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2 San Francisco 49ers
2019 record · 13-3
Kyle Shanahan and John Lynch need to take a bow. San Francisco traded DeForest Buckner and Matt Breida, let Emmanuel Sanders walk, watched Joe Staley retire and ... somehow got even better.
The Niners still boast the game’s best defensive line. First-round pick Javon Kinlaw replaces Buckner. And I loved the decision to prioritize the resigning of Arik Armstead. The former first-rounder rarely receives the credit he deserves, but he really came into his own last season with 10 sacks. Nick Bosa has never lacked for praise, and rightfully so — the 2019 Defensive Rookie of the Year is already a bona fide game wrecker. And what a luxury it is to have Dee Ford as a designated speed rusher. Elsewhere, Fred Warner is emerging as a prototype linebacker for the modern NFL, while Richard Sherman’s an ageless wonder at cornerback.
On the other side of the football, the 49ers have the best tight end in football. George Kittle is an absolute force as a receiver and blocker. Speaking of blockers, Trent Williams slides right into Staley’s spot on the blind side — and he’s my pick for Comeback Player of the Year. First-round pick Brandon Aiyuk is a brilliant replacement for Emmanuel Sanders; he’ll nicely complement playmaking stud Deebo Samuel, who should be able to come back from last month’s broken foot pretty early in the season. Jimmy Garoppolo remains polarizing, but I don’t know how you can view him as anything worse than solid after last season’s performance. And he’s obviously helped by San Francisco’s potent run game. Raheem Mostert’s trade request is concerning, yes, but are you really going to bet against Shanahan forging a productive ground attack one way or another?
“That could be difficult to do. These divisional games are going to be tough. The NFC West is rightly being called the best division in football by a lot of people going into the season. That’s not me saying the 49ers are better than the Seahawks or will finish ahead of the Seahawks, but if I had to take this specific bet, I’d probably say no on that.”
When I went through and made a game-by-game prediction earlier this offseason, I had the Seahawks splitting every divisional matchup: winning all three games at home and losing all three games on the road.
Seattle went 3-3 in the division last year, and the division has only gotten better. The Rams still can’t be counted out, and the Cardinals appear to be way ahead of their rebuild timeline. As for San Francisco, it’s really impressive how the 49ers kept the status quo this offseason. They remain a Super Bowl favorite despite having a roster that was getting too expensive. Seamlessly transitioning from DeForest Buckner, Emmanuel Sanders and Joe Staley to Javon Kinlaw, Brandon Aiyuk and Trent Williams is as good as they could have expected.
All eyes remain on the 49ers as to whether they’re able to get a deal done with superstar tight end George Kittle, but once that box is checked, it will have been a very productive offseason in the Bay Area.
Next year, Kittle will be an unrestricted free agent. The 49ers could franchise tag him next year, but doing so might poison their relationship with Kittle. He might refuse to sign the tag.
Isn’t it possible the 49ers might trade Kittle next offseason, like they traded Buckner this offseason? The 49ers could trade Kittle for a first-round pick, and use it on the best tight end in the draft — Pat Freiermuth from Penn State.
Let me be clear: I do not advise the 49ers to trade Kittle. They should extend him now. He’s a future Hall of Famer. But so is Buckner, potentially.
I can’t shake this feeling of deja vu.
That’s knowledge to us. Huge outstanding issues are still unresolved. We havent agreed to anything in their proposal and literally just sent them a response. But all will be revealed https://t.co/HcVWtA8OgX— Richard Sherman (@RSherman_25) July 10, 2020
“Really, everyone looked good,” Kittle said of the Nashville session. “It was just fun to see. You could tell guys have been working. That’s the effort you want to see. My last two OTAs, guys have come back and everyone might be a little stiff because maybe they weren’t training the absolute hardest because there’s phase one and phase two of OTAs for you to get fully back in shape. But when everyone showed up, everyone looked good. Everyone was moving fast, catching the ball, communicating well.
So, I think it was a good start, but we have a long way to go, and I think the foundation we have put in and that everyone has put in this offseason will definitely give us a step ahead on some teams.”