Diving Deep into 49ers Offseason
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Before the 2021 offseason had even started, fans were plotting and arguing over how the 49ers are going to improve over the next three months. The consensus has been that the team needs to improve while saving money. When the Matthew Stafford deal didn’t happen, and the only other NFL quarterback available being Deshaun Watson, who is not a very likely option due to the high trade compensation he will require, most people are looking at the draft to improve at the QB position.
The real conversation needs to be bigger than the QB position. The team has huge holes depending on how the offseason develops, with Richard Sherman most likely not returning and Trent Williams future in the air, the team has more than a QB problem. Head coach Kyle Shanahan and general manager John Lynch have both been supportive of Jimmy Garoppolo continuing to play as the team’s starting QB in 2021, and it is looking more and more likely that may be the winning option.
Front offices of NFL franchises need to have one-, three-, and five-year plans for their roster as well as for the salary cap. Progression of players is expected, and the goal is to be like the New England Patriots of the last two decades: in the playoffs every year and their most important positions locked down year-in and year-out. This is an extremely important off season for the 49ers front office to either set the team up for sustained future, or show that their three-year plan was much stronger than their five-year plan. Here is exactly how they can do it:
Contract Moves to Make:
I know that I have already lost some of you due to extending Garoppolo, but listen to the full argument before clicking that little X in the corner of your screen. Garoppolo’s cap hit has to be lowered for the team to move on, either with or without him. Adding two manageable years to his contract allows the team to spread out the cap hit, he still gets his money, and he also gets the opportunity that he is a top QB in this league. His value is lower than it has ever been in his career, and if he wants another big contract, he will need to play in a system that he will be successful in.
Extending Tomlinson is a no brainer; it drops his cap number and locks up one of the better pieces of the offensive line for the near future. He has played well at left guard since coming to the 49ers, and has been one of the more solid figures on the line, starting every game last year. He is a good run and pass blocker, and allows the team to keep continuity moving forward.
I’ve been an advocate of waiting until June 1 to cut Ford, because it creates $10 million more in cap space, but they just need the money now. The front office should still be able to get the Fred Warner extension done, as the salary cap will go up again, possibly in a big way in the 2022 season with the return of fans to stadiums. Richburg is a no-brainer cut, as his injuries, just like Ford’s have left him less than available for the majority of his time with the 49ers.
These four moves would create another $29M in cap space, which with their already $20M in cap space with a likely $185M salary cap, the team would go into free agency with $49M in free space under the salary cap.
The 49ers have a few starters up for free agency, and they definitely won’t be able to bring everyone back who they would like to bring back (hello Mr. Sherman. Goodbye Mr. Sherman). Here are the free agent signings the team should make off of their own free agents:
There are some notable names not on this list besides Sherman. Starter Jaquiski Tartt and Ahkello Witherspoon didn’t make it on due to the salary cap. You’ll also notice Dwelley time ends here; although keeping him wouldn’t be all that cost prohibitive, I think he’s done in San Francisco. No Kendrick Bourne. Also, no Kerry Hyder Jr. or D.J. Jones, two players who have probably played their way into higher contracts than the 49ers can afford, but what it does do is it keeps Verrett as CB1 Williams as the nickel cornerback, keeping three-fifths of the team’s starting secondary together, while keeping Moseley for one more year on a cheap contract.
Jordan is a cost value signing. He’s not a starting edge rusher, but he is a great depth piece that showed he can come in and make plays when asked to on a smaller snap count. Juszczyk is a luxury that the 49ers can only keep if he brings his contract numbers down to from his last contract. Keeping Williams and Brunskill in the fold, Williams for the near future and Brunskill for one more year on a cheap contract, gives the 49ers the ability to bring back four-fifths starters on the offensive line, while upgrading the fifth in free agency.
The Niners never got to see the Jordan Reed-George Kittle combination on the field, and Reed showed he could still flash for a team when he wasn’t the focal point of the offense. If he’s willing to keep playing, bringing him back on a two year slightly about veteran minimum contract just makes sense.
That then leads into a rather conservative free agency signing period, but the front office could still make some big splashes:
Ross and Mack could possibly go other places for more money. Heck, any of the free agents listed could go elsewhere for more money (besides the ERFAs). These are just guesses on contracts looking at other available players at their positions, league standing, and recent productivity. I really like Malik Hooker as a possible safety, but coming off of a major injury, he could still garner some big numbers, and I think the Indianapolis Colts will probably re-sign him. These signings shore up the offensive line, gives the team the speedy wide receiver that everyone has been craving, a durable starting safety, as well as more edge rusher depth. I think the Aldon Smith signing is the least likely, but I don’t think the Dallas Cowboys will overpay him to keep him in house, not with Dak Prescott needing to be re-signed.
These thirteen signings would use up $46.8M of the cap space available, leaving room for the team to sign their draft picks after a little more salary adjusting.
Which Leaves Us With the Draft:
Like with the free agency period, Shanahan, Lynch, and the rest of the decision-makers have to knock this draft out of the park. There are different takes on what the team should focus on at the top of the draft and whether the team should trade its draft capital for fewer, higher pedigree players. I’m not going to sit here and pretend to know enough to give a seven round mock draft on who the team should specifically target, but here are two moves that could help them set up rookie starters on rookie contracts for the next four to five years.
First, trade up in the draft from no. 12 to get Detroit’s seventh pick. I have pick compensation looking something like this: the 49ers’ 2021 first-rounder (pick 12), 2021 third-rounder (the Robert Saleh compensation pick), and one of the 2021 fifths, and a 2022 fourth. This puts them in front of the Carolina Panthers for either the third or the fourth quarterback coming off the board. In this scenario, Trey Lance is still there and they pick him. Why draft a QB in the top ten if you are extending Garoppolo? Insurance. There is a lot of conversation about what the Kansas City Chiefs did when drafting Patrick Mahomes. Remember, Mahomes sat for a season behind Alex Smith and learned the game. With a solid free agency, and a very solid group of young players they are building around, they can afford to essentially use this pick for the future. This gives them a QB room of Garoppolo, Lance, and Josh Rosen, a definite upgrade from 2020.
Then they need to trade back into the middle of the first round. I have the Minnesota Vikings’ pick 14 as the target, getting in front of the New England Patriots to pick CB Jaycee Horn. He’s an immediate starter across from Verrett, and would allow the team to settle on a starting secondary over the next two or three seasons. I have compensation looking something like this: the Niners’ 2021 second-round pick, as well as their first- and third-round picks from 2022.
At that point, the 49ers would have a fourth-rounder, two fifths, two sixths, and a seventh-round pick to finish up the roster building. Their ability to find gems in the fourth and fifth rounds leads me to believe they would be able to find a starter or two out of those three picks. They would probably prioritize edge rusher and offensive lineman in those rounds, while taking a late-round flyer on an athletic safety and wide receiver.
The aftermath of this off season would give the 49ers the best quarterback room they’ve had in a long time, while providing continuity along the offensive line, and a WR3 who can stretch the field. Their starting secondary would be Verrett, Horn, Williams, Maye, and Jimmie Ward. There would be depth at defensive end.
If Garoppolo doesn’t have a great season, they move on from him with a dead cap amount they can swallow while Lance is on his rookie deal. If he has a good season but Lance is the QB of the future, then they trade him to recoup some of the picks they gave up in landing Lance and Horn.
When you add in some UDFA for depth, the 49ers would be restocked and financially viable into the 2022 offseason.
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