Kyle Juszczyk felt his phone buzzing in his pocket.
“OK, there’s an 80 percent chance you’re going to the Philadelphia Eagles, a 15 percent chance you’re going to stay with the Baltimore Ravens and a five percent chance that a random team enters the equation,” his agent explained to him.
This was the fullback’s first encounter with NFL free agency. Juszczyk spent the first four years of his career in Baltimore and was coming off of his first Pro Bowl season in 2016. Now he readied himself for a move to Philly.
Then the focus shifted to the Buffalo Bills. A potential move back home to Cleveland also entered the picture as the Browns gained interest.
“It was a whirlwind of emotions,” Juszczyk said. “Literally, every other day, it felt like I was going to be living in a different city.”
The San Francisco 49ers got into the mix two days before the official start of free agency when NFL clubs are allowed to speak with agents. Admittedly, Juszczyk was wary at first with the 49ers coming off of a 2-14 season in 2016. That initial trepidation quickly subsided. Among the California sunshine and the quality of life in the Bay Area, Kyle Shanahan’s offense became another selling point.
“My agent told me about how well I’d fit in Shanahan’s scheme,” Juszczyk said. “He could tell how serious John Lynch was about getting a deal done. That’s when I knew San Francisco was the real deal.”
San Francisco made Juszczyk the highest paid fullback in the NFL, and they introduced their new playmaker at a press conference that featured six other new additions. Brian Hoyer, Pierre Garçon and Marquise Goodwin were among those who joined Juszczyk in the Levi’s® Stadium auditorium.
“This is a completely new team – more than half the roster is turned over, a new head coach, a new GM, everything,” Juszczyk said. “It almost feels like we are the first class when there’s a new head coach at a college and he brings in his recruits.
“We are kind of like those recruits who want to build something. If we do build something special, we will be remembered as that first class.”
Juszczyk and his girlfriend Kristin had a trip already on the books to Anguilla shortly after he signed. They nearly cancelled due to the quick turnaround, but ultimately decided that a celebration was in order.
“You know what? Something great just happened in my life. Let’s reward ourselves a little bit,” Juszczyk recalled the deliberation.
Baltimore Ravens wide receiver Mike Campanaro and his girlfriend joined them on the trip. The week in paradise was spent with morning workouts on the beach and a quick lift followed by good food, rest and relaxation.
The sticker shock of Bay Area properties welcomed Juszczyk back to the States. The fullback told his realtor that he hoped to pay comparable prices to the place he rented in Baltimore. There were no such options.
“That was my first lesson in how expensive things were,” Juszczyk said.
Then came the dilemma of whether to rent or buy. The volatile nature of the NFL makes renting the most logical option for a number of players. It makes it much easier to pack up and move to another city should that become necessary.
But Shanahan just got to San Francisco on a six-year deal. The coach’s job security, in turn, is also Juszczyk’s job security.
“You’re going to be here as long as I’m here,” Shanahan told the fullback. “Just buy the house.”
And so Juszczyk bought a house. The endless paperwork and hassle of applying for a mortgage served a rude awakening to life as a homeowner. Mold turned a one-week project to install new hardwood floors into a three-month headache. The dishwasher needed fixing, they had to order a new garbage disposal and they ended up painting the entire first floor.
“Being an adult is tough, man. It’s really tough,” joked the 26-year-old fullback.
The offseason program went much smoother than Juszczyk’s remodeling projects. The fullback lauded Shanahan for the player-friendly schedule. The coach built in breaks between meetings and made efficient use of allotted practice time. If Shanahan saw legs getting heavy towards the end of a session, he’d cut practice short in order to avoid injuries. The coach also cancelled the final practice of mandatory minicamp for similar reasons.
Instead, Shanahan took the opportunity to plan a family barbeque before players left for summer vacation. Shanahan has made it a point of emphasis for each player’s family to be involved. He encouraged wives and girlfriends to get to know each other and make connections as well.
That leads us to Juszczyk’s Memorial Day Weekend plans. He and Kristin went back East to her hometown of Long Island, N.Y. Kristen’s parents hosted each of their families for the holiday weekend. A Saturday boat ride to Fire Island, a narrow strip of beaches beyond the coastline, provided the perfect backdrop for what Juszczyk had planned.
The families took a walk down the beach before deciding it was time to head back to the boat. Juszczyk slipped off his sandals just before turning around. As everyone reached the boat, the fullback informed his girlfriend that he’d accidentally forgotten them back at the beach. Juszczyk planted a photographer nearby who waited for the couple to return for the sandals. Meanwhile, their family members set up decorations and champagne to celebrate at the boat.
“I got down on one knee, gave my spiel and proposed,” Juszczyk said. “I’d never felt my heart thump like that.”
But Juszczyk had one more surprise up his sleeve. All of the couple’s closest friends – an estimated 50-to-60 people in all – had gathered for an engagement bash back at the house.
“That’s a lot of surprises for one day,” Juszczyk said. “It wasn’t until we got back to the house that I was able to kind of relax.”
Following the offseason program, they went back abroad for a two-week European excursion. The engaged couple went to three different cities in Croatia (Split, Hvar and Dubrovnik) and four cities in Greece (Athens, Mykonos, Santorini and Paros).
A new city, a new home, a fiancé and several breathtaking trips in between – not a bad six months for Juszczyk. The fullback returned to the Bay Area two weeks before the start of training camp, and it was back to business.
“Once I got back here and saw some of the guys, that’s when the switch flipped,” Juszczyk. “We are pumped to start building something.”