One season after earning a shocking trip to the Super Bowl, the San Francisco 49ers are going to miss out on the playoffs altogether. It’s been a frustrating year for head coach Kyle Shanahan, starting with the numerous amount of injuries San Francisco has dealt with.
It starts with embattled quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo (high-ankle sprain) and continues on the defensive side of the ball where reigning NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year Nick Bosa suffered a torn ACL in Week 2.
Now set to prepare for a potentially franchise-altering offseason, there’s more questions than answers surrounding the San Francisco 49ers. Will Garoppolo be back? How will general manager John Lynch navigate through a rough salary cap situation? Can the San Francisco 49ers build up a roster that’s prepared to contend once again? We check in on that and more below.
San Francisco 49ers: Jimmy Garoppolo’s status for 2021 NFL season leaves everything up in the air
This is obviously the biggest question mark for the San Francisco 49ers. Garoppolo has played in all of six games thus far this season due to multiple sprained ankles, throwing just seven touchdowns compared to five interceptions. The Super Bowl quarterback is set to count $26.4 million against the cap in 2021. San Francisco can save $23.8 million by releasing or trading Garoppolo. Given the team’s less-than-stellar cap situation, that’s not a small chunk of money.
Then again, Garoppolo has proven to be a big-time winner during his stay with the 49ers. He’s 22-8 as a starter. All other 49ers quarterbacks during the Shanahan era are 6-25. That has to count for something. There’s also this little thing regarding alternatives. Short of signing Dak Prescott or trading for Matt Ryan, it’s hard to imagine the San Francisco 49ers finding an upgrade over Jimmy Garoppolo. What we do know is that the team will be changing up its quarterback room to an extent this offseason. How that might look is anyone’s best guess.
Related: Matt Ryan trade scenarios
San Francisco 49ers coaches: Defensive coordinator Robert Saleh likely gone
Even without Nick Bosa, Richard Sherman and Dee Ford, among others, for the majority of the season, Saleh continues to lead a darn good 49ers defense. This unit ranks in the top five in total defense and defending the pass while finding itself in the top 10 against the run. That’s a credit to Saleh, who is considered one of the top candidates to become a head man during the soon-to-be head coaching cycle around the NFL.
Saleh has been linked to his native Detroit Lions on a never-ending loop. They need to find a replacement for the recently-fired Matt Patricia. However, it would not be a surprise if teams such as the New York Jets and Chicago Bears show interest in the respected defensive coordinator.
Related: Top Lions head-coaching candidates
If Saleh were to leave, the expectation is that Shanahan will look outside the San Francisco 49ers organization for a replacement. His former boss with the Atlanta Falcons, Dan Quinn makes sense. Quinn also has a relationship with San Francisco, having served as the team’s defensive quality control coach and defensive line coach from 2001-04.
San Francisco 49ers cap space: It’s close to cap hell
Star cornerback Richard Sherman has already indicated that he’s pretty much gone from the 49ers once NFL free agency starts. It’s a bitter pill to swallow given how much the California native has enjoyed his time in San Francisco. It’s also the harsh reality of the situation for general manager John Lynch and the San Francisco 49ers.
As of right now, San Francisco is projected to have about $21.9 million in cap space. Regardless of the Garoppolo situation, it’s highly unlikely that the 49ers’ investment at quarterback is going to change too much. While they can save a ton of cap room by releasing Dee Ford and Weston Richburg, this is still not a great position for the 49ers to be in.
That’s magnified by the fact that one of the game’s best left tackles, Trent Williams, is slated to join Sherman in free agency. He’s going to net north of $20 million annually on a new deal given how the tackle market has played out in recent years. Stud safety Jaquiski Tartt, four-time Pro Bowl fullback Kyle Juszczyk, Comeback Player of the Year candidate Jason Verrett and top 49ers nickel corner K’Waun Williams are also among those set to hit free agency.
A former Executive of the Year, John Lynch has a whole heck of a lot of work to do this summer if he expects the San Francisco 49ers to return to Super Bowl contention. The good news? They have a legit salary cap genius in that of president Paraag Marathe to help out.
Related: Top 25 potential NFL free agents of 2021.
San Francisco 49ers free agency: Some targets to keep an eye on
Despite the 49ers’ cap issues, there’s still an expectation that the team will look to upgrade at obvious areas of concern. That includes the interior of the offensive line and cornerback. Here’s a few options to keep an eye on for when free agency starts in March.
- Logan Ryan, cornerback: Even if the 49ers were somehow able to retain either Sherman or Verrett, there’s a major need at cornerback. It can be addressed in the draft. But that’s for further down the road. Even at 29 years old, Ryan continues to play at a high level. He moved to free safety for the Giants this season and has responded by recording 74 tackles, nine passes defended and an interception. A move back to corner could make sense.
- Xavier Rhodes, cornerback: A three-time Pro Bowler with the Minnesota Vikings, Rhodes has returned to form in his first season with the Indianapolis Colts. He’s recorded 11 passes defended and two interceptions while yielding a sub 70 passer rating when targeted. Despite his stellar performance, Rhodes would likely be a cheaper alternative than re-signing Sherman.
- Brandon Scherff, guard: If San Francisco is going to look at one high-profile free agent, this three-time Pro Bowler with the Washington Football Team makes the most sense. Scherff, 28, remains one of the best guards in the NFL and has a relationship with Trent Williams. Don’t discount that.
San Francisco 49ers mock draft: 2021 NFL Draft presents the team with an opportunity
- First round, 12th pick: Caleb Farley, cornerback, Virginia Tech
- Second round, 43rd pick: Mac Jones, quarterback, Alabama
- Fourth round, 108th pick: Trey Smith, guard, Tennessee
- Fifth round, 139th pick: Chuba Hubbard, running back, Oklahoma State
- Fifth round, 158th pick: Nik Bonitto, EDGE, Oklahoma
- Sixth round, 170th pick: Ar’Darius Washington, safety, Texas Christian
- Seventh round, 191st pick: Malcolm Koonce, EDGE, Buffalo
- Seventh round, 200th pick: Ed Ingram guard, LSU
As noted above, the San Francisco 49ers need to find a young cornerback to anchor their secondary moving forward. Farley would be just that. He fits the defensive scheme to a T with an ability to be physical at the line. Even if it is Dan Quinn or another coordinator manning that side of the ball, Farley’s 6-foot-2 frame makes a ton of sense. He’s also a Day 1 starter.
As for the 49ers’ second-round pick in this in this Pro Football Network Mock Draft simulator, San Francisco finds a potential long-term option at quarterback in Mac Jones. The Alabama star has put up 27 touchdowns and three interceptions in 10 games with the Crimson Tide this season. He’s your prototypical drop-back quarterback that Kyle Shanahan seemingly values.