As I am told the kids say, life comes at you fast. In 2019, the 49ers rose from the ashes of two straight losing seasons to steamroll their way to a 13-3 record and the championship of the National Football Conference. In 2020, the roster is on fire and the two guys who have to put it out don’t know which firefighters they’ll have to battle the flames.
The situation is this: Kyle Shanahan and John Lynch have 28 unrestricted free agents, questions at quarterback, and a salary cap that is likely going to fall for the first time since television only came in standard definition.
Their mission: Find a way to plug the holes of a top-five roster with a depleted supply of draft picks and a limited budget.
At stake: A Super Bowl window, a large handful of jobs (including their own), and the hopes and dreams of thousands of 49ers fans around the world.
Fortunately, we’re here to help. Levin Black and I dedicated this week’s podcast to figuring out exactly which players should stay in 2021 and which players should go - with some help from special guest Jason Aponte. Click below to listen.
Some of this work will be easy. Even from our removed position as fans, there are some faces we know won’t be back in the scarlet and gold next season (see Witherspoon, Ahkello and Taylor, Trent). What will truly reveal the 49ers as an elite organization will be nailing the tough decisions. The premier front offices identify not only which bad players to let go, but also which good ones. The teams that win year after year are the ones that can divorce themselves from emotion and objectively evaluate the path towards future success.
The good news is that there is some evidence already that the current regime is capable of doing just that. Trading away DeForest Buckner in the prime of his career is not an easy pill to swallow, but that decision enabled them to draft Javon Kinlaw and Brandon Aiyuk instead of having to choose between them. Both of those players are already key contributors that will be cost-effective starters for years to come. The handling of that situation shows both a sound process and solid execution.
The question going forward is how many times can Shanahan and Lynch be right on those decisions in one offseason? How many times can they get the players they want to keep to sign on the dotted line despite other potential offers? Jason Verrett, Kerry Hyder, K’Waun Williams and Richard Sherman (to name a few) will all have suitors. Identifying your price point, sticking to it, and convincing those guys that San Francisco is the place to be is a monumental task.
But that is the business they’ve chosen.
The results won’t be hard to evaluate, and the grades will be due very shortly. The 49ers will either find a way to keep the boat afloat or they’ll sink to the bottom of the NFL hierarchy this offseason. The next few months will determine whether Kyle Shanahan and John Lynch will be around for years to come, or whether Jed York will be searching for yet another new regime by 2023.