Armstead and NFL Defensive Player of the Year Nick Bosa, but it also steals a significant component from an NFC competitor.

"You don't get much of an opportunity [in free agency] because the window is so defined and short," Lynch told Cam Inman of Bay Area News Group. "When we went, we went really hard. We didn't soft-shoe into it. We went right in there, and let him know our opportunity and vision."

Lynch admits that the 49ers' defensive line had "fallen off a little." That was apparent in the playoffs. Bosa, responsible for a league-leading 18.5 sacks this past season, didn't reach an opposing quarterback in the team's three postseason games.

San Francisco's pursuit surprised Hargrave.

"Sometimes when you're trying to go get the money, you have to go to a team that's in a rebuild mode," Hargrave said last week. "But if you've got a chance to go to a team that was just in the NFC Championship, that's kind of an easy choice for me. So I was real happy about it."

Hargrave added, "They had a lot of talent. And coming out and wanting to be paid, you just don't see a lot of winning teams like this organization come after [someone like] me like that."

Ward replacement

Jimmie Ward reluctantly replaced K'Waun Williams at the nickel cornerback spot this past season. This offseason, Ward left the 49ers to reunite with his former defensive coordinator, Houston Texans head coach DeMeco Ryans.

To replace Ward, the 49ers brought in cornerback Isaiah Oliver, a player who caught the eye of the team's defensive coordinator.

"Steve Wilks really identified him as, for today's football, he's almost the prototype for the nickel back position: bigger, longer athletic, and with all these screens going on, he uses his hands really well," Lynch said.

Oliver is up for the challenge of slipping into the slot on the league's top defense from the 2022 season. Per Pro Football Focus, the cornerback played 77 percent of his 510 defensive snaps at nickel over the past two seasons.

"I definitely felt much more comfortable in there," Oliver said last week. "I felt like I was able to kind of play to my strengths a little more. Just being around the ball, kind of being in the run fit, things like that. I felt real comfortable doing [that], and I like doing a lot. I felt like it was a lot more fun, for sure. So that's something that I definitely kind of grown towards, for sure."

Lynch told Inman that the 49ers like the timing of the Oliver acquisition. The cornerback suffered an ACL injury during Week 4 of the 2021 season. Generally, players don't truly regain their form until the second year after that injury.

"And he's another year off the ACL, which is a really good thing," Lynch said. "Even he was saying, at the end of the season, he finally felt his legs were back. I think we're getting him at the right time."

Lots of homework on Darnold

There is a lot of uncertainty in the 49ers' quarterback room. The former No. 3 overall pick, Trey Lance, is entering his third NFL season and has only started four games. It's tough to offer a fair evaluation of the 22-year-old signal-caller because he still lacks experience, the main criticism surrounding him when he entered the league.

Oh, and he is returning from a season-ending ankle injury. Although, reports indicate that the quarterback is doing well and is still slated to be full-go once the 49ers hit the practice field.

This past season's rookie sensation, Brock Purdy, recently had surgery to repair the tear of the ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) in his right elbow. He isn't expected to be full-go until sometime in September.

San Francisco insulated itself by adding a familiar face—Sam Darnold. He's familiar because the team has done its homework on the quarterback.

"I feel we've studied him forever," Lynch admitted.

The 49ers evaluated Darnold entering the 2018 NFL Draft and again when he was on the trade block in 2021. The New York Jets opted to send him to the Carolina Panthers.

"He kind of was craving what we could provide: a really cool structure on offense that's tailor-made for his skill set," Lynch said. "That's what he bought into. We're excited about Sam."

Darnold doesn't have time to worry about his place on the depth chart. He has a lot of work ahead of him, learning head coach Kyle Shanahan's offense. The quarterback knows everything must be earned.

"I think, for me, it's really coming in here and doing everything that I can to understand the offense," Darnold said last week. "I know I have my work cut out for me when it comes to that. So I think that's just my focus right now, is doing whatever I can to help this team win games when it comes time to do that, whether that's me being the backup or starting. And that's my mindset."

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