How to revive or how to do even better? The editorial team of touchdownactu offers you a point of view franchise by franchise: inventory of strengths and weaknesses as well as ideas for the market and the draft. Today a franchise that surprised everyone in the playoffs last year: the San Francisco 49ers.
The 2021 season has seen a two-faced San Francisco team. A complicated first part, with defeats against opponents on paper weaker, and players who could not find their automatisms on both sides of the field. Then the mayonnaise took and Kyle Shanahan put his head back to take his players to the playoffs where they consecutively beat the Cowboys and the Packers outside, before failing against the Rams. A big upheaval is expected in 2022, because exit Jimmy Garoppolo, now is the time to give the keys to the 49ers to Trey Lance.
1. Deebo Samuel (WR)
2. Nick Bosa (DE)
3. George Kittle (TE)
Who could have predicted that the most versatile player in the NFL was named Deebo Samuel? 1405 yards and 6 touchdowns in reception, 365 yards and 8 touchdowns in the race, all after a 2020 season truncated by injuries! Deebo was in the oven and in the mill in 2021, and is one of the reasons San Francisco got this far in the playoffs. With a contract expiring at the end of the 2022 season, the 49ers will have to pull out the checkbook to extend one of the NFL’s top offensive players (no offense to OPOY voters).
On the other side of the ball, a player continues to prove that he has everything to become defender of the year in the coming seasons: Nick Bosa. Like his fellow receiver, he was injured in 2020, and if his absence was felt, his presence is even more visible: 15.5 sacks, 21 tackles for losses, 4 forced fumbles. When he is in good shape, that is to say when he is on the field, the little brother Bosa is difficult to stop. As for Samuel, his contract expires soon, and the accountant from San Francisco must already be tying his brain to find out by what miracle he will succeed in extending all these beautiful people.
There are few players who represent the spirit of a franchise better than George Kittle at the 49ers. In addition to being one of the best players in his position, the tight end is the soul of the team. Less impressive on the receiving end than in previous seasons, he continued to give his body for the team in the blocking game, and was able to be decisive when San Francisco needed it most.
1. Jimmy Garoppolo (QB)
2. Dee Ford (DE)
It seems to have been in place for a while: Jimmy Garoppolo will no longer play for the 49ers. A fact that seems clear since the draft last year with Trey Lance’s 3rd pick. San Francisco had dropped a lot to go up to the draft, and after a season of transition, the reins of the offense will return to Lance. The most likely is therefore to see Garoppolo traded in the coming days, after 4 and a half seasons in the Bay. His departure should save the 49ers nearly $27 million in payroll, a welcome amount in view of upcoming extensions for Nick Bosa and Deebo Samuel. In addition, the franchise hopes to recover in the process of the good draft picks against the one who is considered the best quarterback currently on the market.
What will become of Dee Ford? It’s a thorny issue in San Francisco. The defensive end hasn’t played for 2 years, is expected to earn nearly $12 million in 2022. So what to do with this player? Cutting it would hurt the Niners’ finances, as it would leave $14.4 million in unusable cash in the franchise’s coffers. San Francisco needs to reach an agreement with the player to restructure his contract, as it seems impossible today to trade Dee Ford due to his injury history.
Man of the Summer: Trey Lance (QB)
Is Trey Lance ready to be the starting quarterback of a team aiming for the playoffs? This is the question that everyone is asking on the side of San Francisco. The young pitcher will now take the reins of a franchise which, for many, only needs a quarterback to win the supreme title. What put a lot of pressure on the shoulders of such an inexperienced player. The 49ers dropped three first-round draft picks for him, so he needs to perform. He showed great things when he found himself on the field in 2021, but there are still questions about his ability to read an NFL defense, as well as the accuracy of his passing. But the physical qualities are there, with a big arm and a good running game. The offensive game of the 49ers should be very different from what it was under Jimmy Garoppolo, remains to be seen if it will be better.
The main free agents
1. Laken Tomlinson (L)
2. Azeez Al-Shaair (LB)
3. K’Waun Williams (BC)
4. DJ Jones (DT)
5. Jaquiski Tartt (S)
Also: Josh Norman (CB), Jason Verrett (CB), Raheem Mostert (RB), Arden Key (DE), Tom Compton (OT), Jeff Wilson (RB), Jauan Jennings (WR), Mohamed Sanu (WR), Daniel Brunskill (G)…
When a new quarterback, who is moreover a rookie, takes the reins of an attack, the team must protect him. Thinking so, the 49ers must extend Laken Tomlinson. The guard is coming off a top season, earning a Pro Bowl nomination. Since his arrival in 2017, he has only missed one game, and has shown solidity and consistency. Unfortunately for San Francisco, Tomlinson is now 30, in his prime for his position, and suitors should be scrambling for a quality guard.
At just 24 years old, Azeez Al-Shaair has proven his talent as a linebacker for the 49ers. He is a restricted free agent this offseason and will likely be a priority signing for San Francisco. Al-Shaair has shown alongside Fred Warner and Dr. Greenlaw that a trio of linebackers is essential for a well-functioning defense.
For several years, K’Waun Williams has proven to be one of the best cornerbacks in the NFL slot. If he’s not asking too much, around what he’s getting today ($2,377,500 per season), the 49ers shouldn’t hesitate for a second. Same story for Jaquiski Tartt. The safety remains on a good season, despite his missed interception in the conference final. He knows the Shanahan system perfectly, and must be extended.
DJ Jones is coming off a very high quality season. He has proven himself to be one of the best defensive linemen against the running game. While the 49ers re-signed him in 2021 for a pittance, he should logically be able to claim a much better contract in 2022. With the expected return of Javon Kinlaw, San Francisco could let Jones go to a team that would offer him more money.
Top 5 Needs
2. Offensive guard
3. Defensive end
The main problem for the 49ers is on the back lines in defense. San Francisco is missing a No. 1 cornerback. In a division with Cooper Kupp, Tyler Lockett, DK Metcalf and DeAndre Hopkins, the Bay needs a player who can block those elite receivers. Emmanuel Moseley or Ambry Thomas is not enough to defend the air in NFC West.
Laken Tomlinson is coming off a quality season, as is Alex Mack. Only, the first is a free agent and could be expensive, and there are rumors that the second could retire. The interior of the offensive line is therefore a site that the 49ers must address, with also the post of right guard which was the weak point of this line, however famous.
If Nick Bosa is an elite pass rusher, he lacks a truly dangerous counterpart who could take weight off the shoulders of number 97. Arik Armstead plays a lot inside the line, Dee Ford still injured and Samson Ebukam too limited to be permanent holder.
Target: Charvarius Ward (BC)
That San Francisco is focused on the cornerback position is no surprise. It’s a specific team need, and with Josh Norman, K’Waun Williams, Jason Verrett and Dontae Johnson free agents, the 49ers could focus on Charvarius Ward. San Francisco has a lot of talented players on offense and on the front seven, but a player like Ward in the secondary could be the difference in the race for the playoffs. It seems unlikely that the 49ers will be able to step in for the best available cornerback, JC Jackson, because of their finances. But Ward seems more approachable.
New blood: Alec Lindstrom (C)
Alex Mack is not eternal. There are even rumors that he could retire in the coming weeks. But whether he decides to stay on the field or not, the center position must be considered by the 49ers. Alec Lindstrom is a solid player with potential. Coming from a family of footballers, his brother Chris plays for the Falcons. Good at pass protection, he still needs to improve for the running game, especially since he only performs on a zone running pattern, even though it is the pattern mainly used during runs at the 49ers. Without a first-round draft, San Francisco could select this player between the 3rd and 5th rounds, and let him learn behind an experienced professional like Mack.