Best Case Scenarios for 49ers Offseason
Image Credit: Andrew Giesemann
Even the most pessimistic of fans would be hard-pressed to come up with a worse case scenario for the 2018 season than the one that unfolded for the 49ers. The team’s biggest free agent acquisition was lost for the season before it even started. The newly minted franchise quarterback was out for the season before the end of Week 3. Throw in the fact that the team was forced to release one of its 2017 first round draft picks and the 49ers video yearbook looks more like the work of Stephen King than an NFL Films production, but the calendar has turned to 2019 and soon the NFL calendar will follow.
Looking ahead, the 2019 season will be a pivotal one for the 49ers as it marks the half way mark for the Shanahan/Lynch regime (at least contractually). This will be their third, so what are some best-case scenarios?
Usually the best-case scenario for any team in the offseason starts with nailing free agency and the draft, but for the 49ers the upcoming season starts with the health and recovery of Jimmy Garoppolo and Jerick McKinnon. McKinnon tore his ACL on September 1 and will be a full year removed from the injury prior to the start of the regular season. The injury was a clean tear with no other ligament damage and presents the best scenario for a full recovery. Two of McKinnon’s former Vikings teammates offer examples of what to expect following the injury, Adrian Peterson rushed for over 2,000 yards just nine months after his ACL tear (however, there is a league investigation into whether or not Peterson is in fact human) and Dalvin Cook returned from tearing his ACL, four games into his NFL career, to play 80 percent of the snaps in Week 1 of the following season. For Garoppolo, it was also a clean tear with no additional damage found, so his recovery should be relatively quick. Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz tore his ACL and LCL, which has a longer recovery time, on December 10, 2017, and six months later was participating in 7-on-7 drills. Garoppolo should be ready and throwing for OTAs (organized team activities) eight months after surgery; getting a healthy Garoppolo and McKinnon back from injury would be like signing two prized free agents.
When the 2019 free agency period begins the 49ers will have some business in-house to take care of as well as looking to bring in players from the outside. Kicker Robbie Gould is a free agent and will be in high demand, if he hits the open market, signing Gould to a multi-year deal should be a top priority for the 49ers and they should franchise tag him if a deal cannot be reached. Franchising Gould would cost the 49ers $4.1953 million for the upcoming season (based on contract numbers provided by Spotrac.com). In addition to Gould, re-signing running back Raheem Mostert and offensive lineman Mike Person should be a priority, and neither player is likely to break the bank. Mostert is a core special-teams player who showed this season that he could be a dynamic threat on offense as well. Person started all 16 games at right guard this season for the 49ers, who should look to upgrade the position but bringing Person back as a backup will help fortify the depth along the offensive line (Person had started 14 games at center for the Falcons with Shanahan as offensive coordinator in 2015).
Turning the attention to outside free agents, the plan for the 49ers should be to add a starter at every level of the defense, starting with free safety Earl Thomas. Adding Thomas would cure the communication issues that plagued the defense in 2018. The 49ers’ corps of linebackers is also due for a significant upgrade at two of the three positions. Anthony Barr is a great fit for the 49ers at Sam linebacker and would bolster a pass rush that needs help on the edge. The release of Reuben Foster was a big blow to the defense, while Elijah Lee filled in capably, (Lee is an exclusive rights free agent and not free to negotiate with other teams), the defense would be better served with him in a backup role; K.J. Wright could step right in having played the same position, in the same scheme for Seattle. Upgrading the pass rush is a must for the 49ers in free agency and Philadelphia Eagles defensive end Brandon Graham will do just that. Graham has said he plans to test free agency and would be a great fit on the field and help set a championship standards for a young team. Adding four starters on defense via free agency will help simplify the draft for the 49ers.
Ohio State defensive end Nick Bosa is the ideal pick for the 49ers with the second pick. Not long ago, the idea of getting Bosa with the second pick in the draft was so farfetched that it would have tested the limits of Charlie Kelly’s murder board, but now it’s not only possible, it’s more likely than not. One pick does not a draft make, however, and the 49ers need to hit on their other picks as well, especially with four picks in the top 100. There is too much opportunity to venture into unrealistic territory to assign specific players to each pick, but ideally the 49ers will take advantage of a deep wide receiver class adding a bigger-bodied receiver on Day 2 of the draft. The 49ers have five picks in this draft and in addition to taking Bosa and finding a wide receiver, ideally, they will be able to upgrade the offensive line with perhaps a tackle that can play guard and then move out to tackle when Joe Staley retires. Most of the draft resources, however, need to be spent on defense. If the 49ers can come away with from the 2019 draft with a cornerback, Sam linebacker and Will linebacker in addition to the picks already mentioned it will be a highly successful draft. Check out the work of my colleague, Zach Pratt, as he identifies some potential draft targets and scenarios.
Armed with more than $60 million in salary cap space the 49ers have the resources to make a big splash in free agency but DeForest Buckner’s looming free agency and whether the team choses to address it this offseason or wait until next offseason will drive a lot of the decisions that are made. Realistically speaking, many of the names that are making the rounds on Twitter will most likely not hit the open market, so John Lynch and Kyle Shanahan will need to be aggressively prudent in who they target as they try to balance making the team competitive in 2019 without mortgaging the future and if the 49ers can pull it off, Paraag Marathe should receive at least one vote for team MVP.
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