As teams get mathematically eliminated from the NFL playoffs, we’ll give you a jump on their offseason by examining what went right, what went wrong, and what needs to change before next season.
SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS
At least the 49ers aren’t saddled with the stress of a possible 0-16 season as they head into the final month. But 1-10 isn’t fun either, and the 49ers were eliminated from the NFC playoffs last week. It was an interesting year for first-year head coach Kyle Shanahan and first-year John Lynch, and it’s clear that a lot of work still needs to be done.
What went right: The 49ers have gotten promising contributions from rookies, most notably defensive lineman Solomon Thomas, linebacker Reuben Foster, cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon and tight end George Kittle. Quarterback C.J. Beathard has played a lot too, and looks like a decent backup (albeit an over-drafted one). Last but not least, the Jimmy Garoppolo trade seems to be a winner, though we’ll talk more about that in a moment.
What went wrong: You’d have liked to see more from the Kyle Shanahan offense, even in year one (though the running game has been fairly efficient). The best offensive skill position player, by far, is Carlos Hyde, and he’ll be a free agent. Receiver Marquise Goodwin has had his moments, but he’s more of a role player. A major infusion of offensive talent is still needed. Look, it’s a team that is 1-10 — a lot went wrong.
Will the coach be back?: Of course. Kyle Shanahan didn’t lead an immediate turnaround in wins and losses, but the roster was bare and there’s no reason to believe Shanahan isn’t the right guy for the job.
Do they have a quarterback?: I think having Jimmy Garoppolo means the answer is yes, even if Garoppolo isn’t the final answer. The weird way in which the 49ers wanted to keep Garoppolo on the bench, along with their long-chronicled love of Kirk Cousins, means I can’t dismiss previous speculation that there’s another move coming involving Garoppolo. I’d ride with the younger and cheaper Garoppolo (and if I had to bet, I’d bet Garoppolo is their 2018 starter). The 49ers did not give up too much for Garoppolo, who is an exciting young prospect. However, Cousins is a very good quarterback. If they trade Garoppolo and end up with Cousins as their guy, I’d get it. The only scenario which would not make sense is if the 49ers gave up a second-round pick for Garoppolo and then let him walk in free agency, though I can’t imagine that will happen.
Quick free agent fix: I think the 49ers have to improve the skill positions, and they have the cap space to do so (about $110 million projected, most in the NFL, according to Spotrac). Kyle Shanahan loves feeding a No. 1 receiver, and free agent-to-be Alshon Jeffery fits the bill. The 49ers also have the cap space to re-sign Carlos Hyde, even though paying running backs is usually a bad idea. If they wanted to get really crazy, Le’Veon Bell will be a free agent if the Steelers don’t franchise tag him again. But I’d start with Jeffery and move on from there. The 49ers have the cap room to overpay a front-loaded deal.
Quick draft fix: The 49ers are in a great position because they have a quarterback in place. If they get the first or second pick, they will be able to trade it to a quarterback-needy team. Look at the value the Tennessee Titans and Cleveland Browns got in the 2016 Jared Goff and Carson Wentz trades. The 49ers can get a similar haul, which they need. That was the hidden beauty of sending a second-round pick for Jimmy Garoppolo.
Give it to me straight, can my team make the playoffs in 2018?: No, and it might be some time. However, if the 49ers decide to spend a ton of that cap space on offensive playmakers, the front seven comes along fast (and they have some building blocks for it), the secondary continues to grow and their quarterback situation is figured out? You could see a nice improvement in Kyle Shanahan’s second year.
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