He was once seen as a luxury with all the measurable upside in the world. A fifth rounder turned more than serviceable pass rusher. Aaron Lynch, respective to his depth role with the team that drafted him in the San Francisco 49ers, was a pass rushing dynamo. With 12.5 sacks in his first two professional seasons in 2014 and 2015, the former South Florida product seemed poised to have a very productive NFL career.
Then everything fell apart once Jim Harbaugh was fired as head coach and one of the more prolific eras of 49ers history came to a close. An era that saw San Francisco qualify for three straight NFC Championship games with one Super Bowl appearance.
Ever the respected defensive mind he is as the man who acted as a catalyst for Lynch, Vic Fangio left to become the defensive coordinator of the Bears. Lynch’s playing time and productivity naturally and eventually began to suffer. A PED suspension shortened his 2016 season, he lost favor with 49ers brass, and his motivation wained. San Francisco, of course, slowly became one of the worst teams in the NFL, which didn’t help matters for anyone mired in the muck of a mismanaged organization: Lynch included.
Then head coach Kyle Shanahan took over in 2017 and Lynch was generally phased out for a variety of factors from injury, to reliability and weight issues, to a contrasting franchise vision. After playing in 30 games his first two seasons, Lynch would appear in only 14 over the course of 2016 and 2017 combined. His professional football playing career was at a crossroads.
That is until the Bears and Lynch’s old friend Fangio gave him another chance by taking him on for a one-year deal to play with a Chicago team on the rise. A revitalized Bears team with an aggressive and young head coach in Matt Nagy. A defense on the precipice of elite play that needs players such as Lynch to thrive again in the way that Fangio knows he can. Part of getting back to that level for Lynch is understanding where everything recently went wrong. Lynch, more than anyone, is eager to get past his previous struggles. A change of scenery will do that as he noted in a Friday conference call with Chicago press.
“I was frustrated. Who wouldn’t be?,” said Lynch of his playing time diminishing to close his 49ers career. “But I moved on. I’m happy to start it off right again.”
Lynch didn’t fit into the 49ers plans anymore because they didn’t trust him. And, because they had another ideal in mind for their defense. One that included players they would draft and develop on their own from their regime. Both sides needed a fresh start, but Lynch in particular. There’s nowhere better for him to do that than with the man that gave his career a chance in the first place. That gave him a reputation as a player who can be counted on in pass rushing situations: one of the most valuable skill sets in professional football.
That man being Fangio, who will seek to bring out the best in Lynch, as Lynch knows and expects him to based off of his own work ethic and natural talent.
“It was important for me to come back to a place that was familiar,” said Lynch of deciding his options as a free agent. “Vic (Fangio) was a part of that.”
Bringing Lynch back now on a short team deal isn’t a leap of faith for Fangio and the Bears. They know what he brings to the table. Nor it is a situation that Lynch is uncomfortable with as a player. He knows he needs to prove himself once more, but it shouldn’t be difficult to build himself back up. The Bears know there’s a great degree of talent in him, it just has to come out. This is a short term prospective situation that can pay off with immediate dividends both on and off the field for everyone involved. A place where Lynch can be Lynch again with a coordinator that actively puts him in a position to succeed.
“Vic knows how to get guys in the right place at the right time,” said Lynch of Fangio’s scheming and motivating ability. “He knows how to push your buttons,”
Fangio wouldn’t have coached in the NFL for over 30 years if he didn’t know how to maximize the defensive talent at his disposal. It’s one of the primary marks he’s been praised for in his three seasons with the Bears. It’s the main continuity reason as to why Chicago wanted to bring him back as they seek another step up in consistent elite defensive play for the future with improved talent.
At 25-years-old, Lynch can still factor tremendously into that future provided he allows himself to. Provided the Bears and Fangio can get the best out of a productive pass rusher. It’s why the Bears and Fangio took that chance: they know they need Lynch to flourish.
And it’s why Lynch is eager to prove himself again, because he knows the Bears are in the perfect spot to do so. Because he understands he can’t let Fangio down. Because he wants to play well for his mentor in Fangio.
“You want to impress him. Vic has that type of respect as a coach, that type of vibe,”
Robert Zeglinski is the Bears beat writer for The Rock River Times, an editor for Windy City Gridiron and Inside The Pylon, and is a contributor for Pro Football Weekly and The Athletic Chicago. You can follow him on Twitter @RobertZeglinski.