The San Francisco 49ers have been busy through the early stages of the 2018 offseason. The team got its biggest priority out of the way, signing Jimmy Garoppolo to a five-year contract. They also signed edge rusher Cassius Marsh to a two-year contract, and center Daniel Kilgore to a three-year contract.
The NFL Combine is fast approaching, which is then followed by free agency. The team could still re-sign more players, but the big bucks will likely be in free agency. With that in mind, it’s good timing for Bill Barnwell’s annual look at what each team should do in the offseason. On Thursday, he published his look at the NFC West. Here are his five suggestions, with a few thoughts of my own.
1. Pick up the fifth-year option on Arik Armstead
This one is a no-brainer. Armstead is entering his fourth season, which means the 49ers have until May to pick up his option for 2019. It is worth nothing that exercising the option now only guarantees it for injury — it would not become fully guaranteed until a year from now. Injuries have been an issue for Armstead, but they have been the kind that are quick to recover from, as opposed to the kind that would impact his option a year from now.
The 49ers still do not quite know what they have in Armstead. He has the kind of size and athleticism that could make him an impact player, but it remains to be seen if they he can be converted into an effective edge rusher. They have the kind of cap space that his option, potentially in the $9 million range, would be worth picking up for the time being.
2. Re-sign Trent Brown and upgrade the offensive line
It’s hard to know exactly what the 49ers think of Brown as a long-term option. He was a very capable right tackle, and at his best might be the best offensive lineman on the roster. The problem is the “at his best” can be a bit inconsistent. Additionally, he is coming off a torn labrum that will keep him rehabbing through the offseason workout program.
I have a feeling the 49ers will want to wait and see how Brown looks at the end of his rehab before a contract extension happens. If they do re-sign him, I could see it happening later in training camp once they’ve seen how he worked himself into shape after the injury. Weight and conditioning issues have been a consistent question for Brown, and coming off an injury will give us a strong idea where he might be headed.
3. Sign Dion Lewis and Trey Burton
The 49ers need to eventually find a long-term No. 1 wide receiver, but with a capable group in place right now, adding more versatility elsewhere could do big things for this offense. Signing Lewis and Burton offers this kind of versatility at positions of need.
We don’t know what’s next for Carlos Hyde, but if the team decides to move on, they will need someone to pair with Matt Breida. At tight end, George Kittle looks like a legit option, but as we saw with the flexibility in Kyle Juszczyk, more weapons that can be maneuvered around are welcome.
4. Add a No. 1 cornerback
This is an easy one. I don’t know if this is ranked by most to least important, but adding a No. 1 cornerback is critical for the 49ers defense. Adding an elite pass rusher would be a big help, but I’m a big fan of having the kind of cornerback that effectively shuts down 1⁄3 of the field. The 49ers could spend big bucks in free agency on a Trumaine Johnson or Malcolm Butler. This year’s cornerback draft class is considered especially deep as well.
5. Sign insurance for Reuben Foster
Some kind of insurance was necessary before Foster’s two offseason arrests. He finished out the season on the field, but was consistently getting dinged up and missing a snap here or there. Now that he could potentially miss some of the season, or even end up released, insurance is that much more critical.
The team has to operate under the assumption he will not play another snap. They might know they will not release him, but his two arrests remove any benefit of the doubt he would receive that he will stay out of trouble moving forward. They need to be ready for that.