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Kyle Shanahan's interest in Pierre Garcon went beyond familiarity

SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- As San Francisco 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan and general manager John Lynch stacked their board of top available players heading into free agency, one name stood above the rest.

It wasn't hard to draw the connection between Shanahan and then-Washington receiver Pierre Garcon after the two worked together in the nation's capital. Familiarity wasn't the only reason that Garcon was at the top of Shanahan's wish list.

Speaking at the NFL league meetings in Phoenix last week, Shanahan offered additional insight into why he wanted to make Garcon one of the cornerstones of the team's rebuilding efforts.

"Everyone knows Pierre's a good player," Shanahan said. "Everyone can see that on tape. I've always loved Pierre just because of how angry he plays. He gives you his all, he plays extremely aggressive. The best leaders are the guys who lead by example. Pierre's not going to say much but you know he's going to go out there and fight every single play no matter what the situation is, whether it's run or pass. That elevates everyone around him."

While Garcon is still undoubtedly a productive receiver -- he had his second career 1,000-yard receiving season in 2016 -- he's also going to be 31 when the 2017 season begins. While that doesn't mean he's on the doorstep of retirement, it did raise questions about why San Francisco wouldn't invest heavily in players who figured to be around longer.

Shanahan doesn't see it that way and said the tape showed a player still capable of producing for the foreseeable future.

"Because he's playing at a high level," Shanahan said. "You look at all the free agents available, you study every single one of them. I didn't go into free agency saying we need Pierre because I've coached him before. You go into free agency and you study all the free agents who are available and then you stack them and see who can help you team the most. Pierre was at the top of that list. Also knowing him made me feel better about that because you know exactly what you're getting. But it all starts with the tape. It was very encouraging to turn on the tape and watch the level Pierre is still playing at. When you see that on tape and you also know the type of guy [he is]. I was very excited to get him."

That's not to say that Garcon's ties to Shanahan weren't a factor. Beyond his ability to play, there's little doubt that Garcon will be expected to provide leadership for a young locker room in need of help in that regard. That Garcon is well-versed in Shanahan's offense should only help in that regard.

"It helps a lot," Shanahan said. "It's a relationship business also. We got to get to know these guys and it's also good when the guys know you too. Everyone talks about getting to know the players but it also makes it easier when the players know your style and how you are and it makes it easier to work with guys. Pierre is a guy you can be yourself with. I know what I'm getting and he knows what he's getting and I think that helps you bring out the best in each other."