49ers’ most notable moves of the offseason
The 49ers aren’t in the business of making quick fixes despite going 10-22 the past two seasons.
At least that’s what general manager John Lynch said recently at the NFL owners meetings when asked how free agency impacts the NFL Draft. Overall, building a roster is a multi-layered endeavor that’s far more complex than looking at the previous season and finding weaknesses that need to be addressed.
“Let’s do this thing the right way, such that we can build it to be sustainable, and we always try to take a three-year look at salary cap and cash budgets and things of that nature,” Lynch said. “So we always look at things in a big-picture type of view. This year, I think we have been aggressive.”
That aggression came in the form of big contracts for pass rusher Dee Ford and linebacker Kwon Alexander. Both were prioritized in free agency, in part, to allow the 49ers the freedom to find the best players available in the draft, which begins April 25. They had a glaring need for a pass rusher off the edge and a void at linebacker after the release of Reuben Foster.
“We answered a lot of the questions such that we can go to the draft and make the best possible decision, not being beholden to this (one position) in the draft,” Lynch said.
The three-year picture is notable for a few reasons. Budding star defensive tackle DeForest Buckner is due for a lucrative contract during that window, as is George Kittle, who could become one of the highest paid at his position after setting an NFL record for receiving yards by a tight end in 2018.
Additionally, Jimmy Garoppolo, who inked a five-year, $137.5 million pact in February 2018, could agree to another extension at some point over the next three years. At least, that’s likely what the team hopes after he missed the final 13 games last season because of his left ACL tear. Garoppolo is signed until 2022, when he would be 31.
Kittle won’t be eligible to engage in contract negotiations until after next season, his third in the NFL. Buckner is eligible now, though it might be wise for him and agent Joel Segal to wait as long as possible before getting a new deal. The closer Buckner gets to free agency, the more money he could garner.
Buckner just turned 25, has missed one game in three seasons, logged 12 sacks in 2018 and is expected to continue his development, particularly if the 49ers continue to add to the defensive line. Buckner also won the Len Eshmont Award last season, the team’s most prestigious honor voted on by his teammates.
Buckner will have two years remaining on his rookie contract once his fifth-year option for 2020 gets picked up in May, seemingly a formality. He would make roughly $15 million before hitting free agency in 2021, when he could command $18 to $20 million per season.
That’s a lot of money for a defensive lineman, which adds a layer of intrigue to the No. 2 pick in the draft. With the financial three-year window in mind, San Francisco could consider finding Buckner’s cheaper replacement in Alabama’s Quinnen Williams, who some consider a better prospect coming out of college than Buckner was in 2016.
Williams and Buckner could be paired in the meantime, then San Francisco might consider trading Buckner before hitting free agency to recoup value rather than letting him walk for nothing more than a compensatory draft pick. That’s what happened to another notable Segal client, pass rusher Khalil Mack, who was traded from the Raiders to the Bears before last season for a package that included two first-round draft picks.
Or, the more likely scenario is San Francisco finding someone to play alongside Buckner long term rather than replace him. Ohio State defensive end Nick Bosa has long been the favorite with the No. 2 pick because he’s widely considered the best prospect in the draft — and he would integrate easier than Williams. He could play defensive end opposite Ford, where the 49ers still have an opening, while some combination of Buckner, Arik Armstead and Solomon Thomas rush the quarterback from the inside.
Aside from his Pro-Bowl potential, Bosa would be a valuable asset if Ford doesn’t work out over the long run. Ford’s five-year, $87.5 million contract includes just $20.5 million in true guarantees, essentially making it a year-to-year agreement.
Ford had easily his best season in 2018 and there’s concern he was a one-year wonder. Plus, he had back surgery in 2017 that caused him to miss 10 games. Having Bosa as insurance at one of the game’s most valuable positions could be massive should the worst-case scenario happen with Ford.
“I’m never excited to have the second pick in the draft,” coach Kyle Shanahan said, “but the fact that we are here and looking at the guys and the choices, I like the pool.”
Offseason program dates announced
The NFL on Monday announced offseason program dates. Teams with new head coaches, such as the Dolphins, Browns, Broncos and Buccaneers, begin voluntary conditioning programs this week.
The other teams with first-year coaches — the Cardinals, Packers, Bengals and Jets — begin their programs next week.
Here are the dates for the 49ers:
First day: April 15
Offseason team activities: May 20-21, May 23, May 28-29, May 31, June 3-4, June 6
Mandatory minicamp: June 11-13