San Francisco 49ers’ general manager John Lynch is a Hall-of-Fame candidate, a four-time finalist who was among 10 finalists each of the past two years. But in his first draft as a GM, he looked more like a Hall-of-Fame executive — with two first-round deals that netted the 49ers Solomon Thomas, Reuben Foster and multiple draft choices.
The surprise there was the acquisition of Foster, the Butkus Award winner and a top-1o projection who fell in the draft because of concerns about a shoulder injury and character. Foster not only was dismissed from the annual NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis after he quarreled with a hospital worker; he tested positive for a diluted urine sample, too.
And it was that combination that contributed to a Draft Day free-fall, with Foster plummeting through the first round before San Francisco traded up to rescue him with the 31st choice.
Now the question: Were the 49ers as concerned as others about potential character issues? And, if not, why not?
“When I was first asked that in the press conference in San Fran,” Lynch said on the latest Talk of Fame Network broadcast, “I said, ‘Well, I would tell you that Reuben’s character is what drew me to him.’ He’s a guy who can ignite a room with his excitement, with his passion.
“The kid hasn’t been in trouble much. He’s been around some bad things that have happened. He did have the situation at the combine. We talked with Reuben about that, being sent home, and he was apologetic for that — both to the gentlemen at the combine, publicly, and to us.
“There was a diluted test at the combine, as well, something (that) after a conversation we got comfortable with. We understand, like all our players, we’re going to have to put a support system … a structure … around Reuben, but we feel like his character is really one of his strong traits.
“He hasn’t been in trouble at Alabama. He’s a tremendous player sideline to sideline, and he will hit anything that moves … really, my kind of guy and, I think, a real special player.”
Actually, it appears that Foster’s character may be the lesser concern, with coach Kyle Shanahan last week saying he couldn’t rule out a “worst-case scenario” this season — one where Foster could be lost for the year — because he may require another surgery to fix a torn rotator cuff.
Nevertheless, the 49ers seem delighted to have him — with Lynch calling him “one of my favorite players in this draft.” In reality, he never envisioned having a chance to acquire him, believing Foster might drop to the 9th or 10th spot because of the shoulder injury.
And he was right. But when he continued to fall, Lynch moved quickly — choosing him with the 31st choice, gained in a trade with Seattle.
“It wasn’t really a need for us, that stack linebacker position,” said Lynch, “but I think when you have a player of his talents you don’t worry about need. You just try like heck to get him. And we were fortunate to be able to do that.”