The year 2020 has been rough for San Francisco 49ers fans. After coming up short in the Super Bowl in their quest for the elusive sixth Lombardi Trophy, the Niners were among the favorites to win a championship coming into this season.
That all changed in the Week 2 win against the New York Jets. Already without George Kittle Deebo Samuel and Richard Sherman, San Francisco lost Nick Bosa, Jimmy Garoppolo, Raheem Mostert, Tevin Coleman plus Solomon Thomas to injuries, two of them being season-ending.
It was a sign of things to come. The 49ers have placed a league-high 19 players on injured reserve this season; just take a look at the names of the players who have missed at least one game this year:
Updated #49ers injury list.— Jennifer Lee Chan (@jenniferleechan) November 2, 2020
You could field an entire team with this list.
22 players currently out, likely 24 by end of day.
Another 8 players have missed time due to injury. pic.twitter.com/hYfmqUYYha
Once Jimmy Garoppolo and George Kittle are placed on Injured Reserve, the 49ers will have $80 million dollars worth of cap value on IR this season, per @Epkap.— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) November 2, 2020
Unfortunately, this has turned into a Season From Hell for the Niners. During training camp, the players and coaching staff were so locked in. They would often reference getting back and finishing the job during their media availabilities, and you could see just how close the locker room was.
Instead, it looks like this could be the end of the line for the group that seemed to be poised to contend for years to come. General manager John Lynch and Kyle Shanahan will have some tough decisions to make. San Francisco has 27 players who are slated to become unrestricted free agents after the season. With significant extensions for Bosa and Fred Warner on the horizon, many of the current 49er players won’t be back next season.
Lynch and co. began the changes by trading away popular linebacker Kwon Alexander. He was moved to the New Orleans Saints for a conditional fifth-round pick and saved roughly $8.7 million under the cap for 2021.
The elephant in the room is what happens at the quarterback position. San Francisco can sever ties with Garoppolo in the offseason with minimal financial implications since Jimmy G doesn’t have anymore guaranteed money left on his deal.
But, what else do the Niners need to do to reload for a championship run in 2021? Virtually every member of the secondary is up for a new contract after this season. Sherman, K’Waun Williams, Jason Verrett, Ahkello Witherspoon, Jaquiski Tartt, Jamar Taylor and Dontae Johnson will all be UFAs. Emmanuel Moseley and Ken Webster will be exclusive rights free agents, meaning if San Francisco offers them a one-year deal worth the league minimum — which depends on their experience — they cannot negotiate with other teams.
Another position the team needs to address is the offensive line. Left tackle Trent Williams will be up for a new deal; the same goes for Ben Garland, who started at center with Weston Richburg still sidelined with a gruesome leg injury. The interior of the offensive line hasn’t been very good. Hroniss Grasu and right guard Daniel Brunskill got worked against the Seattle Seahawks. If Richburg isn’t the same player as he was before the injury, then adding a center becomes paramount this offseason.
San Francisco has two good young wide receivers in Deebo Samuel and Brandon Aiyuk, but not much on the depth chart after that. The wildly inconsistent Kendrick Bourne and Trent Taylor will both be UFAs after the season, and it looks like Dante Pettis’ days with the team are numbered. Hopefully, Jalen Hurd can finally make his regular season debut in 2021, but that’s counting on a lot for a guy who has missed two straight years.
Injuries are the biggest variable of the NFL season, and when it comes to the Niners this season, Murphy’s Law applies. The talk was that this was the deepest and one of the most talented rosters in the league; now, with so many of the top guys missing, it looks like a shell of its former self.
There are eight games left on the schedule, and at 4-4, it looks like the 49ers will miss the playoffs for the seventh time in eight years. Realistically, San Francisco will finish with somewhere between five and eight wins this season unless Shanahan puts on a masterclass and somehow gets his squad into the postseason.
If they miss the playoffs, the Niners are looking at a draft pick somewhere between Nos. 5 and 16, depending on what happens around the league. Lynch could address one of the glaring needs at the draft, which is always a big help when it comes to the salary cap.
The decision on what to do at the QB position is the most important one for the front office, but if the 49ers want to be back in contention for a championship in 2021, they need to improve in a few other areas as well.
Other than QB, which position should be Lynch and Shanahan’s priority in the offseason?
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