Image Credit: Andrew Giesemann
Going into their third off-season together, this is one spring and summer that John Lynch and Kyle Shanahan have to knock out of the park. Usually when talking about free agency and drafts, the general manager takes the heat, but Shanahan and Lynch will forever be linked together after the way they were hired (Shanahan first, then Lynch) and how they have successfully put forward a collective front on all topics, never outreaching the other, and always taking blame when blame is to be taken.
49er fans have not been the happiest with the past two off-seasons the duo have put together, even though when looking unemotionally at the franchise, it is easy to see a consistent plan that has been put forward to create not just a one-year wonder, but a team built to succeed for a decade or more. Fans are growing impatient though, and this off-season must precede a successful regular and post season. Twitter general managers and casual fans alike have been predicting an off-season where the 49ers add Antonio Brown via trade, Earl Thomas, Landon Collins, DeMarcus Lawrence, Tevon Coleman, and Jadaveon Clowney in free agency, and then adding Nick Bosa at the number two draft pick.
All of that could happen, although I don’t see Lawrence or Clowney hitting free agency and signing both would be unneeded. There are a lot of people out there talking about the great off-season the 49ers are going to have, but what if they don’t. What is the worst case scenario for the Lynch- and Shanahan-led franchise?
Their Own Free Agents
There are only three of the 49ers own free agents who would really hurt the team if they didn’t re-sign. Two weeks ago I wrote an article summing up who is probably going to stay and who might not – give it a read if you are unaware of all of the 49ers’ free agents. Elijah Lee, who finished the season out starting and playing very well at linebacker, is a restricted free agent, meaning he is coming back and doesn’t have a choice on the matter unless he retires. The other two key pending free agents, Robbie Gould and Mike Person, are players who could possibly see big dollar signs on the free agent market. Gould has even gone as far as innocent flirting (like that exists) with the Chicago Bears fan base. Mike Person is a journeyman who started all 16 games at right guard in 2018. Worst case with these two players is that Gould gets franchise tagged at $5 million dollars and Person signs elsewhere. That would leave Joshua Garnett as the early favorite to start at right guard, unless the 49ers sign a free agent.
Other Team’s Free Agents
Lynch and Shanahan have said that they believe Santa Clara is a wanted destination within the NFL free agent community. Last off-season, the fans didn’t agree, complaining that Lynch didn’t make any big name “splash” free agent signings. Edge rusher is the spot most talked about, and it seems that Lynch and Shanahan looked at this year’s off-season as the right time to cash in big. But what if none of the big name free agents actually make it to free agency? The big names in free agency for edge rushers are Lawrence, Clowney, Dee Ford, Dante Fowler Jr., Brandon Graham, Cameron Wake, Frank Clark, Trey Flowers, and Ezekiel Ansah. Some of those players deserve huge contracts, and it is likely that Ford, Lawrence, Clowney, and Fowler either re-sign with their respective teams or are franchise tagged. If none of these top flight edge rushers reach free agency, the 49ers will be forced to either go after the top of the second tier with someone like Preston Smith or not sign an edge player in free agency all together and hope to pick up an elite edge player in the draft.
The other prize fans hope to see in free agency is Thomas. He is the man who many see would make the 49ers defense elite. Thomas has also openly stated that he would like to play for the Dallas Cowboys. If Richard Sherman and the 49ers aren’t able to talk Thomas into moving a few hundred miles south and playing against Pete Carroll twice a year, there are other options in free agency for strong safety. The 49ers still have Jaquiski Tartt, and Adrian Colbert under contract, and do not necessarily need to sign a SS if Thomas doesn’t fall in their lap. They could even think about bringing back Jimmie Ward, which would probably be worst case scenario.
The team is also in need of a Sam linebacker and there have been a few names thrown about. Players like K.J Wright -- another Seahawk free agent-- Clay Matthews, Anthony Barr, and Shaquil Barrett are at the top of the list, but again, nobody knows who will re-sign or get franchise tagged; if the 49ers don’t get one of those players, they may not sign anyone.
This worst case free agency forecast would see the 49ers overpaying for an aging star like Ansah after the younger more talented players are either re-signed, tagged, or sign elsewhere, losing out on Thomas to the Cowboys, and unable to sign an elite linebacker for the Sam position. This would leave the team with huge holes to fill in the draft, where they don’t have much capital.
The two most important picks for the 49ers will be what they do at number two and at number 34. If Nick Bosa goes number one, then the 49ers have to decide whether to an edge player at a place they shouldn’t be picked at, trade back and hope to get their chosen edge player later in the first round, or draft a player like Quinnen Williams, who is deserving of the second overall pick, but not a need in any way for the team. Worst case scenario would be the 49ers drafting Williams at two, after not being able to get the capital back in a trade back they want, and then seeing who drops to the 34th pick. The 34th pick would have to be used on an edge player, but that could be the eighth or ninth best edge player available by that pick. Instead of picking up an elite edge and a possible WR1, the 49ers would end up with an elite DT, again, and possibly a good edge rusher.
This type of offseason would probably make fans revolt and burn effigies of Lynch and Shanahan. In reality, it wouldn’t be an end of all hope at 4949 DeBartolo Way. With all of the young talent the team has amassed, the could still make a run at a wild card berth, and hope to improve again next offseason, but without signing or drafting an elite edge and upgrading the safety position, it would be hard to see the franchise make a run at the Super Bowl.
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