The 49ers were officially eliminated from playoff contention with their blowout loss to the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday.
It means coach Kyle Shanahan and general manager John Lynch will use the final four games of the season to continue their evaluation of the roster for 2019, when Jimmy Garoppolo will presumably be back under center to help guide the ship back on course.
With that, let’s get to your questions in the latest edition of our weekly mailbag:
Lucky Luck asks: If we end up with the first overall pick, should we trade down and get some more draft picks or grab a defensive stud like (Nick) Bosa?
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That might be the biggest question facing Shanahan, Lynch and the rest of the 49ers’ power brokers this offseason. It will surely shape the face of the roster for years - and come with plenty of second guessing thereafter.
I’d probably keep things simple and take Bosa. He has the potential to record double-digit sacks every season while being a three-down player. That has immense value because that kind of versatility against the run and pass could save the team an extra roster spot on game days to provide depth elsewhere (Cassius Marsh, for example, is used only in passing situations).
Bosa is considered a possible Defensive Player of the Year candidate, like brother Joey of the Chargers (when healthy). Nick is also considered a better prospect than his brother, the No. 3 overall draft pick in 2016 who has 26 sacks in 31 games.
Finding a game-changing defensive end has to be at the top of the 49ers’ priorities. Their 29 sacks are tied for the ninth fewest in the NFL, and having a more consistent pass rush could have drastic ripple effects throughout the defense, including the troublesome secondary.
The decision to stay at No. 1 or move down could depend on how other teams view the quarterbacks coming out. There doesn’t appear to be one contending for the top slot, like so many were last season, which could drive down the asking price in a trade.
Justin Herbert (Oregon) is no lock to come out. Drew Lock (Missouri), Dwayne Haskins (Ohio State) and Will Grier (West Virginia) appear to be in the top-10 mix and have plenty of time to move up draft boards. But we won’t know how they’re being viewed until closer to the draft in April. However, we know teams like the Jaguars, Giants, Raiders, Dolphins and Broncos could be in the market for a Round 1 quarterback, which could create a competitive trade market.
This is considered a strong draft class for edge pass rushers, which will also factor into San Francisco’s thinking. If the 49ers like Josh Allen (Kentucky), Clelin Ferrell (Clemson), Jachai Polite (Florida) and/or Montez Sweat (Mississippi State), they might be inclined to forgo taking Bosa and move back for multiple first-round picks.
The last time the top overall selection was traded was in 2016, when the Rams moved up in a deal with the Titans to take Jared Goff. They sent a 2016 first-round pick (15th overall), two 2016 second-round picks, a 2016 third-round pick, a 2017 first-round pick and a 2017 third-round pick (Tennessee included 2016 fourth- and sixth-round selections).
That kind of trade package seems enticing, particularly while the 49ers could use help at linebacker, to replace Reuben Foster; receiver, with Pierre Garçon’s status uncertain; cornerback, to eventually replace Richard Sherman; and safety, after injury-riddled campaigns for Adrian Colbert and Jaquiski Tartt.
This will be the third draft for Shanahan and Lynch, which means they should be nearing the end of their rebuilding mode. That’s why I would take the elite talent in Bosa rather than throw even more young players into the mix that need developing. If this were their first or second draft class, I would be more inclined to trade back, knowing there wasn’t pressure to win next season.
Problem is, there will be.
Brandon Dringle asks: Honestly, I have so many questions I don’t know what to ask. Bad breaks literally and figuratively all year, not enough depth all together on the team. So I ask you, where do they start this offseason? I see the secondary as more of an issue than D-Line, personally.
I’d start by identifying the team’s weaknesses. The pass rush has been problematic, obviously. Key players from the 2017 draft class (Solomon Thomas, Ahkello Witherspoon, Trent Taylor, Adrian Colbert, et al.) haven’t developed like the team would hope after showing promise as rookies. I’d dive into all the answers why and see what could be done internally to ensure player development isn’t a problem, though it’s hard to see dramatic changes to the coaching staff coming.
Injuries, and the way they’re handled, should be looked at closely. The 49ers had a slew of muscle pulls during training camp, for example, which should lead to questions about how the training staff gets players ready (I’m not a doctor, nor did I stay in a Holiday Inn Express last night).
The biggest thing is roster construction. The team needs talent and depth across the board. Those problems were clearly exacerbated by the loss of Garoppolo, who took many of the same players to nonreplicable heights during the team’s five-game winning streak to end 2017. Perhaps getting Garoppolo back for a full season will solve (or mask) some of the team’s deficiencies. But even a great quarterback can’t fix everything.
Here’s how I would rank the team’s roster needs:
1. Edge rusher
1a. Playmaker in the secondary (a ball hawk who can force turnovers)
2. Edge rusher (yes, they need more than one)
3. Inside linebacker
A decision also needs to be made on Jimmie Ward, a pending free agent who played well when healthy. Arik Armstead has played well of late and is due some $9 million at the start of the new league year on his fifth-year option, if the 49ers choose to bring him back without signing him to a multi-year contract.
DeForest Buckner will be eligible to talk contract extension for the first time - and it might be wise to pay him sooner rather than later. The earlier he signs a multi-year deal, the smaller his yearly cap figures are likely to be.
Scott Friend asks: What is going on with Trent Taylor? His play time has gone down drastically this year.
Taylor had back surgery in May and hasn’t fully recovered. Back surgery is almost always tricky (ask Warriors coach Steve Kerr, who has vowed to avoid it all costs going forward). It’s too bad because Taylor had a strong rookie season, particularly with Garoppolo at quarterback.
This year, he’s been passed up by Richie James as the slot receiver while appearing in just 29 percent of the offensive snaps. It looks like Taylor could use a full offseason to fully recover. Hopefully, for his sake, he does, and returns to being the valuable slot receiver he was as a rookie, when he logged 43 caches for 430 yards and was invaluable on third downs. This season, he has 20 receptions for 161 yards.
Carlos asks: Will Kyle hire a OC? Whos the Fav for the job?
The 49ers hired Shanahan because they believe, much like the rest of the NFL, he’s one of the top offensive coordinators in football. They rank 15th in the NFL, averaging 363 yards per game with him calling the plays - and they’ve been without their starting quarterback for all but three games.
The 49ers just produced their best yardage output of the season against the Seahawks (452) with third-string quarterback Nick Mullens throwing for a career-best 414. The team has a number of problems, but it’s hard to argue Shanahan working as his own offensive coordinator is one of them. Talent on the field is the obvious issue.
@Mazel7ov asks if Arik Armstead’s improved play will lead to him coming back next season?
It appears Armstead is likely to come back, particularly since Solomon Thomas has yet to develop into a key contributor during his first two seasons. Armstead has been a force against the run and has a career-high three sacks. He’s also appeared in all 12 games.
The 49ers have a few routes to consider regarding the 17th pick in the 2015 draft:
1) Keep Armstead around, ensuring he gets his fully guaranteed $9 million salary in March, and get another season to see if he’s worth signing to a multi-year contract before 2020.
2) Sign Armstead to a multi-year contract before the new league year, allowing the team financial insurance should Armstead suffer an injury (he missed 18 games in 2016 and 2017). They could shrink his 2019 cap figure from $9 million to something slightly less while giving Armstead more guarantees than the $9 million he would earn without a new deal.
3) Release Armstead, saving them from paying him while leaving a noticeable void along the defensive line, adding to their needs this offseason.
4) Trade Armstead for a Day 3 draft pick, saving them money while allowing them to add another player.
I’m guessing the 49ers go with options 1 or 2.