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Golden Nuggets: 49ers finish 2020 with a bottom three special teams unit in the NFL

Your daily San Francisco 49ers links for Friday, January 22, 2021

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NFL: JAN 03 Seahawks at 49ers Photo by Kiyoshi Mio/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The 49ers lost VP of Player Personnel Martin Mayhew on Wednesday to Washington’s Football team. Initially, Mayhew didn’t have a title so we thought San Francisco wouldn’t land a comp pick. That changed Thursday night after Washington named Mayhew its general manager.

The Niners will now own comp picks after the third round for three consecutive years now.

Buckner happy for Saleh, who is more than just a coach

“I’m beyond happy for Saleh and his family, with his head coaching opportunity with the Jets because it’s much deserved,” Buckner said. “I learned a lot throughout the three years I played for him.”

“With Saleh, it’s not just about football and the Xs and Os,” Buckner said. “He wants to teach you about life and build a relationship to get to know you personally. Which is why it was so easy to play for him.

“Yes, he is a phenomenal coach who will make the right adjustments throughout a game and always put you in position to succeed, but it’s his ability to connect with you and have you fired up and ready to play, week in and week out, no matter the circumstances.”

4 decisions that backfired on SF 49ers in 2020

No. 4: SF 49ers not selecting a cornerback in the 2020 NFL Draft

That was only a case study, though. What matters here are the long-term implications.

While the Niners only took home five players in the 2020 NFL Draft, not one of them was a cornerback in what was an awfully deep draft class at that position. It was a need, too, considering Verrett, Williams, Ahkello Witherspoon and Richard Sherman are all poised to hit free agency this offseason.

With a massive degree of uncertainty heading into 2021, and the reality many corners tend to struggle with transitioning from the college ranks to the pros, San Francisco would have been wise to take advantage of that deep class in 2020 and add to its future cornerbacking ranks with some up-and-coming talent.

Not doing so was a problem last season and could be again in 2021.

Why the 49ers Probably will Trade Jimmy Garoppolo this Offseason

So the 49ers would have to renegotiate Garoppolo’s contract and extend it to keep him. And they easily could extend it — they could do it today. They could have extended it last year.

But they didn’t. And they probably won’t.

Because the 49ers don’t seem to want to extend Garoppolo’s contract. Don’t seem to want to commit themselves to him long term. Instead, they want to maintain the ability to move him at any time. So I think they’ll move him soon. As in this offseason.

The 49ers can’t say that, of course. They have to say Garoppolo is their quarterback until they finalize a deal to send him out of town, because there always is a possibility they won’t finalize deal. A small possibility. So they have to be careful with what they say.

Saleh speaks as a Jet for first time, overwhelmingly fills staff with former 49ers

He recognized that, much like when Kyle Shanahan took over the 49ers, it’s not going to be an immediate success.

“It will take time, but everything we do will be designed to win championships in the future,” Saleh said.

He spoke glowingly of Sam Darnold’s arm talent, but said it was premature, without staff having been finalized and long discussions yet to be had, to say he would be the team’s starting quarterback.

Saleh said he’s contacted every player on the Jets’ roster already, typifying his approach.

“I believe that coaches and players are in this thing together,” Saleh said. “The investment coaches put into players should be equivalent to the investment you put in your children… It becomes personal.”

State of the 49ers, special teams edition: Improvement is necessary in 2021

Cumulatively, the 2020 49ers came close to being the inverse of the 2011 “Tony Montana Squad” 49ers, whose special teams unit finished No. 1 in multiple phases and led the NFL at plus-66 expected points on the season.

Of course, in a twist of fate, that 2011 team was ultimately felled by two special teams debacles — see punt returner Kyle Williams in the NFC title game — but its fantastic regular-season performance combined with an overpowering defense to overcome a mediocre 49ers offense.

The cascading effect of issues discussed above prevented the 2020 49ers from being able to replicate that formula.

Both facets of the return game and kick coverage were glaringly deficient. But if we zoom closely into Wishnowsky’s performance, it’s apparent that the 49ers’ punt coverage also struggled in 2020.