The front office and coaching staff are just starting to take shape. However, enough information is known to begin to project a strategic framework for the 49ers heading into 2017 offseason and beyond. After years of dysfunction in the working relationship between former general manager Trent Baalke and former coaches (most notably, Jim Harbaugh), CEO Jed York has elected to install a new general manager and coach–in John Lynch and Kyle Shanahan, respectively–that offers the hope of a cohesive working relationship and long-term continuity. A team that was considered an NFC West powerhouse and one of the most talented rosters in the NFL as recently as 2013, the precipitation of retirements (Patrick Willis, Justin Smith and Chris Borland) and forced cuts (Aldon Smith), as well as three years of substandard draft yields, has left the 49ers roster as devoid of talent as any team in the league. Even still, given the team’s healthy cap situation, if John Lynch and Kyle Shanahan approach free agency and the draft correctly, there is a clear path to the 49ers regaining their stature as an NFC West powerhouse within 2-3 seasons.
Owner/Chief Executive Officer: Jed York
General Manager: John Lynch
Chief Strategy Officer: Paraag Marathe
Assistant GM: Tom Gamble
VP of Player Personnel: Adam Peters
The front office dynamic will be fluid in the early going. However, the installment of John Lynch as general manager sends a clear message that Jed York is entrusting Kyle Shanahan to run the show, so to speak, in the Santa Clara offices. The driving force in York’s sudden and surprising decision to hire Lynch was, reportedly, due to Kyle Shanahan’s recommendation. In that regard, Lynch didn’t even undergo a formal interview–instead, he reportedly pitched Shanahan, whom Lynch has strong ties to through Kyle’s father Mike Shanahan, on the idea, directly.
On the surface, the decision to hire John Lynch is hard to justify, given that the former pro bowl safety has zero front office experience and was, most recently, serving as a broadcaster for CBS. With that said, there is some measure of logic to Lynch’s hiring. First, York clearly wanted to install a GM that can work in lock step with the head coach and consensus build in the course of making decisions–two aspects to Baalke’s approach that were reportedly lacking. Lynch may or may not prove to be an effective consensus builder, but his working relationship with Kyle Shanahan should be excellent. Second, Lynch’s stature offers a presentability advantage that likely aligns with York’s preferences to approaching the roster’s rebuild (reload). This is pure speculation, but my guess is that York was not interested in installing a GM that favors the Ron Wolff philosophy on roster building–which is to methodically (or as some would read: slowly) build the foundation of the roster through the draft, resign your own homegrown players and largely refrain from expensive free agent signings. In light of embarrassing attendance numbers at many home games since the 49ers moved into their new Santa Clara stadium, its reasonable to assume that York, as the team’s CEO, feels significant pressure to quickly field a team that will convince fans to buy expensive PSLs and regularly attend home games. And if you squint, you can see why Jon Lynch might represent someone that offers advantages in making that happen. With the recent success of John Elway as GM of the Broncos, Lynch offers a similar profile as a legendary former player that brings a ‘championship’ mentality to the organization. In Elways case, the Broncos were quickly elevated from middling team to super bowl contender after he elected to take an aggressive approach to free agency, signing reputable free agents such as Peyton Manning, Emmanuel Sanders, DeMarcus Ware and Aquib Talib. Without a doubt, Elway’s statute as a legendary former player was a valuable commodity in convincing those players that the Broncos offered a contending situation, and York surely hopes that Lynch’s statute provide a similar allure. Accordingly, as long as Lynch proves to be a good consensus builder, his hiring offer can offer strategic advantages. With that said, the 49ers need to ensure that bright minds are working under him.
On that front, the 49ers have, by all accounts, made a solid hire in tapping former Broncos’ college scouting director Adam Peters to become the Vice President of Player Personnel. Given Lynch’s lack of experience as either a scout or executive overseeing the draft, he will undoubtedly lean on Peters’ knowledge and expertise in that area. Beyond Peters, the roles of other high level executives is unclear. Chief Strategy Officer Paraag Marathe’s authority is unclear in light of reports that John Lynch will report to York, only. As well, holdover Assistant GM Tom Gamble’s status with the team is uncertain. Reportedly, Gamble will be given an opportunity to prove his value to the organization through the NFL draft. This implies that, for practical reasons, Gamble will continue to play a central role in draft preparation efforts (which are already in full swing) and his ability to work with Peters’ will determine his fate with the team thereafter. Accordingly, this is a situation to monitor in the future.
Head Coach: Kyle Shanahan (presumed)
Offensive Coordinator: Matt LaFleur?
Defensive Coordinator: ?
With the Atlanta Falcons competing in the the upcoming Super Bowl, the 49ers coaching staff under Kyle Shanahan has yet to take shape. Reportedly, Shanahan will strongly consider Falcons QB coach Matt LaFleur for the OC position. Regardless of who is installed as OC, Shanahan will be the architect, and likely play caller, of the offense. As a coach, Shanahan is widely regarded as a smart and innovative offensive mind capable of adapting his offensive scheme to fit his players’ strengths. Notably, Shanahan is excellent at featuring his top skill-position players, which was a growing criticism of Chip Kelly’s offenses. Accordingly, Shanahan’s offense is likely to feature talented RB Carlos Hyde next season. Whether through draft or free agency, Shanahan will push for the team to acquire the long term solution at QB this offseason. In the unlikely event that the Redskins fail to resign Kirk Cousins, the 49ers will look to pounce, given Shanahan’s prior experience coaching Cousins. More likely however, the 49ers will draft a QB with the number two overall pick, and my money is on Shanahan preferring UNC’s Mitch Trubisky among the available QB prospects.
On defense, the 49ers have been a base 3-4 team for years and have drafted prospects that predominantly fit that scheme. Regardless, the dearth of foundational talent on defense is such that coaches could make a quick transition to a 4-3 base, if they so choose. Unfortunately, there are yet to be reports on who Shanahan will consider for the DC position. However, my guess is that he will favor the hiring of a coach who favors scheme-diverse (multiple) base fronts, if not someone partial to running a 4-3 scheme. GM John Lynch may also provide input on the vision for the defense. Accordingly, its notable that Lynch won a superbowl playing in an aggressive Tampa (cover) 2 scheme that utilized a 4-3 front. Lastly, the prospect of adopting a Seattle-like multiple scheme (a 4-3 scheme that utilizes 3-4 player types) is possible if Shanahan plucks a DC from the falcons staff. Accordingly, that provides some guidance as to projected the types of defensive players the team could target in the draft.
OFFENSIVE STATISTICAL PERFORMANCE:*
|308.1 (31st)||-7.4% (23rd)||-6.5% (22nd)||19.3 (27th)|
|181.9 (32nd)||-8.7% (28th)|
|Run||YPG||DVOA||O-LINE YARDS (Adjusted)|
|126.2 (4th)||0.5% (11th)||3.22 (32nd)|
|Miscellaneous||SACKS||SACK RATE (Adjusted)||INTs||FFs|
|47.0 (29th)||8.4% (30th)||10 (10th)||28 (32nd)|
*(Information sourced from espn.com and footballoutsiders.com)
With the exception of RB Carlos Hyde, the 49ers offense is completely devoid of impact talent, and their offensive performance in 2016 reflected that. The 49ers fielded one of the worst passing attacks, by either standard or advanced metrics. Worse yet, the offensive line was a bottom five team in pass protection and the skill players failed to protect the football (32nd in forced fumbles against). Conversely, the one aspect of the 49ers offense that was effective in 2016 was its rushing attack, ranking 4th best in yards per game and 11th in defense-adjusted value over average (DVOA), per football outsiders. With that said, advanced metrics decidedly attribute the success in the run game to Carlos Hyde, as found the offensive line graded as the 32nd worst unit by adjusted offensive line yards. Accordingly, the offensive statistics convincingly demonstrate that the 49ers need to acquire significant upgrades (or potential upgrades) at quarterback, wide receiver and across the offensive line.
DEFENSIVE STATISTICAL PERFORMANCE:*
|406.4 (32nd)||12.1% (28th)||13.8% (30th)||30.0 (32nd)|
|240.5 (14th)||22.1% (28th)|
|Run||YPG||DVOA||O-LINE YARDS (Adjusted)|
|165.9 (32nd)||3.0% (31st)||4.35% (29th)|
|Miscellaneous||SACKS||SACK RATE (Adjusted)||INTs||FFs|
|33.0 (19th)||5.7% (20th)||10 (23rd)||18 (8th)|
*(Information sourced from espn.com and footballoutsiders.com)
According to DVOA, this defense was a bottom five unit at both stopping the run and defending the pass. In fairness, the 49ers foundation of defensive talent is not nearly as porous as the numbers indicated. The defensive unit was gradually gutted as the season wore on, due to significant injuries to impact players like NaVarro Bowman, Eric Reid, Arik Armstead and Jimmy Ward. Accordingly, assuming those players return to full strength, there are some foundational pieces to build on (more analysis on the individual players below). With that said, its fair to say the numbers suggest that the defense is in need of impactful additions at all three levels of the defense in order to make a return to respectability.
THREE YEAR DRAFT HISTORY:
|2016 NFL DRAFT|
|1(7)||DeForest Buckner||DL||6-7 300||Oregon|
|1(28)||Josh Garnett||OG||6-5 320||Stanford|
|3(68)||Will Redmond||CB||6-0 186||Mississippi St|
|4(133)||Rashard Robinson||CB||6-1 177||LSU|
|5(142)||Ronald Blair||DE||6-3 270||Appalachian St|
|5(145)||John Theus||OT||6-6 305||Georgia|
|5(174)||Fahn Cooper||OT||6-5 306||Mississippi|
|6(207)||Jeff Driskel||QB||6-3 200||LA Tech|
|6(211)||Kelvin Taylor||RB||6-1 200||Florida|
|6(213)||Aaron Burbridge||WR||6-0 208||Michigan St|
|7(249)||Prince Charles Iworah||CB||5-10 193||Western Kentucky|
|2015 NFL DRAFT|
|1(17)||Arik Armstead||DL||6-7 292||Oregon|
|2(46)||Jaquiski Tartt||S||6-1 221||Samford|
|3(79)||Eli Harold||LB||6-3 265||Virginia|
|4(117)||Blake Bell||TE||6-6 252||Oklahoma|
|4(126)||Mike Davis||RB||5-9 217||South Carolina|
|4(132)||DeAndre Smelter||WR||6-2 227||Georgia Tech|
|5(165)||Bradley Pinion||P||6-5 229||Clemson|
|6(190)||Ian Silberman||OT||6-5 295||Boston College|
|7(244)||Trent Brown||OT||6-8 355||Florida|
|7(254)||Rory Anderson||TE||South Carolina|
|2014 NFL DRAFT|
|1(30)||Jimmy Ward||CB||5-11 193||Northern Illinois|
|2(57)||Carlos Hyde||RB||6-0 235||Ohio St|
|3(70)||Marcus Martin||C||6-3 321||USC|
|3(77)||Chris Borland||LB||6-0 235||Wisconsin|
|3(100)||Brandon Thomas||OT||6-3 300||Clemson|
|4(106)||Bruce Ellington||WR||5-9 197||South Carolina|
|4(129)||Dontae Johnson||CB||6-2 200||NC St|
|5(150)||Aaron Lynch||OLB||6-5 270||South Florida|
|5(170)||Keith Reaser||DB||6-0 190||Florida Atlantic|
|7(243)||Kaleb Ramsey||DT||Boston College|
As a general practice, I refrain from analyzing drafts attributable to a former general manager when a new GM is installed. However, in this particular case, the previous draft patterns of the Baalke regime may be instructive because of the number of holdover executives staying on board through the draft, at least. Given the late stage at which GM John Lynch and VP Adam Peters have been installed, there is insufficient time to reengineer draft preparation operations, which are already in full swing, to their liking. Presumably, the incoming front office executives will necessarily rely on holdover executives such as Chief Strategy Officer Marathe and Assistant GM Gamble to direct the ongoing preparation process. Accordingly, since holdovers from the Baalke regime are influencing preparations, it’s instructive to assess that regime’s previous draft history.
In relation to the draft, the primary strength of the Baalke regime was their ability to identify valuable ‘trade down’ opportunities and in an effort to collect additional draft capital. However, in the last three drafts at least, the regime largely failed to successfully identify mid to late round talent, thereby failing to convert the cache of draft picks into a deep and talented roster base. Moreover, even though the regime made some sound selections at the top of the draft, the last three drafts have largely failed to produce star-level talents (although Carlos Hyde and DeForest Buckner may prove otherwise). With that said, the current regime will rely on members of the former regime to successfully maneuver trades and identify talent in this upcoming draft .
THREE YEAR FREE AGENCY OUTLOOK:*
|2017 FREE AGENTS: Projected Cap Space: $81,046,264|
|2018 FREE AGENTS: Projected Cap Space: $107,146,329|
|2019 FREE AGENTS: Projected Cap Space: $139,401,244|
*(Information sourced from overthecap.com)
The 49ers are in a very healthy cap situation over the next three seasons. The team should have no problem resigning any key players from their own roster, such as Carlos Hyde and Eric Reid. Additionally, assuming an aggressive free agent acquisition approach from the get go, the 49ers should have ample cap space left over to make a play for multiple high-end free agents.
POTENTIAL CAP CASUALTIES:*
|Player||Dead Money||Cap Savings|
*(Information sourced from overthecap.com)
In all likelihood, Kaepernick will be cut this offseason. Accordingly, the 49ers cap space could approach $100 million prior to free agency.
C. Kaepernick, B. Gabbert, C. Ponder
The quarterback of the future (or present) is not on this roster, currently. The 49ers will likely expend the second overall pick on a QB in the 2017 draft, most likely UNC’s Mitch Trubisky. There is an outside possibility they target a veteran QB such as Cousins or Romo, if available.
C. Hyde, S.Draughn, D. Harris, M. Davis
Hyde is a borderline star-level running back whose play has been bogged by a talent-deficient supporting cast. At 6-0 235, Hyde is properly classified as a ‘big back.’ However, one would be mistaken to assume that moniker fits in the sense that it implies he’s best suited in a downhill, power-based scheme, like most big backs. Instead, Hyde’s greatest assets are his vision and lateral mobility. Thus, Kyle Shanahan is likely to incorporate a zone blocking scheme into the offense, similar to the one utilized in Atlanta. Accordingly, the front office is likely to target more mobile offensive lineman in the draft and free agency. But regardless of scheme, Hyde will be a focal point of Shanahan’s team moving forward.
Beyond Hyde, Mike Davis is a classic power back, at 5-9 217, that has the potential to develop into a quality backup. However, the 49ers should target a 3rd down (change of pace) back, such as Boise St’s Jeremy McNichols, in order to have a complete toolbox at this position.
Fullback: (None Carried)
The 49ers lack a rostered fullback, currently. That may change as Shanahan has a history of utilizing fullbacks.
J. Kerley, Q. Patton, T. Smith, B. Ellington, D. Smelter, A. Burbridge
This unit is bereft of starting quality talent. Maybe Torrey Smith will be able to reemerge as a consistent deep threat, but his best days are likely behind him. Kerley is a free agent by may be retained as a low cost slot receiver until others can be developed. Patton and Ellington may develop into quality number 3 receivers, but the jury is still out. Smelter was an intriguing prospect coming out of Georgia Tech a few years ago, but he’s never been able to regain form from an injury he sustained his senior season. Burbridge is unlikely to develop into anything particularly useful. Simply put, the 49ers need to acquire new starting receivers heading into 2017. Alshon Jeffrey may be a target in free agency as well as Juju Smith-Schuster in the 2nd round of the draft.
V. McDonald; G. Celek; B. Bell
Vance McDonald signed an in-season extension prior to Baalke’s firing and, thus, will be paid like an impact starting TE, even if the jury is still out whether he is one. Still McDonald has an intriguing athletic profile and could become an effective weapon in a revamped offense.
J. Staley; T. Brown; J. Theus; F. Cooper
Staley, 31, continues to play at a high level at LT. However, the 49ers are in serious need of an upgrade at RT where rookie Trent Brown was below-average. In light of the fact that the 2017 draft class is weak on OT talent, the 49ers are likely to look to upgrade through free agency. If the 49ers do target an OT early, Utah’s Garrett Bolles is a good bet as an athletic plug-and-play option that could immediately upgrade the RT position over Trent Brown. He’s likely to be picked in the late first to early second round area, but there’s a chance he could slip to the third round do to age concerns (he’ll be 25 as a rookie).
A. Tiller; J. Garnett; Z. Beadles; A. Gardner
The 49ers need Josh Garnett to develop next season, after spending a first round draft pick on him in the 2015 draft. Tiller is serviceable. Beadles is a declining player but may still provide adequate depth. Accordingly, the 49ers are unlikely to target OG prospects before day 3 of the draft. If they do, Dorian Johnson would fit the bill as an mobile guard to target around the third or fourth round. With that said, after seeing the impact that adding a high-end interior lineman can have when the Falcons added C Alex Mack last offseason, I wouldn’t be surprised if Shanahan pushed to sign a high-end interior lineman such as Cincinnati free agent guard Kevin Zeitler.
D. Kilgore; M. Martin
At 6-3 308, Kilgore is serviceable and fits the mold of a mobile center in a zone blocking scheme. Martin, a once heralded prospect out of USC, has failed to develop. It’s possible the 49ers target an upgrade at center in the draft (Ethan Pocic?) in round three or later, given that Kilgore will be a free agent after this season. More likely, they stick with Kilgore on a trial-basis this season and look for an upgrade next offseason if he fails to perform.
D. Buckner; A. Armstead; Q. Dial; T. Caradine; R. Blair; M. Purcell
In Buckner and Armstead, the 49ers have two quality defensive line pieces that can fit into either a 3-4 or 4-3 base scheme (in a 4-3, Buckner would likely play strong side defensive end while Armstead would play a 1-gap penetrating DT role). Buckner is an emerging talent with star potential. Armstead needs to continue to develop, but he does have significant potential to develop into a disruptive force. Dial is a serviceable starter, but the 49ers should look to sign or draft a nose tackle that is above-average at stopping the run, as none of the defensive lineman on the roster grade as more than average in that department. Accordingly, DL prospects such as Jarron Jones, Jaleel Johnson, Elijah Qualls and Nazir Jones are quality targets in rounds 2-4.
A. Lynch; E. Harold; A. Brooks; C. Bradford
Whether they play a 3-4 or 4-3 base, the 49ers need to unearth an impact EDGE rusher capable of producing double digit sacks. Lynch, only 23, could develop into that type of edge rusher but the 49ers would be smart to hedge their bets. Lynch should be able to fit as a weak side DE should the 49ers switch to a 4-3 scheme. Coming out of Virginia in the 2015 draft, E. Harold was an interesting speed rusher that bulked up to 265 and produced 3 sacks in his rookie season. Accordingly, he’s an intriguing developmental player as an OLB in a 3-4 who may get lost in the shuffle if the 49ers switch to a 4-3. Ahmad Brooks is a declining player and should not be factored into plans moving forward. This is a deep draft for edge rushers. Thus, the 49ers should be able to pick up another quality developmental piece such as Jordan Willis, Tarrell Basham, Carl Lawson or Devonte Fields in the early to mid rounds.
N. Bowman, G. Hodges; N. Bellore; M. Wilhoite; R. Armstrong
Gerald Hodges is the one free agent that the 49ers might be inclined to retain this offseason, given his quality play in the middle of the defense. Assuming a return to health, Bowman and Hodges could form a quality inside linebacker combo in a 3-4 or a good middle and weak side linebacker combo in a 4-3. Wilhoite and Bellore are free agents and neither are likely to be retained after below-average player this season.
T. Brock; J. Ward; R. Robinson; D. Johnson; K. Reaser; W. Redmond; P. Iworah; M. Cromartie
This group has talent. Brock and Ward are, at worst, serviceable starters, with Ward ideally playing the slot. Moreover, the younger players are capable of developing into serviceable starters, if not more. But this group lacks a true shutdown cornerback who can contain other team’s top receivers. With so many needs, the 49ers are unlikely to invest a high pick on this position. But the CB group in this draft is as deep as its been in years–accordingly, there will be ample opportunity to grab a potential shutdown CB through the 4th round or later.
E. Reid; J. Tartt; A. Bethea
With Reid, Tartt and Bethea all in the fold for at least one more season, this is one of the few position groups that is unlikely to be targeted in the draft. Assuming a full return to health, Reid is on the cusp of emerging as a star-level talent and should be in-line for a big payday next offseason. Tartt is also an emerging talent and Bethea is an established veteran that offers above-average play.
John Lynch and Kyle Shanahan have a lot of work to do to build a talented roster in Santa Clara. However, there is some measure of hope that the 49ers have the cap space and the executives in place to attract high-end free agents to quickly reload the 49ers’ roster. Moreover, the 49ers are in a good position to acquire their franchise quarterback through the draft–and given Shanahan’s reputation with developing quarterbacks, it’s likely to be a wise investment. Expect the 49ers to be aggressive in free agency, perhaps targeting high-end free agents like WR Alshon Jeffrey and OG Kevin Zeitler in order to create favorable conditions for a rookie QB to have success early-on. Overall, as long as Lynch and Shanahan have the right people working under them and do a good job consensus building, there is no reason the 49ers can’t regain its stature as an NFC West powerhouse with the next 2-3 seasons.