Kwon Alexander tore his ACL in Week 7 of 2018, but that didn’t stop the San Francisco 49ers from giving Alexander a four-year, $54 million deal the following March. The signing of Alexander received quite a bit of backlash as he had a high rate of missed tackles. Kwon returned in time for the start of the 2019 season, and it didn’t take long to realize the 49ers made the right move by adding the speedy linebacker in free agency.
Alexander’s aggressiveness (borderline recklessness) against the run was a key piece in seeing the team get stops on early downs. On passing downs, Alexander’s awareness, athleticism, and range made him one of the best coverage linebackers during the first half of the season. What Kwon did on the field was great, but his energy and enthusiasm off the field were greater. Specifically, the effect he had on his running mate. Fred Warner transformed into a confident leader, and that doesn’t happen without Alexander. You could see the two shared a bond and how Alexander brought a side of Warner out that previously didn’t exist.
Then, on November 1, Alexander tore his pec. He would return for the playoffs, but it was evident that Alexander was limited and not the same player. With a chance to fully recover, Alexander has been working out all offseason with teammate Kendrick Bourne. When the 49ers return to the field, Kwon will have to earn his starting spot.
Age: 25 (turns 26 August 3)
Experience: Five accrued seasons
Alexander enters the second year of his $54-million deal. Kwon’s cap hit during 2020 will be relatively low, still at $4.5 million, but that number climbs to $16 million in 2021. Alexander will have pressure on him as the 49ers can get out of his contract after this season if he does not live up to expectations. San Francisco can save $13.4 million by releasing Alexander post-June 1 next offseason with only $3.1 in dead money.
What to expect in 2020
Last year I expected variance from Alexander as that’s who he showed us he was previously as a player. One play he would avoid a block and make a tackle for loss. Another play Alexander would be chaotic and miss a tackle. The 49ers linebackers are a prime example of how all missed tackles are not created equal. Yes, you remember Alexander’s missed tackle in the Super Bowl. You probably forget the few he had during the season that slowed down the ball-carrier and turned into a loss for the offense.
Consistency is what I expect from Kwon in 2020. It’s unfortunate that injury clouds what was sure to be his best season of Alexander’s young career. Another year playing alongside Warner and a star-studded defense will put the 49ers in a difficult position next offseason. Ultimately, I believe Alexander will beat out Dre Greenlaw thanks to being better in pass coverage and his contract. You’re not going to let Alexander ride the bench with the money he’s making and set to make. Alexander’s first half was on par or better than Greenlaw’s second half.
One thing to keep an eye on
Last year I wrote that Alexander struggled in coverage. That was far from an issue in 2019. Alexander thrived in coverage, both zone and man. The 49ers shut down passes over the middle of the field last season and, especially early on, a large part of that was thanks to Alexander.
This year we have to watch Alexander’s health. Two seasons in a row he hasn’t made it to the halfway point. That’s worrisome. The 49ers have Greenlaw, who gained valuable experience, but there were still some subtle issues Greenlaw had in coverage that gives Alexander a leg up. Greenlaw will surely take a step forward as he’s comfortable with the speed of the game and knows what he can and can’t get away with. Keep an eye on Alexander’s health and Greenlaw’s development. There’s no denying Dre’s playmaking ability, and if he keeps forcing turnovers, it’ll be tough to keep him off the field.