Offseason to-do list for the San Francisco 49ers
From 2003 through 2010, the San Francisco 49ers went through eight dismal seasons with a record of 46-82, and no playoff appearances under Dennis Erickson, Mike Nolan, and Mike Singletary.
Everything would change with the hiring of Jim Harbaugh in 2011. The 49ers four-year mark under Harbaugh was 44-19, with two NFC West division titles and one NFC Championship. In fact, Pro Football Focus ranked the 49ers as the top team overall in two of Harbaugh’s seasons.
So, what did CEO Jed York and G.M. Trent Baalke decide to do next? They let Harbaugh walk, and replaced him with a coach who had been in charge just once over his 26-year coaching career, and that was with the Rhein Fire of NFL Europe, Jim Tomsula.
Needless to say, that decision has not translated into a positive season for the franchise. San Francisco went from the 12th-ranked overall team for PFF last season, to its current 31st-ranking in 2015.
From top to bottom, the 49ers have holes nearly everywhere, with their top-ranked position player on the roster being FB Bruce Miller (eighth overall fullback). Not good.
With $40 million in cap space to spend, ownership needs to take a serious look again at their decision makers before they hand them too much power, considering how things ended with Harbaugh.
Once you decide what to do with the front office and staff, the roster needs an almost complete overhaul, starting at QB. The team will save another $12 million in cap space by parting ways with Colin Kaepernick, who currently ranks 36th out of 37 at the position for PFF.
Former first-round pick Blaine Gabbert has shown flashes since taking over in Week 9, but the jury is still out on whether he has the tools to be a long-term starter. So, unless they decide to take a chance on Sam Bradford via free agency or pull the trigger on a trade, the chances are good that the 49ers will be drafting a QB early next April.
As of today, San Francisco owns the fifth pick in the 2016 NFL Draft, but depending on how the rest of the season turns out, they could be drafting anywhere from first through 12th overall.
If they pull the trigger on a QB with their first pick, hometown boy Jared Goff from California would be a very popular choice. If Goff were not available, Memphis’ Paxton Lynch would be the only other QB considered in the top 12. Personally, I’m a Kevin Hogan fan, and since he played his ball down the block at Stanford, he could be a nice pick-up later on if they decide to go in another direction early.
Once the 49ers find their QB, he’ll need some weapons to throw to. With free agent WR Anquan Boldin turning 36 next season, there is little chance to expect he’ll want to return for a rebuild, but money does talk. That would open a big hole for a No. 1 receiver.
In reality, the 49ers need two starters there. For some reason, Baalke gave an average player like WR Torrey Smith a five-year, $40 million deal before the season. Smith currently ranks 61st overall for PFF, just ahead of teammate Quinton Patton (69th). The difference is that Patton makes less than $700,000 per year.
The tight end position is also an issue, as former second-round pick Vance McDonald just hasn’t developed as hoped, and ranks 50th at the position this season for PFF, with an overall grade of 60.6.
The offensive line has taken the biggest hit over the last five seasons, especially in the running game. San Francisco had a top-five run blocking unit under Harbaugh. The current run blocking unit ranks 31st in the NFL.
Re-signing LG Alex Boone should be a priority, but the right-side of the line, including their pivot, Marcus Martin, has major issues. Martin has actually regressed from his rookie season, and ranks 37th of 41 centers for PFF, at 27.3. RG Jordan Devey ranks 77th (37.5) and RT Erik Pears ranks 50th (42.6) at their respective positions this season.
Injuries, suspensions, and retirements have decimated the defense over the years, and the only key player left standing from their one-time dominant unit is ILB Navarro Bowman. Bowman has yet to recover to form after suffering a torn ACL in the 2014 NFC title game, and ranks 55th overall among NFL linebackers this year.
Considering Bowman’s age and contract, he’ll get at least one more season to prove he can once again become a force and a leader for the defense, but inside teammate and FA Michael Wilhoite likely won’t be returning after a dismal season. He ranks 89th out of 94 NFL linebackers, at 33.1.
On the outside, second-year man Aaron Lynch has been rock-solid, and ranks 21st overall among NFL edge defenders. The hope is that rookie third-round selection Eli Harold can improve upon a disappointing season to date, as the 86th-ranked edge defender for PFF, but 35-year old Ahmad Brooks could be cut, as his best days are behind him. Brooks can save the team $6.5 million in space if he departs a year early.
The future appears bright along the line, and should be the least of the 49ers’ worries. NT Ian Williams has been an underrated performer the past two seasons, and ranks 26th overall for interior defenders. No chance the team lets him walk after the season.
First round pick LE Arik Armstead is a freakish athlete at 6-foot-8-inches, 285 pounds, and is developing into a major piece up-front as the 29th ranked interior defender for PFF.
The wild-card is RE Tank Carradine. The former second-round pick in 2013 is starting to make plays, as he continues to progress, following an ACL injury that came late his final season at Florida State. He basically took a red-shirt in 2013, and did not see the field as a pro until Week 10 last season. If he continues to show signs of progress, San Francisco will have a solid up-and-coming line across the board for years to come.
The secondary is young and promising, but with salary cap limitations in Carolina, it might not be a bad idea to throw money towards impending free agent Josh Norman, the second-ranked CB for PFF at 90.9, and see if he’ll take the payday I’m not sure the Panthers can afford.