Sunday, February 9, 2020

The Game Plan For the 49ers Off-seaon


            You all know by now that our beloved 49ers lost to the Kansas City Chiefs in the Super Bowl on Groundhog’s Day.  You also know that a combination of the team shooting itself in the foot and the type of poor officiating which had not been seen since Roethlisberger’s first Super Bowl crowning was the reason for this loss.  But it’s time to let that go and have the past be the past.  Why?  Because the 49ers have a considerable number of decisions to make before the 2020 NFL season begins, a season which will have the team facing the fourth hardest schedule on paper, so they have no time for the Super Bowl blues.
In a previous article, I detailed who the unrestricted free agents (UFAs) were for the 49ers and whether the front office should keep them or let them walk.  I plan to expound on some of that for this article, but I will also be updating my current view on what the 49ers should do with each UFA, along with providing a game plan of what needs to be done in order for the team to get back to the Super Bowl and quench’s the Faithful’s thirst for a sixth title.

Replace Joe Woods.
The 49ers have lost a key figure to the secondary’s success during the past season with the Cleveland Browns naming Joe Woods as their new defensive backs (DB) coach.  However, this vacancy may not be for long because of two former defensive backs coaches that have recently hit the market.  One is Steve Wilks, who was the Carolina Panthers’ DB coach from 2014-2016 before a one-year stint as the Panthers defensive coordinator, followed by another year-long stint as the Arizona Cardinals head coach, and then his short stay as the defensive coordinator of the Cleveland Blahs Browns. 
But the other guy, Kris Richards, maybe the better option to pair with Saleh; while he was with the Dallas Cowboys, he ran a system that is similar to what the 49ers ran in 2019.  Richards is also a no-nonsense coach who could help Witherspoon and Moseley take the next step needed for one or each one to become a capable starting NFL cornerback. 
(UPDATE):  While I was working on this, I stumbled onto an article from Kyle Posey of ninersnation.com detailing that the 49ers interviewed former Dolphins DB coach Tony Oden.  I am not sure how I feel about the 49ers potentially hiring Oden to replace Joe Woods.  On the one hand, Oden has coached three secondaries which finished in the top five for interceptions in the 2013, 2014, and 2017 seasons.  On the other hand, the Dolphins secondary was rated the worst of 2019 by PFF.
Personally, I think Richards would be the better choice of the three.

Cut WR Marquise Goodwin and OG Mike Person.
Goodwin is a player you want to root for because of the personal tragedies he and his wife has faced during his tenure with the 49ers, but the production on the field does not even come close to matching the nearly $5 million salary hit the 49ers will take if Goodwin remains on the roster.  Why pay a player who was essentially eliminated from having any type of role on the offense when the 49ers traded for Emmanuel Sanders?  The writing appears to be on the wall.
Unlike Goodwin, Person was a starter that never lost his starting role throughout the season either through an injury or a trade.  He also will only cost the 49ers $2.5 million during the upcoming season. 
So why on earth should the 49ers cut Person?  Because he is horrid in pass protection.  David Lombardi recently posted an article on The Athletic detailing how bad pass protection was for the 49ers.  In it, Lombardi cited PFF which ranked Person 52nd in terms of pass-blocking efficiency out of 62 qualifying NFL guards.  Yikes.  Granted, OG Laken Tomlinson was ranked 41st, but Person was worse.  If the 49ers want to improve their pass protection so they can open up the offense more and give Garoppolo more time to throw, then cutting Person should be no problem.  That cutting him will result in no dead cap hit is just a bonus.

Extend TE George Kittle.
Kittle has become one of the most complete TEs in the league, and the 49ers should try to get an extension done with him before his price tag becomes too high for the team to be able to take on.  Currently Kittle is expected to get a contract extension that will be around at least $13 million a year, but there is a possibility that amount could go even higher if TE Travis Kelce gets a new deal like Adam Teicher from espn.com discussed in his most recent blog article.  Couple this with the almost certainty of Kittle’s worth increasing even more after the 2020 NFL season, and it makes sense that the 49ers should get a contract extension done with Kittle during the offseason.

Extend CB Richard Sherman.
Most of the fan base can agree that Sherman did not play well in the Super Bowl against the Kansas City Chiefs.  However, Sherman has been the consummate leader and best piece of the 49ers secondary since he joined the team in 2018.  Therefore, it is probably a smart move if the 49ers try to work out an extension with Sherman which will keep him with the team until after the 2021 or 2022 NFL season.  Working out an extension would allow for the 49ers to keep a top 10 CB on their defense and allow them to find someone to eventually take over as the best starting option at CB; the 49ers may already have that guy on the team, but so far Witherspoon has not been instinctive enough, and Moseley has struggled with savvy receivers.

Have players take a pay cut or restructure their contract.
The 49ers are expected to have around $20 million in cap space thanks in part to Kwon Alexander restructuring his contract.  But most of that is probably already earmarked for the 2020 draft class and a new deal for Kittle.  That leaves little room to extend Buckner, re-sign any of their pending free agents, or add a player or two from free agency that can help them get back to the Super Bowl.  Needless to say, the 49ers have their work cut out for them if they wish to gain some cap relief.
The front office can start this process by finding out how Jerick McKinnon wants to stay with the 49ers.  Recently, McKinnon indicated that he was willing to do whatever it takes to get on the field.  Does this include taking a pay cut?  If so, then it presents a golden opportunity for the 49ers to gain back a decent amount of cap space without taking a $4 million cap hit if McKinnon is released.
DE Solomon Thomas is someone the 49ers could also ask to take a pay cut.  Currently, Thomas is expected to cost almost $9 million.  That is a lot of money for a player on the defensive line who was not a starter in 2019.  Thomas’s stats do little justice in creating an argument that he is worth that much to the team, so asking him to redo his contract and take a pay cut sounds like a reasonable request.
As for a player the 49ers could ask to restructure their contract, the best choice is Jimmy Garoppolo.  The starting 49ers quarterback is set to earn $26.6 million in 2020, which is a pretty good hit.  Asking Garoppolo to shift some of his salary to signing bonus money which can be distributed throughout the remainder of his contract would be beneficial to the team.
Some of the other players whom the 49ers could ask to restructure their contracts are DE Dee Ford, OT Joe Staley, OG Laken Tomlinson, and CB Ahkello Witherspoon.

Figure out what they have in WR Dante Pettis and DE Solomon Thomas.
Pettis and Thomas were expected to be cornerstones by GM John Lynch when he drafted them, but so far neither player has even come close to that aspiration.  Pettis entered the 2019 season as a starter but lost that role and significant playing time due to his inability to fight for the contested catches and be an aggressive pass catcher.  Meanwhile, Thomas has yet to live up to the status of being the third pick in the 2017 NFL draft; part of this is due to the tragedy and depression which beset him through 2018, but it does not change the reality of Thomas being a backup on the 49ers defensive line.  Can Pettis and Thomas finally establish that they are a fit for the 49ers, or will the team’s patient approach towards the two end with one or both players getting cut, traded, or asked to take a pay cut? 

Re-sign DE/DT Arik Armstead and let FS Jimmie Ward, WR Emmanuel Sanders, and DE Ronald Blair walk.
            In my previous article, I said the 49ers should let Armstead walk while trying to resign Ward, Sanders, and Blair.  But since writing said article, Armstead and 49ers GM Lynch have both stated they want him back with the 49ers and OLB Kwon Alexander restructured his contract to give the 49ers an additional $8.1 million in cap space.  According to spotrac.com, this now gives the 49ers almost $20 million in cap space to work with.  With the likelihood the 49ers will shed more payroll, it makes all the sense in the world for the 49ers to try to resign a player who gelled so well in the Wide 9 the 49ers implemented in 2019.
            Ward had a fantastic season in 2019, but he has struggled to stay healthy during his NFL career, and a weak free-agent market and draft class at the FS position could cause another team to overpay for his services.  Ward is an above average safety, but his overall history does not justify giving him a big contract.
            There is no argument that the trade for Sanders upgraded the passing game, but Sanders will be 33 in March and was the second-best WR on the team.  It is expected that Sanders will try to go after one last big payday, and while he does fit in Shanahan’s offense, the 49ers would be better served to address the position through free agency or the draft.
            If Blair can return to the 49ers without costing more than what the 49ers believe he is worth, then the team should do their best to resign him due to what he brings as a depth piece on the defensive line.  But the ability to sign Blair is dependent on whether the 49ers re-sign or tag Armstead and extend Buckner or Kittle.  Given that choice, the 49ers would most likely allow Blair to test free agency.

            There is my game plan for the 49ers to implement for them to go back to the Super Bowl in 2020.  Do you agree with it?  If not, then what do you think the 49ers should do? 
            In my next article, I plan on looking at the free agents the 49ers could sign to help them continue to contend in the NFC West and for the Super Bowl.  Look forward to it!!!

Sources used in creating this article:
https://www.espn.com/blog/kansas-city-chiefs/post/_/id/27855/kansas-city-chiefs-to-do-list-deals-for-patrick-mahomes-chris-jones-and-more
https://www.nbcsports.com/bayarea/49ers/jerick-mckinnon-willing-do-whatever-return-49ers-next-season

Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Which Guy should the 49ers Re-sign?


In my last article, I discussed some of the issues that the front office faces this offseason in keeping players who were key figures in helping the 49ers reach the Super Bowl.  In this one, I will be putting on my fake GM cap and looking at who should be paid to stay with the 49ers or be allowed to test free agency out of the free agents.  In order to keep it simple, I will only talk about the players who are unrestricted free agents or could be one if the 49ers decline their club option.  First, I will break down what each player has done for the team, then follow it up with a verdict and why I reached the decision for that player.  Some may agree with my conclusions, while others may tell me to check my living area for fumes or be thanking the heavens that I am not an actual GM for the team.  Whatever you think is fine by me, especially since I am doing this just for fun, have already checked for any gas leaks, and am thanking the heavens that I am not an actual GM.

DE/DL Arik Armstead
            In 2019, Armstead finally experienced the breakout season that the 49ers fans have been waiting for to happen for so long.  And break out he did.  After reaching a career-high of three sacks during the 2018 season, Armstead obliterated that number by taking down QBs 10 times during the regular season. Armstead was held without a sack during the last five regular-season games, but he has added two more sacks to his season total during the playoffs.  Armstead also succeeded in defending against two passes and forcing two fumbles, as well as recovering a fumble.  His stats also included career highs in QB hits (18) and TFLs (11).  
VERDICT:  Let him test free agency
            While re-upping with Armstead would be a great outcome for the 49ers, the reality is that it will be next to impossible for this to happen.  After all, Armstead is only 26 years old and has been able to play in all 16 regular-season games for two straight seasons.  More importantly, Armstead is coming off a career year, so his stock is currently at an all-time high.  All of this adds up to the 49ers being unable to keep Armstead because he will cost too much.  Can the 49ers apply the franchise tag to him?  Sure, for a projected $19.3 million if he designated as a DE.  Like I said, too much.

FS Jimmie Ward
            Aside from finishing third-best on the team in total tackles and defending 8 passes, there is not much to glean from the stats Ward put up in 2019 to how valuable he was to the 49ers.  But any 49ers fan knows that the secondary really improved once Ward returned as a starter after sitting out the first few games of the season due to an injury.  For one, there were considerably less bad angles taken by the FS on passes thrown.  And when he was paired with Tartt, it felt like no RB could score on the unit.  Over and over again, Ward made or helped make several stops, from the TD saving tackle on RB Nick Chubb against the Browns in front of a Monday Night Football audience to halting the Rams twice on fourth down when the 49ers played against them in October.  
VERDICT:  Let him test free agency, but try to re-sign him.
            If teams only look at the stats Ward put up, then he will be easier for the 49ers to resign.  However, teams in need of a FS will probably be watching how Ward does in the Super Bowl; if he helps the 49ers stop the high-octane Chiefs offense, then that will likely increase Ward’s already high value he gained during the regular season and playoffs and make him less likely to return to the 49ers.  Adding to the conundrum is the weakness of the FS position in free agency and the draft.   The 49ers could apply the franchise tag to him, but does the team, whose coaching staff has raved about Ward and his work ethic in the past, want to pay over $8-10 million for a player who has been injury-prone?  If the 49ers are fine with taking the risk, then the team should try to resign Ward because his presence in the secondary really benefitted the defense.

WR Emmanuel Sanders
            Acquired via a trade with the Broncos in October, the presence of Sanders made the passing game of the 49ers a more dangerous component of the offense that could not be taken lightly by any NFL defense.  Sanders showed that he can burn a team if they do not do a good job covering him, which is something the Cardinals and Saints found out.  But when teams did successfully cover him, it opened up things for Bourne and Samuel as pass catchers, with the former snagging five TD passes and the latter having a more solid rookie season after Sanders arrived through the Broncos trade.  Don’t believe me?  Check out the stats for Bourne and Samuel at http://www.nfl.com/player/kendrickbourne/2558914/gamelogs and http://www.nfl.com/player/deebosamuel/2562721/gamelogs.  
VERDICT:  Re-sign him.
            This is honestly a no-brainer.  Not only has Sanders added something to the passing game, but he has also shown that he is a great blocker and (unlike Dante Pettis) is not afraid of fighting for the ball.  Sanders will be 33 years old by the start of the 2020 regular season and has also stated that he wants to play for at least two more years, so the 49ers should be able to resign the playmaker to a deal that will not be a big hit to the salary cap.  Having Sanders aboard will also give the 49ers a solid #2 WR in their offense once Samuel become the top WR.
DE/DL Ronald Blair
            Utilized primarily as a backup and pass-specialist in 2019, Blair was on pace to break his career-high in sacks, tackles, and TFLs.  Unfortunately, Blair suffered an injury that put an end to his 2019 campaign.  When Blair was on the field however, he always seemed to be able to make his presence be known.
VERDICT:  Re-sign him before someone else does.
            Don’t let the short description of his 2019 season fool you.  Blair was a difference-maker whenever he was on the field, so the 49ers should do their best to resign him given the injury history of DE Dee Ford and the lack of quality depth at DE behind Ford and Nick Bosa.  The 49ers may be able to sign Blair to a low-cost deal given that he is coming back from an injury, but he is a player that seems to be ready to be given a starting role on a defense, and a team could swoop in and sign Blair to a deal that may be too rich for the 49ers if they are not careful.

FB Kyle Juszczyk
            I am only including Juice because he could be a free agent if the team declines his club option, but the likelihood of that happening is as strong as the Bengals winning the Super Bowl this Sunday.  No team is going to get rid of a player that brings so much to an offense, even if they are playing a position that teams are eliminating from their rosters.
VERDICT:  Who would seriously reach this point?

*TFL is short for tackle for loss.

Check out these links and tell me if you agree or disagree with my conclusions.