We're almost to training camp, which means the "offseason" proper -- the time when the team is adding new, significant pieces to the puzzle -- is about to end. Training camp and preseason will see rosters trimmed from 90 players to 53, but aside from a position battle or two, decisions that the 49ers can make to gauge whether or not they had a solid offseason have already been made.
In other words: offseason report cards have started to roll in. One in particular of note is the one posted Wednesday by Chris Burke of Sports Illustrated. Burke says a lot of good things about the 49ers, but in the end, he gives them a "C" grade for the offseason thus far. Of course, this is basically meaningless in the grand scheme of things, but we should take a look at his reasoning.
First Burke says that Jimmie Ward was the best offseason acquisition, before saying he delivers "a little upside," and notes the 49ers have a real problem on their hands with the cornerback position. By his estimation, Chris Culliver and Chris Cook will by vying for one starting spot.
The biggest loss of the offseason is Donte Whitner, who in my opinion is being significantly overvalued by Burke. Whitner did a lot for this team, and he gave them a hard-nosed edge when they needed it most. But he was a liability in coverage, and he slowed down considerably in 2013. This was the right time to cut bait on Whitner, and Antoine Bethea is a nice replacement -- he's durable, a good tackler, and much better in coverage than Whitner, sacrificing a bit of explosiveness in return.
Whatever the case, the loss of Whitner and gain of Bethea is referred to as a "slight step back." So that's not so bad. He then praises Bruce Ellington, a rookie who could have an impact early on if given the opportunity. No qualms with that section. The "looming question" centers around two things which have nothing to do with San Francisco's offseason: NaVorro Bowman and Aldon Smith.
I don't think anybody can argue that the 49ers haven't done a commendable job in making sure they're taking as little damage as possible being without Bowman and potentially Smith. Corey Lemonier, Dan Skuta and Aaron Lynch should do well in place of Smith, while Michael Wilhoite and a bunch of others compete to fill the void left by Bowman. How the 49ers can be in anything other than "the best case scenario for a team that may have lost two of its best three players" is beyond me.
In other words, I'm not really disagreeing with much of Burke's assessments, other than the fact that he gave the team a "C." Unless you factor in Smith and Bowman, I'm not seeing how what he said implies a "C" grade. Any thoughts?