Dale Money | February 5th, 2020
It continues to be the case with the NFL, which is it’s all about the moment. A team can be in the Super Bowl one year and out of the playoffs the next. You can also have a situation like the San Francisco 49ers. Consider just a season ago the Niners would lose franchise quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo to a torn ACL, in week three against the Kansas City Chiefs and finish a dismal 4-12.
Fast forward to 2019, where they would finish the regular season 13-3 with a first-round bye and healthy Garoppolo. After which they would knock off both the Minnesota Vikings and Green Bay Packers in convincing fashion, earning themselves a title date with ironically that same Chiefs club.
The Super Bowl was even stevens going into the half time at 10-10. A one-yard rushing touchdown by Raheem Mostert with 2:35 left in the third put the Niners up 20-10 heading into the fourth quarter. San Francisco was looking in great shape, with just over eight minutes left and the ball. However, it seems like old habits die hard with Kyle Shanahan as he chose not to stick with the ground game, in order for his offense to burn the clock as best they could.
This plan would come back to bite the Niners hard, as Patrick Mahomes was given plenty of time, in which to work his magic. A Travis Kelce touchdown with just over six minutes left, along with a pair of Damien Williams touchdowns both just minutes apart put the icing on the cake. The game would end in a 31-20 loss for San Francisco, only time will tell if they can rebound stronger from this.
Make sure to check out all of our other NFL team recaps here.
What Went Right
The 49ers had an excellent three-headed rushing attack of Mostert, Matt Breida, and Tevin Coleman. After having played three of his previous years with the Niners, Mostert would finally bust open, leading all Niners running backs in rushing yards and rushing touchdowns. In the conference final against Green Bay, he would burn the Packers for 220 yards and four touchdowns on an insane 29 carries. Mostert looks to have planted his flag on the starting role coming into next season.
After having played his past four years with the Falcons, Coleman would have a strong debut season with San Francisco, posting the second-most rushing touchdowns in his career. While Breida was second on the team in rushing yards, he had just one touchdown on the ground. Meanwhile, George Kittle continues to bust out on the field, even after missing two games due to injury Kittle was able to top 1,000 yards receiving. He was ranked third among tight ends in yards, and fourth in receptions.
It’s going to be hard to forget that late fourth-quarter collapse against Mahomes in the Super Bowl. But let’s not forget how productive this Niners defense performed this past season. In the leadup game to the championship, Aaron Rodgers would be sacked three times and throw for two picks. Jimmie Ward had a strong season, contributing 65 tackles, and 51 of those were in fact solo. Ward would save his best game for Mahomes and that Chiefs offense, leading all San Francisco players in tackles with 11. He is set to become a free agent this offseason.
What Went Wrong
While the Niners, for the most part, were solid at most positions, the wide receiver struggles in San Francisco would appear to have carried over from last season. The only player to top 1,000 yards through the air was Kittle. In order to try and sort out the glaring issue, they would need to make a trade with the Denver Broncos for long-time veteran Emmanuel Sanders in late October of last year. In doing so they would need to give up both a third and fourth-round draft pick in the 2020 draft, to make it happen.
Rookie wideout Deebo Samuel would have a rather solid first season, leading all San Francisco receivers with over 800 yards on 81 targets. Samuels would put on a showing in the Super Bowl from the output, mixing in rushing along with receiving plays and combining for 92 total yards. Eyes will be on Samuels as he moves into his sophomore season, while Samuels has continued to perform like a franchise wide receiver. it’s going to be up to San Francisco management.
They will need to figure out who will best be suited to fill the secondary role opposite Samuel. Fortunately for this club, the draft is going to be riddled with worthwhile receiving treasure in which to plunder, not to mention some useful options in free agency.
Outlook For The Offseason
The Niners have 49 players signed on for next year, with over an estimated $14 million in available cap room. Players like Ward, Kyle Juszczyk and Jason Verrett among others looking to be brought back, it’s going to be a tight squeeze. They will also need to focus on getting Kittle signed to an extension. Kittle is due to become a free agent in 2021 and will be looking to become the highest-paid tight end in the league.
The team will still be very solid heading into 2020, but they’ve got a few needs in which to fill, at wide receiver, safety, and interior offensive lineman. After their first-round pick, they will not have another selection until the fifth round, so the first selection will be all the more crucial.
Theirs plenty that will argue for the team to take a safety, but then you can’t overlook the need for an eventual replacement for veteran offensive tackle Joe Staley. It’s only a matter of time, before Staley decides to bow out, and retire.
The Team’s Free Agents
A fifth-year player Arik Armstead had a fantastic regular season, leading the club in sacks and quarterback takedowns along with the second-most quarterback hits. Armstead would also add a sack in both of the playoff matchups leading up to Miami.
With his value now so astronomical, its most likely he has become too expensive for a club team that is going to need to start counting its pennies with so many other players to re-sign and not a lot of cap space in which to work with. After leading the Niners in yards rushing just two seasons ago, Breida would become caught up in a three-player log jam, sandwiched between Mostert and Coleman. It became all the more evident during the playoffs, how much Breida has become the odd man out.
He would finish with just 19 yards total on nine touches, during postseason play and would in fact not get a single snap during the Super Bowl. With Jerick McKinnon still on the books for 2020, along with Mostert and Coleman playing well, don’t expect Breida to be around come next season.
Open Market Free Agents
A.J. Green could be a solid add for next season, a seven-time Pro Bowler, Green is going to be the most talented receiver on the open market. A target monster, he has accumulated 63 receiving touchdowns in eight years.
That is if Cincinnati doesn’t re-sign him first, Bengals head coach Zac Taylor has said signing him is their first priority. Green himself also made it known he would love to come back but would prefer not to have the franchise tag placed on him. However, until its official that still leaves the real possibility, Green could be gotten for the right price.
That’s not to say he does not bring with him some red flags, as he was kept out all of 2019 because of a nagging ankle injury suffered in training camp. There was talk of Green playing late in the year, however, nothing really came to fruition as he was finally taken off the active roster following week 16. In order to get him to come over to the Bay area, it would most likely take a multi-year offer. With Green’s injury history and age are San Francisco willing to make that sort of investment?
Robby Anderson might, in fact, be the more attractive option, as opposed to Green when hunting for that suitable veteran receiver for next season. When you consider Anderson is five years younger, he has much less injury history and also made his feelings known he is ready to test the market. However, if the Niners decided to go after Anderson, they will have to get inline as a number of teams have been rumored to be interested in acquiring his services including the New Orleans Saints and Green Bay Packers.
Projecting the NFL Draft
With the final completion of the 2019-20 season, the 49er’s were awarded the 31st pick in the draft. It was only two years ago when they used the 31st selection, on Reuben Foster out of Alabama. Let’s take a look at some of the Niner’s needs heading into April, and project what they might decide to do with their selections. Because of previous trades for Sanders and Dee Ford, the 49ers have just one pick within the first three rounds of the draft.
1st Round, Pick 32: Austin Jackson, OT, USC
Finding a future replacement for left tackle Staley needs to be considered, oft-injured and inching towards the end of his career. Jackson looks like an attractive option at the end of the round. A duo of Jackson and Mike McGlinchey would give the 49ers a nice set of bookend tackles for the next decade.
As I mentioned previously, the NFL is all about the moment. A team needs to take full advantage of those golden opportunities when they are afforded to them, as the league is filled with so much parity. That’s not to say I don’t expect them to come back strong next season, and get themselves into the playoffs again.
However, with players like Kittle and Richard Sherman that they need to sign to extensions, and solid contributors like Armstead and Ward becoming free agents. Its certainly going to be a lot tougher to come close to what they achieved this past season. I predict they finish with a 10-6 record and end up with a wild card spot.
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