As with nearly everyone in the entire world, the year 2020 did not go as planned for the San Francisco 49ers. A painful Super Bowl loss to the Kansas City Chiefs was met by a positive offseason in which the 49ers retooled and reconfigured their roster to commence their ‘revenge tour’.
The 49ers proceeded to finish 6-10, place last in the NFC West, lose a plethora of starting and back-up players and get kicked out of their home stadium due to COVID-19 restriction within the Bay area. It was the season from hell.
On the plus side, despite losing their talented defensive coordinator Robert Saleh and pass game coordinator Mike LaFleur, head coach and general manager tag-team of Kyle Shanahan and John Lynch remains intact. Moreover, there will be continuity on the defensive side of the ball as linebackers coach Demeco Ryans took over from Saleh has the defensive coordinator.
So, despite a season from hell, things are still looking bright in the Bay heading into the 2021 offseason. However, as Lynch and Shanahan know all too well, everyone has a plan until they’re punched in the mouth. Luckily for them, the fight won’t begin until September. Here are three things the 49ers must do to best prepare themselves for the 2021 season.
Gain clarity at the quarterback position
The options for the 49ers right now are two-fold. Either cut Garoppolo outright, eating only $2.8 million in dead cap, and trade for Deshaun Watson, or, keep Garoppolo and either trade for Sam Darnold or draft one of Zach Wilson, Trey Lance, Mac Jones.
Whatever the 49ers do, they must be decisive and seek out clarity at the position. The quarterback is the most important member of your franchise, and if there is uncertainty and doubt surrounding that particular position, then it will bleed into the rest of the organisation. As the arms race that is the NFL continues to heat up, the 49ers must ensure they do everything in their power to not get left behind when it comes to the quarterback – and their time is running out.
Lockdown their superstars
The only real downside for the 49ers if John Lynch decides to trade for Deshaun Watson is that they will not be able to hold on to both starting left-tackle Trent Williams and starting middle linebacker, Fred Warner.
If the 49ers do break the bank and trade for Watson, they’ll most likely elect to keep Warner, a homegrown talent drafted in 2017 who is one of the unequivocal leaders of the organisation.
However, if Lynch resists the urge to trade for Watson and goes cheap at the quarterback position, it is of the utmost importance that he secures these two cornerstones of the franchise.
Despite some early teething problems, Trent Williams quickly allowed his quality to shine through, reaffirming himself as the best left tackle in the NFL after missing all of the 2019 season. Williams ranked eleventh in PFF’s Top 101 players of 2020, excelling in both pass blocking and run blocking.
As Chiefs fans soon found out in the Super Bowl, having a quality left tackle protecting your quarterback is one of the most integral aspects of succeeding on the gridiron.
PFF predicts that the 49ers will offer Williams a monster contract offer of $80 million over four years. While it may seem pricey, this type of insurance for your quarterback is almost priceless. If the 49ers were to draft a rookie, keeping him clean and upright will do wonders for his development.
On the flip side, Warner is just as important to the defence as Williams is to the offence.
A player that can make a running back’s teeth wobble and stick to a slot receiver like glue in the same game, Warner is a rare cerebral and physical talent as well as a natural-born leader. In the process of building a premier NFL franchise, you do not let these type of guys – this level of homegrown talent – just walk out of the door.
Currently, Seahawks linebacker Bobby Wagner is the highest paid linebacker in the NFL, earning $18 million a year. Warner is expected to make something in the same ballpark as Wagner as he looks to surpass the Seahawk as the best linebacker in the league.
Shore-up the secondary
Outside of the offensive line’s teething problems, the biggest area of need for the 49er to address is the secondary.
The 49ers lack of depth in the secondary was exposed at times last season with injuries forcing 4th string talent into starting positions. For example, Dontae Johnson is a nice depth piece to have but gave up a key touchdown against Travis Fulgham and the Eagles in Week Four. Moreover, practise squad cornerback Brian Allen was promoted to cornerback 2 against the Miami Dolphins in Week Five. Allen proceeded to give up close to 100 total yards in the blink of an eye against the Dolphins, including a 22-yard touchdown on 3rd & Goal.
If the 49ers are to help out their defensive line and make sure their defence is suitably balanced heading into the 2021 season, they must re-sign Verrett and look to draft a cornerback. If not in the first round of the draft, then the later rounds. A cornerback grouping of Verrett, Emmanuel Moseley and Ahkello Witherspoon does have potential, but lacks depth and raising concerns over durability.