Good morning folks, and a happy game day to you. The 49ers host the Chicago Bears today in the penultimate game of the regular season - although the 49ers’ season will be over within a week, there’s plenty to pay attention to during this week and next. Due to unusually young nature of the team, combined with the amount of injuries pressing depth options into action, these next two games will offer the team, and us fans, a great opportunity to prepare for what the offseason may bring.
The youth movement has seemingly taken hold within the organization, with only two well-aged veterans, Joe Staley and Richard Sherman, locked in as unquestioned starters moving forward. As injuries have given way to younger options, we’ve seen fair amounts of success at different positions, which may provide just enough reason to let go of certain older, more expensive options. For instance, rookie Dante Pettis has been phenomenal through the past several weeks - during which time, the ailing veteran Pierre Garcon was finally stashed away on IR. Young defensive lineman DJ Jones flashed his upside while filling in for an injured Earl Mitchell. Rookie DJ Reed, while showing obvious signs of growing pains, has certainly shown himself capable, if understandably inconsistent, as a nickel option with K’Waun Williams sidelined.
Although the salary cap isn’t a pressing issue right now, there are expensive contracts looming on the horizon. For instance, DeForest Buckner is eligible for extension during this coming offseason, a decision will need to be made with Arik Armstead (who is quietly having an impressive season), and George Kittle’s eligibility for extension after the 2019 season come to mind. These contracts will not be cheap, and the ~70 million that we have in cap space now will begin to dwindle rapidly. Should the youngsters show enough to give the organization reason to shed superfluous contracts, all the better.
These next two games should provide the team with a chance to see what it has in it’s younger players, which, ideally, would help identify certain bloated veteran contracts which have been made redundant. Of further interest are young rising players, who have not yet shown enough to expose others as expendable - Marcell Harris and Elijah Lee are prime examples of this. The linebacker and safety groups have been proverbial merry-go-rounds throughout the Kyle Shanahan/John Lynch era, and it would be quite nice to go into the offseason not pulling my hair out about absolutely needing to target these positions with top-end talent. If the aforementioned Harris and Lee are able to put in solid performances over the next two games, it would go a long way to ease the concerns, at least for me, regarding these positional groups.
Kyle Shanahan’s surprising success with “spare-parts” offense | Branch, SF Chronicle
It’s been 2 months since the 49ers defense has forced a takeaway | Branch, SF Chronicle
Shanahan expects big things from Trent Taylor in 2019 | Maiocco, NBC Sports Bay Area
Richard Sherman on Marcell Harris | Madson, Ninerswire