49ers' Biggest Keys to Having Successful NFL Offseason
The San Francisco 49ers took a step back in 2020, going from Super Bowl runners-up to a 6-10 campaign. However, fans shouldn't be too discouraged about the team's future, as injuries were largely responsible for the sudden decline.
With players like Nick Bosa, George Kittle, Richard Sherman and Jimmy Garoppolo out for extended periods of time, San Francisco's Super Bowl-caliber roster simply wasn't together much of the time.
The 49ers can get back to contention in 2021, but it's going to take a successful offseason to get there. Fortunately, San Francisco is armed with more than $17.1 million in projected salary-cap space, per Spotrac, and can afford to make moves to get where it wants to be.
Here we'll examine three keys to a successful 49ers offseason
Figure Things Out at Quarterback
Garoppolo was limited to just six games in 2020, but that's not the only reason why San Francisco may be interested in finding an upgrade at quarterback. Garoppolo also missed 13 games in 2018 and has been good but not great—he has a career passer rating of 98.9—in his 49ers career.
This could be why San Francisco reportedly looked into acquiring Matthew Stafford earlier this offseason.
Detroit Lions coach Dan Campbell told Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press that the 49ers were involved in talks for Stafford. According to The MMQB's Albert Breer, however, San Francisco never made an official offer.
Step 1 will be determining whether Garoppolo is still the right quarterback for San Francisco's future. If he isn't, then the 49ers will have to search for their next signal-caller—be it a trade target like Deshaun Watson or a prospect early in the draft.
It wouldn't be a total shock to see San Francisco stick with Garoppolo for another year while also targeting a quarterback with the 12th pick in the draft.
Regardless of who the 49ers tab as their long-term starter under center, they are not going to make it far in 2021 without settling on a signal-caller and then building the offense around him.
Find an Answer at Left Tackle
Once San Francisco identifies its quarterback, the next challenge will be finding a player to protect his blindside. Veteran Trent Williams—acquired in an offseason trade with the Washington Football Team—could be an answer if he can be brought back before or during free agency.
However, Williams appears eager to test the open market.
"It's been 11 years in the league," Williams said, per Kyle Posey of Niners Nation. I have yet to see a franchise left tackle go to the open market. I think it would be interesting to kind of see what the value holds."
If the 49ers cannot retain Williams, they will be forced to consider other free-agent options and/or draft prospects. With a somewhat limited free-agent pool—Williams, Russell Okung and Alejandro Villanueva top the list—the draft may be the way to go here.
Solidifying the left tackle spot will be all the more important if Garoppolo is back under center in 2021. He isn't exactly a dual-threat quarterback who can make things happen when protection breaks down, and he's shown that staying healthy can be a challenge.
Rebuild the Secondary
The 49ers' path to the Super Bowl in 2019 was paved by a defense that was particularly good against the pass. San Francisco ranked first in both yards allowed and yards per attempt allowed that season. Presumably, fielding a top-tier pass defense could again help the 49ers reach the postseason.
The problem is that several key members of the secondary—including cornerbacks Richard Sherman, Jason Verrett and K'Waun Williams—are scheduled to reach the free-agent market.
Retaining one or more pass defenders will help keep a playoff-caliber defense in place, but the San Francisco may also have to do some retooling with the unit. This could require finding budget options in free agency and/or addressing the secondary in the draft.
The 49ers pass defense was still good in 2020—it ranked fourth in yards allowed and seventh in yards per attempt allowed—but taking a step back in 2021 could easily negate other strides made during the offseason.