SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- Among the endless scuttlebutt that comes with NFL draft weekend was a rumor that cropped up Friday indicating the San Francisco 49ers were shopping starting tight end Vance McDonald. As it turned out, it wasn't just a rumor.
Niners general manager John Lynch and coach Kyle Shanahan acknowledged Saturday afternoon that they had indeed had conversations about dealing McDonald but nothing they liked materialized.
"I think that’s the reality of new regimes coming in, new schemes," Lynch said. "That’s not to say that he can’t fit into our scheme. Frankly, we received some interest from some other people and then we did explore some options throughout the league with Vance and nothing ended up happening. So, Vance will come back and have an opportunity to compete. That’s where that stands.”
Shanahan and Lynch have made it clear since arriving in the Bay Area that they would be as up front with players as possible, so they wanted to make sure McDonald knew that his name was coming up in trade talks. To their credit, Lynch and Shanahan have thus far offered similar transparency with the media and weren't afraid to discuss how such conversations came about and how they approach it with McDonald.
On Friday, Shanahan attempted to call McDonald to talk to him about it but McDonald was attending his brother's wedding. Shanahan left a lengthy message and McDonald texted him back on Saturday morning. Shanahan said he anticipated talking to McDonald in person in the next couple of days but offered further explanation on why the Niners were willing to make a move with McDonald and, apparently, other veterans on the roster.
"We took over a 2-14 team and we need to get better in every aspect and we’re going to try to in every aspect," Shanahan said. "It was true with Vance, but it wasn’t just Vance. We weren’t doing Vance just specifically. We’re trying any way possible to improve our team. We did it with Vance the most because a lot of people are interested in Vance. But we were ready to do that with anybody. We’ll listen to that always and try to improve our team in any way we can because we have a lot of work to do. If we don’t think it will improve our team, then we’re going to do what’s best for the organization and I think our players will respect that. We’ll be upfront with that, but that’s exactly what it was about, just taking over a 2-14 team and we need to get better. It started in free agency, then went to the draft these last few days. We’ll always be looking to improve.”
Of course, such transparency also has the potential to create friction between the team and player if a trade doesn't work out. But Lynch and Shanahan also said they believe further conversations can ease such concerns.
"Our big deal, Kyle and I, is just that we were always going to be upfront with players, because I know from my experience in this league, so long as people are upfront and tell you what they’re doing and why they’re doing it," Lynch said. "Guys understand that this is a business. And so, that’s something we’ve committed to do and will continue to do. I think as long as you operate as such, players will understand.”
The Niners signed McDonald to a five-year contract extension near the end of last season but that deal wasn't put together by the current regime. As Shanahan and Lynch explained it, where McDonald fits in Shanahan's offense might not have been how the Niners envisioned him fitting under previous coach Chip Kelly. McDonald is coming off his best NFL season, posting 24 catches for 391 yards and four touchdowns.
But McDonald has never played a full 16-game season and has struggled with drops in his four-year career. The 49ers drafted Iowa tight end George Kittle in the fifth round Saturday and signed Logan Paulsen in the offseason. Shanahan's offense favors versatile tight ends who can do a little bit of everything.
"We don’t feel all the answers are here right now," Shanahan said. "We’ve got a lot of work to do and we need to improve it every way possible and we’re going to do that. You do that from an organization standpoint, how can we improve the building, how can we improve the coaching staff, how can we improve the personnel department, how can we improve the players."
Still, Shanahan expressed confidence that McDonald understood why the Niners at least explored trading him. Lynch wouldn't rule out a deal materializing but for now it seems McDonald will be welcomed back.
“We want Vance here," Shanahan said. "All the guys we have here, we want here until you can get better. I try to give an analogy. If someone called and offered to give the Niners [New England Patriots QB] Tom Brady, but I had to go, they should listen to that. I wouldn’t be offended. I would get that. You explore all avenues to improve your team and that’s nothing more than that.”