John Lynch at the NFL owners’ meetings: 10 things we learned about 49ers’ plans


ORLANDO, Fla. — The ongoing NFL owners’ meetings saw general manager John Lynch speak publicly for the first time since the San Francisco 49ers unleashed a flurry of March transactions, including the release of defensive lineman Arik Armstead and the addition of 10 outside free agents.

This month has also featured brewing contract drama regarding receiver Brandon Aiyuk and an unusual twist, which came when the NFL — citing salary-cap infractions — stripped the 49ers of a fifth-round draft pick in 2025.

Lynch, speaking over 30 minutes Monday afternoon with a small group of local reporters, covered the full gamut of this month’s happenings, all while setting the table for what lies next in April’s NFL Draft. Here’s the rundown.

1. Lynch said that the 49ers and Armstead worked hard to find an amenable solution to keep the team’s longest-tenured player around. But the defensive tackle’s scheduled 2024 pay of over $18 million was too much for the 49ers’ crowded salary-cap situation — especially considering the 13 games Armstead had missed over the past two seasons.

“At his number, we had to adjust it,” Lynch said. “Arik bet on himself. And I think he made a good call because his market was there.”

The Jacksonville Jaguars awarded Armstead, whose deal with the 49ers was set to expire after 2024, a three-year contract worth $43.5 million — $28 million of which is fully guaranteed. He can earn up to $14.5 million in 2024 with $14 million more in fully-guaranteed money rolling in next season.

That was significantly more than the 49ers were willing to commit. To replace Armstead, they traded with the Houston Texans for defensive tackle Maliek Collins, who’ll cost them only $8.47 million this season.

Lynch views Collins as a plug-and-play fit because much of Houston’s coaching staff, which was recently with the 49ers, ran a similar defense in 2023.

“It’s not a projection,” Lynch said. “He just played in our system last year with DeMeco (Ryans) at a high level. We just like the fit with us.”

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2. The 49ers view the roughly $10 million they saved in moving on from Armstead to be key in their bid to extend wide receiver Brandon Aiyuk, who’s eligible for an extension. Aiyuk is under contract for 2024 at the fifth-year option rate of $14.1 million, but both sides appear at least interested in making a longer-term pact.

Lynch said, contrary to media rumblings over the past week, the 49ers haven’t engaged in trade talks regarding Aiyuk. He also said the team would lean into its track record of successfully extending several homegrown players.

“I don’t think anything that’s worth it is ever easy,” Lynch said. “Brandon is special to me. He’s special to Kyle (Shanahan). He’s a special part of the team. … We’re going to strive to make that happen. Will it be difficult? I’m sure it will be. But we’ve done a good job of that.”

Lynch said the 49ers are willing to let Aiyuk play 2024 on the fifth-year option if acceptable terms are not reached.

“We’re trying to talk about some parameters of things,” Lynch said. “We’re having discussions. That’s a good thing.

“There’s no doubt that because we’ve been aggressive so much, there’s some realities that we are going to be faced with moving forward. You just can’t have everybody. But Brandon is somebody that we’d love to keep around.”

Shortly after Lynch spoke, Aiyuk posted an Instagram story, seemingly expressing displeasure with the situation. That can be construed as a sign that talks with the receiver are still in their relative infancy. Remember the 49ers did not reach agreements with receiver Deebo Samuel and edge rusher Nick Bosa until very late in each of the past two offseasons — roughly five months after this point.

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“I thought (Gross-Matos’ agent) handled it like a house in Los Altos,” Lynch said, laughing. “He priced it low, then he got the whole league interested and then everybody (got in on the bidding). Yetur was the guy that we signed that we had the most people in the league say, ‘Man, we were in on him.’ A lot of guys were after him.”

Gross-Matos has only 13 sacks through his first four seasons in the league (Floyd, in comparison, has notched 39 1/2 sacks in that span), but the 49ers believe the 6-5, 265-pounder is much better suited for a versatile role in their 4-3 alignment than he was in a 3-4 for the Carolina Panthers.

“He’s a long, skilled athlete,” Lynch said. “We’ve been at our best when we’ve had one of those guys — Charles Omenihu, Arden Key — that can play outside and slide down (in passing situations).”

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The 49ers think Yetur Gross-Matos’ versatility will be a great fit in their defense. (Bob Donnan / USA Today)

4. Lynch said the 49ers’ affinity for new linebacker De’Vondre Campbell, who earned All-Pro honors with the Green Bay Packers in 2021, can be traced to Shanahan’s time as the offensive coordinator of the Atlanta Falcons. They drafted Campbell in 2016, Shanahan’s final season in Atlanta, and Lynch said the coach has been a fan ever since.

The GM spoke personally to cornerback Isaac Yiadom, whom the 49ers signed after he delivered a career year featuring 14 pass breakups for the New Orleans Saints in 2023.

“I just asked him, ‘What clicked?’” Lynch said. “Because it’d never happened for him on defense as consistently as last year.”

During a playing career that eventually landed him in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, Lynch did not become a full-time starter until Year 3. He remembered that during his conversation with Yiadom.

“It was a mindset: Stop doubting yourself and let’s go,” Lynch said. “(Yiadom) was able to find that belief last year.”

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5. Lynch said Yiadom will compete with Ambry Thomas, Darrell Luter Jr. and Samuel Womack III at outside cornerback. An impressive performance from any one of that trio can make the 49ers breathe easier about moving Deommodore Lenoir to nickelback on passing downs.

Special teams are clearly a big focus point for the 49ers, who finished No. 25 DVOA in that phase last season. Lynch praised the special-teams play of Yiadom and two other signees, DB Chase Lucas and linebacker Ezekiel Turner.

6. Cornerback Charvarius Ward and tight end George Kittle underwent core muscle surgeries to alleviate pain they’d played through in 2023. Lynch said both stars should be ready for training camp. Tight end Cameron Latu, who missed his rookie season after undergoing knee surgery, will be ready for the offseason program.

Lynch said safety Talanoa Hufanga, who tore his ACL in November, is also progressing well through his rehab. There seems to be a much better chance that Hufanga is back for Week 1 than linebacker Dre Greenlaw, who tore his Achilles in the Super Bowl.

“He’ll tell you he’s going to be back Week 1, but we have to be smart,” Lynch said. “That may be a PUP situation. De’Vondre gives us an opportunity to fill in for Dre if he’s not there.”

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George Kittle had core muscle surgery to alleviate pain he experienced during the 2023 season. (Kyle Terada / USA Today)

7. The 49ers reportedly hosted veteran safeties Rayshawn Jenkins and Julian Blackmon on free-agent visits this month, but they’ve yet to make a move there.

“The safety market took a beating,” Lynch said. “It took years to get the guys to where they were being compensated. A bunch of them got cut, so a bunch of great players are out there. It’d be foolish of us to not take a look.”

Lynch also said the 49ers might be able to re-sign safety Tashaun Gipson Sr., who’ll be 34 next season. But the veteran’s intent to continue playing remains murky at this point.

“I won’t speak for him, but we’ve had good discussions,” Lynch said. “I know that he’s still playing at a high level.”

8. What was the salary-cap error that led the NFL to bump the 49ers down four spots in the fourth round of the 2024 draft and strip them of a fifth-round pick in 2025?

Lynch said the 49ers overpaid an unspecified player by $75,000 during the pandemic era.

“It was a clerical error — there was a new system in place,” Lynch said. “We own our part. We went through a whole mitigation issue. But the league decided to impose that, so you take your medicine and move on.”

Lynch said the 49ers initially tried to recoup the $75,000 instead of reporting it to the NFL.

“That’s where our culpability was,” he said. “So we’ve learned from that.”

9. New assistant head coach Brandon Staley has been an active participant in the 49ers’ free agency process.

“He was very sharp in the personnel side of free-agent meetings,” Lynch said. “He had some great takes and opinions.”

Staley is very familiar with Floyd, whom he coached with the Chicago Bears and the Los Angeles Rams. He also overlapped with Yiadom on the Denver Broncos in 2019.

As far as game planning, Lynch stressed that the 49ers hired Staley — the former Los Angeles Chargers head coach and disciple of defensive guru Vic Fangio — to further diversify their defense.

“(New defensive coordinator) Nick Sorensen had a great vision for how we can get back to our style of defense, but we also wanted to evolve,” Lynch said. “Brandon allows us to keep adding layers to what we do without compromising the integrity of who we are. Brandon is a really intelligent guy.”

10. Fullback Kyle Juszczyk took a $1.75 million pay cut this month to help the 49ers reach cap compliance. Following the departure of Armstead, he’s now the longest-tenured 49ers player.

Juszczyk is at this league meeting, thanks to the work of his wife, Kristin Juszczyk, who recently scored an NFL licensing deal to use the league’s logos on her clothing designs.

“I was giving him a hard time that he’s here as his wife’s guest,” Lynch said with a laugh. “He’s such a good guy and he’s so good to Kristin, so proud of her. But we did give him a hard time about him being the plus-one.”

(Top photo: Phelan M. Ebenhack / Associated Press)





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