The San Francisco 49ers can buy just about anything with that. But they shouldn’t. They should do just what they have been: signing veterans like Earl Mitchell, getting Jeremy Kerley locked in, adding depth, and then stash everything until they really know what they have. The coaching staff and front office have been reviewing film, and have some idea of what skills translate for what players. But how much will they really know before Kyle Shanahan and Robert Saleh have a year with these guys in their offensive and defensive systems? After all, a roster can be deceptive; just ask anyone who watched Mike Singletary’s team.
In 2010, the San Francisco 49ers were picked by many NFL analysts to win what was then the doormat of the league, the NFC West. Head coach Mike Singletary had two years under his belt to establish a winning culture and turn things around from Mike Nolan, who didn’t improve much from the Dennis Erickson disaster.
The 49ers finished with a 6-10 record and 3rd place in the division. The winner? The Seattle Seahawks, with a 7-9 record. Winning games in the NFC West wasn’t necessarily on competitiveness or talent. In fact, there was no science at all. The entire division was bad, and if the entire division is bad, a 6-10 record could easily be 2-14.
The dysfunction of the season showed that the predictions to win the NFC West were nothing more than throwing darts. Singletary fired his offensive coordinator, Jimmy Raye II after losing the first three games of the season. Alex Smith was booed in a Week 5 contest against the Philadelphia Eagles, one where a visibly frustrated Smith would plead his case as
Derek David Carr warmed up. After a Week 16 loss to the St. Louis Rams, a game that somehow had playoff contention on the line, Mike Singletary was fired.
The 49ers had only two players selected to the Pro Bowl that year.
With the signing of Jim Harbaugh months later, one thing was certain: The 49ers were not a championship team. The dysfunction of Singletary’s coaching staff trickled down to a roster with few quality players and with the exception of a few notable names, it was assumed by most in the media that the 49ers had a lot of work to do before they would ever sniff the playoffs let alone a Super Bowl. Barely anyone picked the 49ers to win the West and those that did were met with laughter and ridicule for such an obnoxious choice.
The 49ers went 13-3 in Harbaugh’s first season, played in the NFC Championship Game, and were a fumble away from advancing to the Super Bowl. Nine players were sent to the Pro Bowl.
Very little was done in free agency additions to improve this team.
The team Mike Singletary had stumbling around the field without an answer, Harbaugh had made a snot-bubbling powerhouse. The change was sudden as it was awkward. Was talent an issue? Perhaps. Coaching seemed to be a bigger issue. The 49ers weren’t just losing under Singletary, it was how they were losing.
The point is, history could repeat itself. The 49ers in 2016 were awful. Zero players were selected to the Pro Bowl. Worse than two, but two isn’t much better. Questionable schemes, play calling, etc. plagued this team. Make no mistake, this is a different team, a worse team, with different circumstances compared to the 2010 team, but unfamiliarity shrouds it once again. There is no way to tell how good or bad this roster is.
And now, over $90 million in cap space is along for the ride. General Manager John Lynch and Head Coach Kyle Shanahan are watching film, reading schemes, trying to figure out this quarterback-less roster. Two things are certain: 1) We don’t know how good of a head coach Shanahan is and 2) If he is good, we don’t know how good current, “washed out” players could thrive under his system. There might be cheap options, there may players held under terrible coaching philosophies ready to break out and make a name for themselves.
Saying the 49ers could go 13-3 the first year under Shanahan is beyond bold, and it’s safe to say it probably won’t happen. Last year, Trent Baalke was chastised for making only a couple free agent moves, this year, Lynch should only make a few. The last thing the 49ers want is a roster with talent others have given up on, now making a name for themselves and the money gone.
They obviously need a quarterback—they don’t have one on the roster. Do they need to pay an edge rusher a huge contract? What happens if they give that edge rusher a huge contract and Aaron Lynch thrives under Robert Saleh? Do they want to bring in someone on the offensive line? What happens if Joshua Garnett comes into his own this year and beats out the shiny new guard with $10 million in guaranteed money? The 49ers are an extremely young team, and to say it’s talentless may be a bit astute. They may just not be there yet and previous coaches didn’t know how to move them along. The last thing anybody wants is for big names in free agency to come rolling in here and they already had the answer on the roster—they just didn’t have the right system for them yet. That means dead money.
Or maybe it’s just optimism thinking how nice it’d be to have some diamonds in this rough and the ability to fill the real holes next year with splash signings. One can hope.
What we can hope for is not necessarily frugal spending, but conservative approach to see how this roster does. If they find themselves around 7-9, then they know they are on the right track and know what holes to fill in.
Of course, if they spend all this money and go 2-14, that’s another issue entirely.