What Does a Playoff-Bound 49ers Team Look Like?
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Harve Bennett: Steve Austin, astronaut. A man barely alive.
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Introduction to the Six-Million Dollar Man
Throughout last spring and summer, the San Francisco 49ers were the hype of the NFL and Las Vegas oddsmakers. The team had the tools and talent, at least on paper, to compete for a playoff spot.
Indeed, some bought into the hype and made wild predictions about a miracle 13- or 14-win season. Others kept their powder dry, predicting no less than eight victories. A .500 record would have been akin to Andy Dufresne getting baptized by a summer storm after crawling through 500 yards of sewage.
Dark forces in the frozen depths of the universe had a penance for the 49ers. The continued punishment pushed the 49ers to the brink of desperation. And in their desperation, they turned to players that had no business being on an NFL roster.
Usually, we don’t associate four-win teams with the playoffs, but the 49ers have what many bad teams do not have in place: a solid coaching staff with brains and grit.
Further, team ownership has grown up and does not treat coaches and players like a last-minute prom date. CEO Jed York inked general manager John Lynch and Shanahan to long-term deals with the hope that staying the course would right the clipper ship.
The 49ers can blow $30 million on wide receiver Antonio Brown, draft Josh Allen and stick Earl Thomas at safety. Those moves do not make an impact unless the 49ers find second- and third-team players that can compete at a high level.
It’s high time the 49ers entered the offseason with a high-quality roster. Each spot needs to be carefully selected and showcase the highest quality talent in the NFL. General manager John Lynch has an estimated $62.1 million cap space, and it’s time to start spending cash on impact athletes.
Each offseason the 49ers drive the same hateful spear into my side. The executive brass finds a zero-talent player, signs him to a contract, and issues a glittering press release about the man’s attributes.
On March 15, 2018, the 49ers signed defensive lineman Jeremiah Attaochu to a one-year deal and guaranteed him $2.5 million.
In a statement released on March 15, general manager John Lynch commented that Attaochu was, “… a wonderful fit for our scheme and our locker room. We expect Jeremiah to be productive on defense, while also providing us an exceptional player on special teams. He’s another guy who fits the mold of a 49er.”
Naturally, the 49ers released Attaochu on September 1, 2018.
It's been an ongoing problem since Trent Baalke was drafting players without knee ligaments. Lynch and Shanahan have yet to shed themselves of the Baalke strategy.
Don’t believe me?
Here’s Shanahan on October 16, 2018, selling quarterback Tom Savage’s greatness.
“…there’s one thing I always liked about Savage, from coming out of college. He’s got a strong arm. He’s a very tough player. He hangs in that pocket and plays the potion well. I was a fan of his coming out of college. He’s gotten to play in a number of NFL games so he’s been battle tested. He was in a tough situation in Houston that didn’t work out for him, but I got to study him this preseason when he was in New Orleans and they have some similarities in their offense as ours.”
Here is the cold, hard fact: Tom Savage has played in 13 NFL games, starting nine. He’s thrown five career touchdown passes. That’s not “a number of NFL games,” and it’s not being “battle-tested.” That’s a quarterback who’d be better calling plays for the local high school varsity squad.
Safety Jimmie Ward, tackle Garry Gilliam, guard Joshua Garnett and defensive end Cassius Marsh are not players who will help win championships. It’s a nasty thing to say, but it’s accurate. These men are not bricks in the foundation; they are the soft underbelly of the roster. Any opposing team can build a game plan to attack these players are on the field.
However, Shanahan and the coaching staff deserve a gold mine of credit for what they were able to do with the scrap heap of the NFL. The 49ers had a better pass and run defense than the Kansas City Chiefs. The 49ers allowed 300 fewer yards on the ground, six fewer rushing touchdowns, 642 fewer passing yards, and 62 fewer completions.
That says something for Shanahan and defensive coordinator Robert Saleh, squeezing water from rocks and conjuring lead into gold.
Imagine now what Shanahan and Saleh could do with players who could catch and remember a pass coverage.
Playoff teams do not sign the Darrell Williams’ of the world, even to compete in the preseason. Williams wasn’t the competition that hones greatness. Further, the 49ers cannot afford to have a massive gap talent from the first team player to the second team player. A next-man-up mentality only works if the next man can step into the role and perform at near the same level as the starter.
Great teams are more than a quarterback or edge defender. The 49ers can make the playoffs in 2019, but the organization must make a real effort to build an unbeatable roster.
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