11 Feb Addressing the 49ers Main Issues
With the 2020-2021 season nearing its end, many teams have shocked the league, coming into their own, and many teams have had a disappointing season. One of the teams that had a very disappointing season was the San Francisco 49ers, missing the postseason after being just one year removed from a Super Bowl loss to the Kansas City Chiefs. While the team as a whole saw some regression, the most concerning regression came from the offensive side of the ball. While they dealt with several injuries to key players, any team in the NFL would say there is always room for improvement. This offseason and the upcoming draft could be the turning point for the 49ers, they have done it before after finishing second to last and drafting Nick Bosa, then immediately making a run the next year. While they lost their defensive coordinator, Robert Saleh, to the New York Jets, the 49ers have weapons on both sides of the ball, and with a great head coach in Kyle Shanahan, the 49ers are just a few pieces away from another bounce-back year.
The first position that saw considerable negative regression was at quarterback with Jimmy Garoppolo. Although San Francisco has Garoppolo under contract for at least another two seasons, nobody is safe in today’s NFL especially if they can draft a potential franchise quarterback in the draft or pick up one of the many quarterbacks who will be available through trade or free agency come this offseason. The 49ers head coach, Kyle Shanahan, was asked about Garoppolo, and he mentioned that he would be the starter heading into next season. While Garappolo’s season was hampered by injuries (went 3-3), he wasn’t particularly good in those six games passing for just 182.7 yards per game. Unfortunately, we may have seen Garappolo’s peak in 2019 when the 49ers went 13-3 and Garappolo passed for 3,978 yards and 2 touchdowns.
While Garoppolo’s contract may limit their ability to bring in a veteran quarterback in the offseason, it could be the perfect fit for a rookie quarterback to come in and sit behind Garoppolo and learn for a year or two and when San Francisco can move on from him they will have a young quarterback, who still has a few years on his rookie deal to have a few years of NFL experience under his belt. A few notable early picks sitting behind prominent starters including Phillip Rivers sitting behind Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers sitting behind Brett Farve, and Patrick Mahomes sitting behind Alex Smith.
If the 49ers aim to improve their quarterback position in the upcoming draft at 12th overall, they will have to make a trade to move up. As they sit right now they are looking at the 3rd tier of incoming quarterbacks such as Mac Jones, Trey Lance, or Kyle Trask. A trade up puts them in a position to possibly draft one of the second-tier quarterbacks in Zach Wilson or Justin Fields. With several teams possibly picking up a quarterback in the top 10 of the draft (Jacksonville Jaguars, New York Jets, Atlanta Falcons, Detroit Lions, Carolina Panthers), the 49ers would need to move up in the draft to grab one of the two previously-mentioned quarterbacks. One spot that looks very attainable to trade up would be with the Detroit Lions. The Lions just moved on from Matthew Stafford and acquired Jared Goff and several picks in return, including two future first-round picks. As they sit right now, quarterback is the least of their concerns, and if the 49ers put enough value onto the table, they could be in a spot to acquire that 7th overall pick. Trading up in the draft will most likely happen while the pick is on the clock to make sure you get your guy, even if that requires more value, it is better to give up more value to get your guy than to trade up and miss out.
While acquiring a veteran quarterback via free agency may be a difficult task, it isn’t impossible. Garappolo’s cap hit is only 26.4 million and 27 million, that isn’t a terrible number for a team to take on if they can find a buyer in a trade. Some names that have been rumored to be linked to trade/free agency discussions to San Francisco are headlined by Aaron Rodgers, Kirk Cousins, Ryan Fitzpatrick, and Sam Darnold. While many of those moves, aside from Aaron Rodgers, would appear to be a lateral move from Garoppolo, Kyle Shanahan is an incredible coach who brings up any quarterback with an optimized scheme. A player like Sam Darnold would be a very interesting piece to acquire via trade that may not cost too much. Darnold still has one year left on his rookie deal and has been thrown into one of the worst situations in the league and has been all but written off at this point. If the Jets end up taking a quarterback at number two overall, Shanahan and the 49ers could be a great fit to turn Darnold’s career around. The other name that stands out is the future Hall of Famer, Aaron Rodgers. While this move seems very unlikely, Rodgers has ties to California, the 49ers could right their wrongs when they passed on Rodgers for Alex Smith in 2005.
While quarterback seems to be the hot topic of discussion this offseason, the team could use upgrades all over the field. Some of the major points of concern depending on if certain players were to return this offseason or find a new home would include an additional edge rusher to support Nick Bosa if Dee Ford can’t return to form, cornerback if Richard Sherman walks in free agency, and finally some additional depth at running back as that room continues to be riddled year in and year out with injuries.
There’s speculation the 49ers will move on from Dee Ford this offseason. Ford has been disappointing since San Francisco acquired him from the Kansas City Chiefs for a second-round pick in 2019, then proceeded to sign him to a five-year, $85 million deal to pair him opposite of, then-rookie, pass-rusher Nick Bosa. While Ford was effective while he was on the field with 6.5 sacks during the 49ers’ Super Bowl run, the issue is that he wasn’t on the field nearly enough. In total, Ford has appeared in only 11 regular-season games and saw just 22 percent of all defensive snaps. If Ford can get himself healthy this offseason that would be a huge boost at the position but adding some depth/future replacement for Ford might be a wise course of action for the 49ers.
As things sit today, the 49ers do not have a cornerback under contract for 2021. Emmanuel Moseley and Ahkello Witherspoon have a solid chance to return on cheaper deals. While that would be huge to get those two to return, it isn’t nearly enough to keep up in the NFC West that has arguably the best WR talent in the NFL. K’Waun Williams has turned into arguably their most versatile defender and could step up into a more prominent role come next season. He can cover his receiver, can come up in run support, force turnovers, and is an effective blitzer. However, Williams missed eight games last season, and there is a real chance he leaves in free agency. Then, there is Richard Sherman. He just finished his three-year deal and has the potential to move elsewhere this offseason. Sherman has said himself that while there is a mutual interest, the math might not add up for a return. While the defensive backfield has hope for the future, there simply is not enough depth to last an entire season so it would be wise for San Francisco to look to use at least one early-round pick and add some depth at those positions.
The 49ers have several home run hitters in the running back room with Tevin Coleman, Jerrick McKinnon, Raheem Mostert, and Jeffrey Wilson. They are in danger (said loosely) of losing Tevin Coleman and McKinnon to free agency after lackluster tenures in San Francisco. If they lose both McKinnon and Coleman in free agency they would be left with just three backs with Mostert, Wilson, and Hasty. While having three running backs on the roster is possible to make it through any given season, they are looking like likely candidates to add some running back depth in this upcoming draft and/or free agency to bolster up the running back room.
All in all, the 49ers have had to deal with a lot of adversity throughout this past season, they’ve dealt with a ridiculous amount of injuries and missed the postseason after being just one year removed from the Super Bowl. To top it off they lost their energetic defensive coordinator Robert Saleh. If the 49ers can capitalize on their high draft pick positions and the team can get healthy this offseason, the 49ers may be closer to making it back to the postseason than people give them credit for.