John Lynch: Don’t rule out Brandon Staley for 49ers’ defensive coordinator opening

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INDIANAPOLIS — The San Francisco 49ers’ search for their next defensive coordinator has included inside and outside candidates so far with Kyle Shanahan set to conduct more interviews this week.

General manager John Lynch on Tuesday confirmed the team already has spoken with former Los Angeles Chargers head coach Brandon Staley and an internal candidate, nickel backs coach Nick Sorensen, and that Shanahan will talk with defensive backs coach Daniel Bullocks later this week. Shanahan has remained in the Bay Area this week while Lynch traveled to Indianapolis for the NFL Scouting Combine.

The 49ers also must interview two external, minority candidates to comply with the NFL’s Rooney Rule and neither has taken place yet. The scuttlebutt in Indianapolis, meanwhile, has been that the team had keen interest in New York Jets defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich, who is from the South Bay, who has coached alongside Shanahan in the past and who played for the 49ers from 2000 to 2009. Lynch noted that Ulbrich is under contract with New York and that no formal request has been made to interview him.

At several points on Tuesday, Lynch said the 49ers wouldn’t stray far from their core defensive principles.

“We like who we are, what we do as a defense,” he said. “I don’t think we want to have some wholesale departure from that. I know we don’t. We like the style that we play — four-down front that attacks.”

That sentiment seems to point to the team hiring someone from within — Sorensen or Bullock — and not an outsider like Staley. Not only has Staley used a 3-4 defensive front in the past, his system is known for its complexity while the 49ers’ is predicated on its simplicity.

Lynch, however, cautioned against ruling out Staley. He said the 49ers will keep an open mind and he noted that Staley’s system is so variable that it had room for a 4-3 front that the team has used in the past. He also said he and Shanahan will use the interview process to come up with new ideas for the defense and noted that the Wide 9 system the 49ers use now was not part of the team’s original scheme but that the 49ers figured out how to implement it and it’s been a success. That is, he said it’s possible to stick with core principles while still evolving.

“A lot of times these ideas come up in these interviews,” he said. “Perhaps there’s a candidate out there that blows us away. If anything, we’ll learn a lot from that person. You never know.”

Other items from Lynch’s session in Indianapolis:

• Lynch was a bit more forceful than he was two weeks ago when discussing efforts to sign receiver Brandon Aiyuk to a multiyear contract extension. He seemed more cautious when asked about Aiyuk on Feb. 13, which led to all sorts of speculation the team could trade their top receiver.

On Tuesday, however, he sounded more like he did in previous years when asked about players like George Kittle, Fred Warner or Nick Bosa, all of whom were rewarded with multiyear contracts. He said that Aiyuk is someone  “we want to keep around for a long time.”

“Brandon’s a tremendous football player,” he continued. “He’s a home-grown guy. We like to reward those guys.”


John Lynch on 49ers receiver Brandon Aiyuk: “He’s a home-grown guy. We like to reward those guys.” (Kyle Terada / USA Today)

• It turns out that Aiyuk’s isn’t the only wide receiver deal the team will consider this offseason. Lynch said the team also is eying an extension for Jauan Jennings, who will be a restricted free agent next month.

“There may be an opportunity to do that. Just have to see where that goes,” he said. “If we can kind of come to an agreement there.”

If no deal is struck, the 49ers will place a restricted free agent tender amount on Jennings, which would allow the 49ers to match any offers he receives from other teams and perhaps compensate the team with a draft pick if he signs elsewhere. Those tender amounts:

  • Right of first refusal only: One year, $2.99 million
  • Right of first refusal and original-round (seventh) compensation: One year, $3.12 million
  • Right of first refusal and second-round compensation: One year, $4.9 million
  • Right of first refusal and first-round compensation: One year, $6.82 million

• As he hinted earlier this month, Lynch said the 49ers will adjust to former assistant general manager Adam Peters’ departure by promoting Tariq Ahmad and RJ Gillen. Both will have the title of director of player personnel. Ahmad, who’d been the team’s director of college scouting, might have a larger role in the upcoming draft, but the two will be listed equally under Lynch in the front office flow chart.

“Might there be a couple more things to come?” Lynch said. “Probably after the draft. … But I’m really excited for those guys. They’ve both been integral parts of who we’ve been as an organization. I think it’s very natural. I love promoting from within because I think it shows young folks that if they start, say, as a scouting assistant there’s a path for them to get where they want to get.”

• Earlier in the week, the 49ers released nickel cornerback Isaiah Oliver, which saved $2.4 million in salary cap space.

The 49ers think 2023 draft pick Darrell Luter Jr. could compete for a prominent role in the upcoming season, which would allow Deommodore Lenoir to become a full-time nickel cornerback. It’s also a position the 49ers will look at in free agency and the draft.

“He’s a guy we like — obviously along with (Charvarius Ward) and Deommodore,” Lynch said of Luter. “But I would say that’s a position you have to address every year. You just can’t have enough of ’em. And I think we’ll continue to do that.”

• Lynch said veteran offensive lineman Jon Feliciano, who took over at right guard midway through the season and who is due to become a free agent next month, is someone the team would like to have back.

What about a splashier signing? The 49ers landed a pair of prominent players, Ward and defensive tackle Javon Hargrave, early in free agency the last two years. Is the team planning something similar this year?

“I don’t know. I don’t know,” Lynch said, a big smile on his face. “It’s still very much a fluid thing. Like I said, we’re gathering a ton of information. And we’ll get back and we’ll put it into motion.”

• Lynch said team surgeon Tim McAdams repaired the torn Achilles tendon linebacker Dre Greenlaw suffered in the Super Bowl. McAdams has had success with Achilles tears in the past, including receiver Michael Crabtree’s in 2013. Crabtree tore his Achilles during a May OTA practice and was able to return to practice in late November and played from December onward.

“Your heart goes out for Dre,” Lynch said. “Because he put so much into it. He lives for the big moments. And to not be able to compete in the (second quarter), it killed him and it hurts us. Because he’s a great player.”

go-deeper

GO DEEPER

Dre Greenlaw’s injury encapsulated the anguish inside the 49ers’ locker room

• There was a “Big Dom” sighting Tuesday. Dom DiSandro, who famously got into a sideline scrap with Greenlaw during the 49ers’ visit to Philadelphia on Dec. 3, was stationed next to Lynch’s podium at the combine because the Eagles’ officials were speaking at a podium just a few feet away.

Both Greenlaw and DiSandro had to leave the game following the sideline encounter and the Eagles security chief was later fined $100,000. There also was noticeable contact when Lynch arrived Tuesday — he and DiSandro shook hands and a had a bro hug.

“We’re all good, we’re all good,” Lynch said as his session began. “I’ve known him for a while. Good dude.”

(Top photo of Brandon Staley: Kyle Terada / USA Today)





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Alexandra Williams
Alexandra Williams
Alexandra Williams is a writer and editor. Angeles. She writes about politics, art, and culture for LinkDaddy News.

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