The 49ers set a new record for futility on Sunday in Miami, losing their 10th consecutive game. At 1-10 it’s time to start thinking about the upcoming offseason and 2017.
There are many questions that still need to be answered:
How will Jed York respond to such a dismal campaign?
Will Trent Baalke return for another season?
Is Chip Kelly going to return to Oregon and leave the 49ers looking for yet another Head Coach?
Will Colin Kaepernick return or opt out of his 2017 contract and bolt in free agency?
Will free agents willingly sign to play for Kelly or will the 49ers need to overpay to attract them?
Based on what I’ve seen in recent weeks, I’d bring Kaepernick back in 2017 as the starting QB. He has shown improvement week-to-week in Chip’s offense and he’s the 49ers lone dynamic playmaker. The 49ers’ roster desperately needs more dynamic playmakers on both sides of the ball if they want to return to the Super Bowl and their first opportunity will be when they (hopefully) aggressively dive into free agency in March. They may have over $75 million of available cap room to spend on their myriad of needs. I would focus on five key free agents:
Wide receiver Alshon Jeffery
Outside linebackers Melvin Ingram
Outside linebacker Chandler Jones
Inside linebacker Lawrence Timmons
Free safety DJ Swearinger
The 49ers lack of dynamic players at wide receiver has been their primary offensive issue. Torrey Smith is not a true #1 wide receiver. He is a go-pattern, deep threat with average ball skills and route-running ability. Jeremy Kerley is a nice little slot receiver, but with the rest of the wide receiver corps being so underwhelming, teams are able to focus on the 5’9″ receiver. Alshon Jeffery would give Kaepernick a big, physical wideout who can win the 1-on-1, man-to-man matchups on the outside. A Jeffery, Smith, Kerley trio could be very productive for Kaepernick.
Jim O’Neill has dialed up an assortment of exotic blitzes throughout the season because the 49ers can’t produce a consistent pass rush from their front four. O’Neill’s blitz packages have been very effective at times, but the lack of a dynamic pass rusher is glaring. Aaron Lynch has had weight and injury issues. Tank Carradine is more ideally suited to play end in a 4-3 front. Eli Harold is a raw, undisciplined player with poor instincts and Ahmad Brooks has already played his best football. I’d sign both Chandler Jones and Melvin Ingram to bolster the unit. Jones will consistently command double teams and Ingram is very versatile and athletic.
Once NaVorro Bowman went down, the 49ers’ run defense evaporated. They allow 180-yards rushing per game, worst in the NFL. Their inability to stop the run has been a consistent theme. I’d sign inside linebacker Lawrence TImmons and pair him inside with Bowman in 2017. Timmons is big, fast, physical and productive and would immediately improve the run defense.
Every defense needs a tone setter at safety. The Seahawks’ defense is intimidating and it’s led by two physical safeties in Kam Chancellor and Earl Thomas. The Walsh/Seifert 49ers had Ronnie Lott, Jeff Fuller, and Chet Brooks. The Harbaugh 49ers had Dashon Goldson and Donte Whitner. DJ Swearinger is a physical, tone-setting safety that opposing receivers fear, respect and keep account of. Adding Swearinger would give a young, deep, and talented secondary the necessary swagger and confidence they currently lack.
The April draft is an important one for the 49ers. Here is what I would do:
Round 1 – Myles Garrett-OLB/Texas A&M
Round 2 – Raekwon McMillan-ILB/Ohio State
Round 3 – Luke Falk-QB/Washington State
Round 4 – TRADE PICK to Buffalo for NG-Marcel Dareus
Round 5 – Ejuan Price – OLB/Pittsburgh
Round 6 – Brian Hill – RB/Wyoming
Round 6 – (from Denver for Vernon Davis) DeMore’ea Stringfellow-WR/Ole Miss
Round 7 – Deatrich Wise – OLB/Arkansas
Round 7 – (from Cleveland for Andy Lee) Gerald Everett – TE/South Alabama
UFA – Gabe Marks – WR/Washington State
Garrett is a cornerstone player for their front seven. McMillan would emerge as a force in the middle at ILB. Falk needs time to grow and adjust to a pro-style offense, but his poise, arm and accuracy are all impressive. Buffalo once gave up on All-Pro running back Marshawn Lynch due to injury and off-the-field issues when they traded him to Seattle and they may repeat history with Dareus. Dareus is a risky addition with two NFL disciplinary strikes on his resume, but his talent is worth gambling on. He could emerge as a major force against both the run and the pass. Price is a terrific rusher who lacks height. Hill is a big, physical running back. Stringfellow is an underrated wideout with size and body control. Wise is a long, athletic SEC rusher. Everett would compete for a roster spot at tight end and Marks is an underrated receiver with good production, sneaky speed and has familiarity with Falk.
I would jettison or let depart in free agency a group of twelve players that includes:
Here is what the 49ers 2017 depth chart could look like:
QB – Colin Kaepernick, Christian Ponder, Luke Falk
RB – Carlos Hyde, DuJuan Harris, Mike Davis, Brian Hill, Shaun Draughn
WR – Alshon Jeffrey, Torrey Smith, Jeremy Kerley, Aaron Burbridge, Rod Streater, Eric Rogers, DeAndre Smelter, Bruce Ellington, DeMore’ea Stringfellow, Gabe Marks
TE – Vance McDonald, Garrett Celek, Blake Bell, Gerald Everett
OL – Joe Staley, Zane Beadles, Daniel Kilgore, Joshua Garnett, Trent Brown, John Theus, Andrew Tiller, Marcus Martin, Alex Balducci, Fahn Cooper, Collin Kelly
PK – Phil Dawson
P – Bradley Pinion
LS – Kyle Nelson
KR/PR – JaCorey Shepherd
DL – DeForest Buckner, Marcel Dareus, Glenn Dorsey, Quinton Dial, Mike Purcell, Ronald Blair, Arik Armstead