The San Francisco 49ers pulled off one of the most dramatic turnarounds in NFL history, going from 4-12 in 2018 to 13-3 and the top seed in the NFC. Head coach Kyle Shanahan led the 49ers all the way to Super Bowl 54 against the Chiefs.
The comeback stopped there after the 49ers gave up a lead in the fourth quarter to lose 31-20. After coming so far so quickly, the question is whether or the 49ers will remain an elite team and if Jimmy Garoppolo is their quarterback of the future.
That said, they’re still in a great position. Shanahan proved he has what it takes as a coach, and his offense is backed by a stout defense, led by returning defensive coordinator Robert Saleh. They have some big decisions to make regarding young players on rookie contracts and some holes to fill that will require some salary cap finessing.
San Francisco 49ers (13-3), lost Super Bowl
The 49ers are still a very complete team, and will return most starters from this past season. There are a couple notable holes, though.
Before free agency:
- Cornerback: Ahkello Witherspoon started opposite Richard Sherman in 2019, but he was eventually benched in favor of Emmanuel Moseley, who played well. Still, Moseley might just be a stopgap, and the 49ers should look to sign or draft someone with high upside.
- Safety: Starter Jimmie Ward is set to be an unrestricted free agent. The 49ers like their backups, notably Tarvarius Moore, but Ward was excellent last season. Ward’s injury history does make it more likely that other teams may be hesitant to give him a big deal on the open market, so he could be had for cheap. However, safety being a need in addition to cornerback makes it even more important that the 49ers add a defensive back this offseason.
- Wide Receiver: The 49ers traded for Emmanuel Sanders midseason, and he was a great fit in Shanahan’s offense. It’s unclear what the market will be like for the 33-year-old, but with Deebo Samuel coming off a promising rookie year, the 49ers can get away with bringing back someone like Sanders relatively cheap.
What Niners Nation wants most this offseason: The San Francisco 49ers are in a tricky spot. There aren’t many needs. The team could stand to upgrade at cornerback and right guard, but aside from that, this offseason is more about keeping the core intact. Will they pay edge rusher Arik Armstead? He feels like a priority. If that’s the case, Sanders and Ward likely leave in free agency. Safety, receiver, and cornerback. Oh, and a veteran in the secondary. — Kyle Posey
After free agency:
The 49ers locked up their two biggest free agents on long-term deals with Armstead and Ward. In doing so, they also parted with a great player by trading DeForest Buckner to the Colts in exchange for a first-round pick. The defensive line is still loaded, though. They also smartly tendered receiver Kendrick Bourne and retained Moseley. Here’s where their needs are now:
- Wide receiver: Sanders joined the Saints in free agency, so the 49ers are left without a home-run hitter at receiver. But it’s not surprising they haven’t addressed the position yet. With two first-round picks and an amazing wide receiver draft class, they’re well-positioned to fill the need.
- Offensive line: The 49ers released Mike Person, one of the top offensive linemen, for Tom Compton. It’s was a strange move and immediately makes right guard a huge need, unless the team feels certain about Daniel Brunskill beating out Compton for the starting role. There’s also the possibility that left tackle Joe Staley calls it a career soon, and starting center Weston Richburg has a lengthy injury history. One of the team’s strengths could easily be a huge weakness next season.
- Cornerback: Though the 49ers kept Moseley, he’s far from a sure thing. Witherspoon will try to battle for the starting job, but the 49ers could do with spending one of their high picks on a young cornerback to learn from Sherman.
After the draft:
The 49ers didn’t take a receiver or cornerback with their first pick. Instead, they landed Buckner’s replacement, South Carolina defensive tackle Javon Kinlaw, at No. 14. Later in the first round, they traded up for explosive Arizona State wide receiver Brandon Aiyuk. They added another receiver, Jauan Jennings out of Tennessee, in the seventh round.
Although they only drafted one tackle (West Virginia’s Colton McKivitz, in the fifth round), the 49ers prepared for Staley’s retirement by trading for Washington left tackle Trent Williams.
The big issues with San Francisco’s draft? No cornerback.