This offseason was set up to be a rollercoaster for the San Francisco 49ers the second the season ended. There are thousands of reasons why, but the way the NFC Championship game ended with Jimmy Garoppolo struggling in the fourth quarter had to top the list:
the final 7 plays of Jimmy G as QB1 in SF— Warren Sharp (@SharpFootball) August 16, 2022
a trip to the Super Bowl on the line
1 for 6, -3 yards, 1 interception, 1 delay of game pic.twitter.com/drvVxiatPd
Everyone in the 49ers organization understood that the Jimmy G era in San Francisco was over. Following their elimination, Garoppolo said his goodbyes and thanked everyone in the organization. It was clear this chapter of his career had come to an end ...
Or so we thought.
You wouldn’t know that if you followed the quarterback rumors during the offseason, though. Analysts pushed the narrative that Garoppolo would return as the team’s starter with every opportunity. Did they have any evidence? Of course not, but that didn’t stop them, no matter what people who cover the team or 49ers players and coaches said.
Even up until training camp, because Garoppolo remains on the roster, many believed the team that traded multiple first-round picks to acquire a quarterback would leave an expensive, oft-injured one on the roster. The justifications became more and more comical.
Garoppolo remained on the team through training camp, but head coach Kyle Shanahan was adamant all offseason that the team wasn’t going to give away Garoppolo for free.
Shanahan explained how the salary cap was the driving force to moving on from Jimmy. He knew it would be difficult to retain stars like Fred Warner, George Kittle, Deebo Samuel, and Nick Bosa...
But then Garoppolo surprised everyone. Rather than forcing the Niners to release him to pursue a bigger role elsewhere, he took a massive pay cut to stay in San Francisco as the backup (at least for now). Still with the team, speculation that the 49ers are concerned Lance is not ready to start or that Shanahan wants to keep Garoppolo is running rampant, but folks said the inverse when Garoppolo was starting last season (myself included). Everyone was waiting for Shanahan to go to the backup and that time never came. For better or worse, the Niners head coach is stubborn. While it’s definitely possible that San Francisco return to Garoppolo down the line, it’s far from the certainty that many are speculating.
With Trey Lance, the Niners not only have his amazing potential, but also a starting quarterback on a rookie contract. As the team prioritizes retaining as much of its top-tier talent as possible, Lance should give them more flexibility. For as talented as the 49ers’ roster is today, they might even hypothetically have the opportunity to add a few more pieces over the next couple of offseasons and put themselves in an ideal position to win over the next decade.
Deebo isn’t a diva
While trade rumors were expected to surround Garoppolo leading up to the draft, it was Niners star wide receiver Deebo Samuel who generated the biggest headlines leading up to the main event of the offseason.
Samuel emerged as one of the best receivers in the NFL last season, racking up 1,405 receiving yards alongside a unique ability out of the backfield that helped him amass another 365 rushing yards. Yet, as extension talks between Samuel and the 49ers reached an impasse, the South Carolina alum requested a trade.
With several other star receivers on the move this offseason, it quickly became easy to see the Niners moving Samuel for a package of draft picks. Instead, the Niners stuck by their guns and rejected all offers. Shanahan and general manager John Lynch were betting that they could eventually find an agreement with Samuel, and their patience was proven right.
Samuel and the 49ers agreed to a three-year, $71.55 million extension late in the offseason, just in time to quell any concerns of a distraction. Ever since the deal, both Samuel and Shanahan have looked like they have as good a relationship as ever. It’s a testament to an organization that it can draft and develop star players. It’s an added testament to the Niners that they were able to overcome a tumultuous negotiation and rebuild their relationship with Samuel.
A splash at cornerback
The 49ers biggest move of the offseason was signing free-agent cornerback Charvarius Ward to a three-year, $40.05 million deal away from Kansas City. Without a first-round pick and limited cap space, San Francisco dedicated almost all of its offseason firepower to bring in Ward.
The Niners could have used the money to retain left guard Laken Tomlinson or interior defensive lineman D.J. Jones, but they solidified their trust in recent high draft picks Aaron Banks and Javon Kinlaw at each spot while adding other depth pieces in free agency and the draft.
We’ll have to wait until the regular season starts to know if Ward will live up to his contract, but the early reviews from training camp have been exceedingly positive. Ward has a chance to be the best cornerback in San Francisco since Shanahan became head coach, and with other proven corners like Emmanuel Moseley and Jason Verrett returning, defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans might have the 49ers' best secondary in decades.
Other than Ward, none of the Niners' offseason acquisitions are expected to start. With that said, several players will have opportunities to contribute.
Safety George Odum, linebacker Oren Burks, and wide receiver Ray-Ray McCloud were the next three most expensive additions. All three are expected to be major contributors on special teams, although Odum could see some time at safety and McCloud has a chance to be a dynamic vertical threat as the third or fourth receiver.
Edge rusher Kemoko Turay signed a one-year, $1.7 million deal, but the former second-round pick is coming off a season when he recorded 5.5 sacks. Turay never lived up to his draft stock with the Indianapolis Colts, but he has a fantastic opportunity to have a career year alongside the incredible star power along the defensive line.
A depth-focused draft
San Francisco did not have a selection until the 61st overall pick, but they still made nine selections over the course of the draft, solidifying depth at several spots. USE edge rusher Drake Jackson was the team’s top selection with some tantalizing physical skills in need of refinement.
With their two third-round picks, the 49ers solidified their skill positions by adding running back Ty Davis-Price and wide receiver Danny Gray. Davis-Price is more of a physical bruiser than the backs the Niners have typically targeted, giving them an added look in the backfield. Gray is a complete speedster, and his 4.33 40-yard dash at the combine suggests he should give the Niners a vertical threat.
From there, the 49ers solidified the lines and secondary, selecting offensive linemen Spencer Burford and Nick Zakelj, cornerbacks Samuel Womack and Tariq Castro-Fields, and defensive lineman Kalia Davis before drafting quarterback Brock Purdy with the final pick. Burford and Zakelj immediately enter a crowded but relatively unproven offensive line competition, while Womack and Castro-Fields will likely only have a path to the roster through playing time at nickel or on special teams. Davis is out for the year with an injury and will essentially redshirt this season.
No one in the 49ers’ draft class is a guaranteed to contribute as a rookie, but San Francisco added players at nearly every position of weakness. The Niners are one of the few teams that do not need major contributions from their rookies, but it will be a huge boon if they do.
Mike McDaniel heads to South Beach amidst staff shuffle
The 49ers' biggest departure from the team’s brain trust came when offensive coordinator Mike McDaniel was hired as the new head coach of the Miami Dolphins. While Shanahan has always been San Francisco’s primary play caller, McDaniel has long been one of Shanahan’s most trusted assistants. McDaniel has been the primary architect of the 49ers' incredibly productive run game in recent years, and his departure creates a big hole in their staff. The Niners promoted Chris Foerster to become the new run-game coordinator and also added former Chargers head coach Anthony Lynn, who is considered one of the best run designers in the league, as a top assistant.
McDaniel took tight ends coach Jon Embree and wide receivers coach Wes Welker with him to Miami, but those were not the only departures. Quarterbacks coach Rich Scarangello became the offensive coordinator at the University of Kentucky, while special teams coordinator Richard Hightower and defensive assistant James Bettcher were each let go.
The Niners infused the bottom rungs of the coaching staff with youth, adding several new coaches from the college ranks. At the two most notable spots, Shanahan decided to hire Brian Griese out of ESPN’s broadcast booth to be his quarterbacks' coach and longtime Seahawks special teams coach Brian Schneider as the 49ers' new special teams coordinator.
Still, the two most important members of the 49ers coaching staff are back: Shanahan and Ryans. They were the leading staff members on each side of the ball and are both probably top-five play callers. Ryans was a finalist for the head coaching job in Minnesota and had he received it, there would be far larger questions about the staff heading into the year. Because he stayed, they seem well situated to handle the turnover.