‘Chemistry you can’t force:’ 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan on team’s offseason dynamics
We’ve taken a few weeks off from our mailbag following the end of the 49ers’ season. But with NFL draft talk heating up while coach Kyle Shanahan and general manager John Lynch take in the Senior Bowl from Mobile, Ala., it’s time to get back to answering your questions submitted on Twitter.
Let’s get to it!
Jeremy Seekings asks: If Nick Bosa is taken number one, what would you do with the second pick overall?
This is the most likely scenario, and arguably the most important question facing the 49ers this offseason. Let’s run through a few possibilities:
Josh Allen, DE/OLB, Kentucky
I’m a believer that college production translates to the next level, perhaps more than players with outstanding physical traits who didn’t do much in college. That’s why Allen, who had 17 sacks in 13 games while playing in the SEC this past season, is such an appealing prospect. His athleticism stood out, and he beat offensive linemen with an array of pass-rushing moves. Further, he appears to be custom-made for San Francisco’s “Sam” linebacker spot, essentially making him a three-down player at a position of weakness. He could rush from the edge on passing downs, taking over for Cassius Marsh or Ronald Blair, and provide a significant upgrade.
Quinnen Williams, DT, Alabama
Williams is widely considered a top-five pick after an All-America season. He seems like an ideal three technique in the NFL. The caveat for San Francisco: Their best player, DeForest Buckner, is ingrained in that role, AND the team used the No. 3 pick on an interior lineman two years ago in Solomon Thomas. Another factor against taking Williams: There isn’t a great history of franchise-altering defensive tackles drafted inside the top 10 (see: Marcell Dareus, Leonard Williams). Even good players such as Ndamukong Suh and Sheldon Richardson have already played for three teams. Buckner is an exception, but his presence might make it difficult to get Williams in a position to develop properly, which is why taking him, or any other defensive tackle, wouldn’t make much sense.
It’s clear the 49ers’ most pressing need is to find an edge rusher. And the good thing about this class is there will be plenty to choose from in Round 1. Perhaps they’ll think there isn’t a large drop from Allen to prospects such as Clelin Ferrell (Clemson), Brian Burns (Florida State), Montez Sweat (Mississippi State), Jaylon Ferguson (Louisiana Tech) and/or Jachai Polite (Florida). That could allow the 49ers to trade back and add to their war chest of picks.
After all, they only have five (before supplementary selections are announced) after having 19 combined the past two years. They might even be able to get an additional first-round pick (or more) from a team wanting to trade to No. 2 to land a quarterback.
What’s the best scenario for the 49ers? The Cardinals take Williams or trade their pick to a team that takes a quarterback first overall, allowing Bosa to fall into San Francisco’s lap.
I’m of the belief the 49ers need star players more than additional rolls of the dice in the draft.
Jonathan Kiernan asks: With Mike McGlinchey the future LT for the 49ers will Kyle draft the future RT this offseason or wait for Staley to retire before making that choice? Giving the draftee a year to work with both Staley and McGlinchey could be beneficial and you can never have too much depth.
Some schmuck for The Athletic last offseason took a long look at all the drafts by teams that had Shanahan as an offensive coordinator, and there was a clear trend: Those teams only used first-round picks on offensive players at two positions, quarterback and offensive tackle. That trend continued last season with the selection of McGlinchey.
Suffice to say, it appears the 49ers have to use their first-round choice on the defensive side after addressing the offense with their first two picks in 2018, which included trading up for receiver Dante Pettis in Round 2 (which was the highest a Shanahan team had ever drafted a receiver, by the way).
Your point is well taken. Assuming Staley retires after next season, tackle would suddenly become the team’s most pressing need whether McGlinchey is moved to the left side or not.
However, the pressure is on the team to make a playoff push, which leads me to think they kick the can down the road and look for a tackle a year from now. They have too many areas that need to be addressed this offseason to get back into the postseason mix for the first time since 2013.
The team next offseason should have plenty of cap space to sign a tackle in free agency or use another first-round pick at the position. Or maybe they could convince Staley to play one more year.
A few things: They need Jimmy Garoppolo to play like a top-five quarterback, which isn’t out of the realm of possibilities based on how well he played in 2017. But he’ll need to play better than he did early this season.
They need Jerick McKinnon to become the 49ers’ version of Alvin Kamara as a deadly weapon in the passing and rushing games. He showed signs during training camp, but it will be difficult following an ACL tear. A healthy Matt Breida backing up McKinnon will be important.
They would need to trade for Antonio Brown, giving them a true No. 1 receiver Shanahan could use like Julio Jones in Atlanta (maybe Jones is a trade target if he can’t agree to a new deal with the Falcons?).
They would need 15 more sacks. They had 37 this season, and 15 would give them 52, which was the high for 2018 by the Chiefs and Steelers. That means getting very good production out of a rookie and someone in free agency, perhaps a veteran such as Brandon Graham and/or Ezekiel Ansah.
Signing Earl Thomas to play free safety seems like an obvious solution to drastically improve the secondary, particularly if he’s paired with a dramatically improved pass rush. That combination could lead to generating far more turnovers than the seven San Francisco had this season, which should lead to more victories.
Simple, right? I don’t know why it’s so hard for teams to win the Super Bowl.
Mr. Varnado asks: Only question we wanna know is, is AB to SF a realistic thing or are we dreaming?
If you believe in Shanahan and Lynch’s ethos when they say they’ll be aggressive in adding game-changing players, yes, it’s realistic.
Pro Football Talk Tweeted this week the trade market for Brown might be soft, which could mean teams are waiting for the price to drop. If the situation in Pittsburgh is as untenable as it sounds, the Steelers’ leverage in trade talks would be dropping, which means Brown might not fetch a first-round draft pick after all.
I don’t know if that increases the chances the 49ers make a move for the All-Pro wideout. He walked out on Pittsburgh for a must-win game, the football equivalent of having an affair with your wife’s maid of honor. There’s no going back from that, and Lynch and Shanahan don’t want to upset the delicate equilibrium the team has in the locker room. The general mood has been the best in years, which is saying a lot since the team is 10-22 over two seasons.
The 49ers would have to be convinced Brown is all in and his antics that killed his relationship with the Steelers won’t pop up again after a change of scenery. Is that risk worth the reward of adding one of the best players in the NFL, albeit at age 31?
That’s the $50-million question.
Marion Reed Jr. asks: Does Armstead get re-signed or does Thomas have to be moved? We will have some new edges and have Taylor and Street in waiting.
Bringing back Armstead on his fifth-year option would cost the 49ers roughly $9 million. That sounds like a lot, but it’s not in the grand scheme of things, particularly with the salary cap expected to rise to $190 million, a near $13-million increase from 2018.
Getting another healthy season from Armstead, when he was very good against the run, and an increased sack total would be well worth bringing him back. However, his injury history (he missed 18 games in 2016 and 2017) seems like the riskier aspect.
Additionally, I’m not sure the 49ers would be wise to rely on Taylor and Street to be thrust into important roles. Taylor had a laundry list of leg injuries in college, which led to going late in the 2018 draft, and Street is coming off an ACL tear.
It appears Thomas is best as an interior pass rusher who could play along the edges on running downs. I’d imagine that will be his role again. He’ll be expected to make a drastic leap in Year 3 after struggling this season. If not, then it will be time to wonder about how he fits in the long-term plan.