‘Chemistry you can’t force:’ 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan on team’s offseason dynamics
Joe Staley is the only San Francisco 49ers offensive player who started games before Kyle Shanahan was hired as coach in 2017 who’s expected to remain in the lineup in 2019.
It speaks to the massive turnover on that side of the ball under Shanahan. San Francisco ranked 12th and 16th in total offense in Shanahan’s first two seasons despite the revolving door at quarterback — and remaking the personnel. Brian Hoyer, C.J. Beathard, Jimmy Garoppolo and Nick Mullens have started games since 2017.
Garoppolo, after rehabbing an ACL tear, is expected to be back under center in time for training camp in late July, which means the 49ers expect the offense to take a significant leap in Year 3 of Shanahan’s complicated system.
With all the turnover surrounding Staley, the 49ers’ roster of offensive players appears to be in better shape than the defensive side of the ball, which we looked at in part one of our free agency preview.
Receiver Pierre Garçon is the only starter to leave this offseason — though upgrades could be made in free agency. Let’s take a look at each position and find free-agent fits that could help take Shanahan’s offense to the next level.
Need: 1/10 (from least to most needed)
The 49ers went from having no long-term options at quarterback when Shanahan and general manager John Lynch took over to having a surplus heading into the new year. Mullens and Beathard seem poised to duke it out to back up Garoppolo in training camp, and the loser might find himself traded this summer. Meanwhile, San Francisco will need both to run the offense during the offseason program. Shanahan and Lynch admitted the team was out of the quarterback market at the recent scouting combine, making it unlikely they bring in a veteran through free agency that will have a real chance to make the 53-man roster.
Possible fits: Tom Savage (Bengals), Sean Mannion (Rams), Josh McCown (Jets)
Kyle Shanahan and his father, Mike, have been known for maximizing little-known prospects at running back while the league continues to devalue the position. Three of San Francisco’s four leading rushers last season (Matt Breida, Jeff Wilson Jr., Raheem Mostert) entered the league as undrafted free agents. The only draftee was Alfred Morris, a sixth-round pick of Washington in 2012 who is a free agent. Pricy 2018 addition Jerick McKinnon is expected to be healthy after missing the entire campaign with an ACL tear, so it’s unlikely the 49ers will make a meaningful investment in free agency, though they have the cap space to land a big name. And, they could use a bigger back for red-zone situations after tying for last with seven rushing scores in 2018.
Expensive fits: Le’Veon Bell (Steelers), Tevin Coleman (Falcons), Mark Ingram (Saints)
Lower-cost fits: Frank Gore (Dolphins), LeGarrette Blount (Lions), Jonathan Stewart (Giants), Ty Montgomery (Ravens), Ameer Abdullah (Vikings)
The 49ers will return all five starters after giving right guard Mike Person a three-year extension. The offensive line could improve in pass protection but was sound in the running game. It’s unlikely San Francisco makes another meaningful investment in the front five, though bringing in affordable players for depth makes sense. Center Weston Richburg (surgery on knee and quadriceps) and left guard Laken Tomlinson (torn MCL) are going to miss most of the offseason but are expected to be healthy for training camp. Erik Magnuson and 2016 first-round pick Joshua Garnett are poised to take first-team reps. Additionally, the team might begin thinking about finding a long-term replacement for Staley, who hasn’t committed to playing beyond 2019.
Possible fits: Nick Easton (Vikings), Jeff Allen (Chiefs), D.J. Fluker (Seahawks), Rodger Saffold (Rams), Andy Levitre (Falcons)
George Kittle emerged as one of the league’s best, but the depth chart might be due for reinforcements. Garrett Celek remains a locker-room favorite but turns 31 in May and had just five catches last season. And there doesn’t appear to be a viable No. 3 tight end on the roster, which could come this spring on the open market or in the draft. For now, Ross Dwelley and Marcus Lucas round out the position as candidates to develop and compete for roster spots.
Possible fits: Logan Paulsen (Falcons), Blake Bell (Jaguars), Lance Kendricks (Packers), Matt LaCosse (Broncos)
It was clear at the combine the 49ers are in the wide receiver market. Dante Pettis, a second-round draft choice in 2018, is the only member of the current group expected to start in 2019. Marquise Goodwin’s role, in an ideal world, would be dialed back, Shanahan said late last season. And without Garçon, there’s a giant void at “Z” receiver, leaving San Francisco searching for a physical pass catcher who can run underneath routes and operate in the middle of the field. It appears the 49ers will be aggressive in free agency and the draft for these roles. Otherwise, third-year pro Kendrick Bourne is the team’s primary “Z.”
Expensive fits: Golden Tate (Eagles), Tyrell Williams (Chargers), Donte Moncrief (Jaguars), Michael Crabtree (Ravens)
Lower-cost fits: Chris Hogan (Patriots), Ryan Grant (Colts), Chris Conley (Chiefs), Aldrick Robinson (Vikings), Justin Hardy (Falcons)