After signing Jimmy Garoppolo to a huge contract, expectations were high heading into last season – but they were quickly dashed when the quarterback suffered a season ending injury.
As Kyle Shanahan attempted to make the best of back ups CJ Beathard and Nick Mullens, the Niners fell to a disappointing 4-12. However, there were still a number of positive signs offensively at Levi’s Stadium.
Tight end George Kittle racked up yards, setting an NFL record of 1,377 yards for the position, while Shanahan showed off his offensive genius despite not having a leading signal caller at his disposal.
It was something of a different story on the opposite side of the ball, with the franchise breaking the league record for least interceptions, recording just two – a number beaten by 40 individual players across the NFL.
They also bagged the lowest total takeaways, beating the previous low of 11 with just seven, and ended up last in turnover differential, with -25.
Heading for the Door
Leading the way to the exit door is receiver Pierre Garcon. Despite the Niners need at the position, the 33-year-old has not shone in his two seasons in northern California, with just 64 receptions in that time, 786 yards and only a single touchdown.
Running back Alfred Morris will likely be following him to free agency, after Raheem Mostert, who impressed at the end of the season before injury, was re-signed.
Another on his way out will likely be long snapper Kyle Nelson. The 33-year-old played every game from 2014 to late 2018, but a 10-game PED suspension will have damaged his chances of a return.
And having brought in a challenger to his position last off-season, punter Bradley Pinion will be looking over his shoulder.
Other Free Agents
DT Earl Mitchell, RT Garry Gilliam, CB Jimmie Ward, OLB Mark Nzeocha, S Antone Exum, S Tyvis Powell, LG John Flynn
2019 Cap Space $66 million
Position Needs Edge rusher, safety, corner, wide receiver, guard, linebacker
Free Agency Targets
Defensively, the Niners’ needs are great this off season. Shanahan will also be looking for his GM John Lynch to find him reinforcements at receiver as well.
Bucs linebacker Kwon Alexander has already secured a big-money move to San Francisco. He is expected to sign a four-year, $54million deal – with $27 million in guarantees.
The 24-year-old’s $13.5 million a year average tops the likes of Panthers Luke Kuechly, but it comes off the back of a torn ACL last campaign which allowed him to play just six games.
In the safety market, Lynch and Shanahan could look to re-unite Seahawk Earl Thomas with former team-mate Richard Sherman or the Bears’ Adrian Amos in an attempt to improve the failing defence next season.
Despite being heavily linked in the early going with former Steeler, now Raider Antonio Brown, the 49ers missed out on the superstar.
Having secured franchise quarterback Garoppolo, the franchise now needs a top receiving talent. Unfortunately, for this they may need to go looking in the trade market, with the leading free agency options being Golden Tate, Tyrell Williams, Devin Funchess, Randall Cobb and Adam Humphries.
Draft Picks 1(2), 2(36), 3(67), 4(104), 6(176), 6(212)
With it becoming increasingly more likely Kyler Murray will be first off the board and heading to Arizona, the Niners are set to be the top beneficiary of the deal – with them in pole position to claim polished edge rusher Nick Bosa.
If Bosa does go to Arizona, Kentucky’s edge rusher Josh Allen will be on their radar in the first round, as will defensive lineman Quinnen Williams.
Defensive back Chauncey Gardner-Johnson, who is adept at both nickel and free safety, will also be on their draft radar in the early rounds.
Outlook for the 2019 season
There was plenty of Niners hype heading into the 2018 campaign, and there will be again this season. Having seen Sean McVay and the Rams go to the Super Bowl, Shanahan will be keen to show his offensive genius this year.
To allow him to do that, GM Lynch will need to back him with big moves in the off-season – perhaps taking a leaf out of Les Snead’s book in securing talent for his coach.
With the Seahawks and Rams in the division and the Cardinals an unknown quantity this year, it will be tough to get out the division, but expect them to make it close come the end of the season.
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