Niners – 2020 Season is Lost – Time to Prepare for 2021

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With the Niners season record at 4-4 at the half way point, their season is basically over due to the massive number of injuries to key players. Normally, I discount injuries as excuses for team performances as all teams have their share of injuries in this violent game. But, when one team has 24 key players on Injured Reserve (IR) or almost half of their roster, injuries do matter. They have more than $84 million in salaries for players on IR !!!

John Lynch and Kyle Shanahan have many difficult decisions to make to reshape this team for the 2021 season. With the COVID pandemic, the revenue stream for NFL teams have been severely slashed. One can easily deduce that the salary cap will correspondently be slashed which will surely impact many NFL veterans having high salaries.

With that in mind, my opinion is that the Niners must move off of some key veterans having high salaries and reward their young stars. Some veterans who are not on IR will also be impacted.

Let’s take a look at the 24 players on IR with my commentary:

Offense:

QB Jimmy Garoppolo: He was injured in the 2nd game of the season vs the Jets with a high ankle sprain and hasn’t been the same ever since. Shanahan brought him back too soon and one could see that the Niner Offense was very limited due to Garoppolo’s mobility limitations. Jimmy G showed that he is a good enough QB to lead this team to the Super Bowl. Having said that, he wasn’t good enough to win the Lombardi trophy. Garoppolo is scheduled to be paid $25 million per year over the next 2 years. Is his performance worth this price? In his coaching history, Shanahan has a proven record with his QB’s who have improved dramatically in their 2nd year with him. Garoppolo has not taken this leap and instead has regressed. Hall of Famer, Steve Young, has stated that Shanahan can’t open up his entire offense due to Jimmy G’s limitations. Being 29 years of age, he is no spring chicken either. Although giving Garoppolo a lucrative contract in 2018 was the right decision then, with his lack of growth and progression, it’s time to cut bait and move on from Jimmy G. The one team that will have interest in Garoppolo is New England. Bill Belichick likes him because Jimmy G fits his system. Cam Newton will definitely not be a Patriot after this season. If a deal can be made with the Patriots for a draft pick, Lynch should pull the trigger. How can Lynch find a replacement for Jimmy G? In looking at the current QB vets, I would not favor spending big money on either Kirk Cousins (Vikings) or Matt Ryan (Falcons). Both have had success under Shanahan but they are well past their prime. The only elite QB that I would favor is somehow acquiring Aaron Rodgers (Packers). He is 36 years old but still playing at an elite level. It’s not clear when the Packers will be willing to part with Rodgers but if they don’t make it to the Super Bowl this year, there may be an opportunity for the Niners. Having said that, he is under contract through 2023 and the asking price for his services will be extremely high so this scenario is highly unlikely. My take is that the Niners should play Mullens and draft a QB. Trevor Lawrence (Clemson) and Justin Fields (Ohio State) will be picked in the top 1-5 of next year’s draft. I really like Fields as he is both very athletic and very accurate with his passes. But, realistically, he will not be around when the Niners pick and the cost to move up in the draft will be too costly. An intriguing pick would be Jamie Newman (Wake Forest who transferred to Georgia this year). He is 6’ 4” and 230 lbs and is a duel threat who can both pass and run. With Russell Wilson (Seahawks) and Kyler Murray (Cardinals) in the Niners division who are both high quality duel threats, the Niners should take a hard look at Newman. Trey Lance  (N. Dakota State) is about the same size as Newman and has an NFL arm so he is another potential for the Niners. Finally, Zack Wilson (BYU) who has similar size to both Newman and Lance is a solid candidate in next year’s draft. There are other good QB’s in the draft but these are my top 3 after Lawrence and Fields. Lastly, if Lynch can’t find a trade partner for Garoppolo, I still think they should cut bait and release him. We know what he can do and what his limitations are. He simply is not worth $25 mil per year.

TE George Kittle: Definite keeper and he got paid appropriately this year. Enough said.

TE Jordan Reed: He signed a 1 year contract at $1 million. If the Niners can re-sign him next year for under $2 million, they should keep him.

WR Deebo Samuel: Definite keeper who is in his 2nd year. Niners will have to reward him in the next year or two.

WR Jalen Hurd: Definite keeper who is in his 2nd year. Unfortunately for him and the Niners, he hasn’t played a down during his two years. As a rookie, he sustained a back injury during pre-season and was lost for the year. This year, he tore his ACL during training and is again lost for the year. He is the big WR that the NIners need in the Red Zone.

WR Tavon Austin: He was brought in after the Niners suffered too many WR injuries. He too got injured. I don’t expect him to be on the roster next year.

WR Dante Pettis: He is in his 3rd year and simply has been a bust. The Niners have been actively shopping him but so far there are no takers. If they can’t find a trade partner, he will be cut.

RB Raheem Mostert: Definite keeper. Niners will have to reward him in the next year.

RB Tevin Coleman: He is being paid $4.5 million this year and is an unrestricted free agent next year. He has been a good player at both Atlanta and in SF but the Niners will not renew his contract.

RB Jeff Wilson: Definite keeper who is still in his rookie contract ($750,000). He will be a restricted free agent next year so the Niners will have to properly reward him.

C Weston Richburg: He is due to make $7.8 million next year and $8.5 in 2022. Time to part ways with Richburg as he has been injured more than being healthy during his Niner career.

C Ben Garland: He is making $1.75 million this year and will become an unrestricted free agent next year. Niners should try to keep him but not overpay for his services.

Defense:

DE Nick Bosa: Definite keeper who the Niners will have to reward in the next year or two.

DL Soloman Thomas: His salary is $8.7 million this year and he becomes an unrestricted free agent next year. While he is a solid player, he isn’t worth his salary and never lived up to his high 3rd overall draft pick.

DE Dee Ford: He signed a whopping $85 million contract through 2023. Unfortunately, he has been hurt more than he has played for the Niners. With his huge contract, it’ll be almost impossible to find a trade partner. It would be wise to outright release him and swallow his high salary. If the Niners cut him before the 2021 season, they suffer a minor dead money hit of only $4.8 million to their salary cap. Don’t expect Ford to be in a Niner uniform next year.

LB Mark Nzeocha: His salary is $1.35 million this year and $1.45 million next year. He is a solid backup so the Niners should keep him.

CB Richard Sherman: His salary is $8 million this year and he becomes an unrestricted free agent next year. While he is the defensive voice for the Niners and has played great, it may be time to move on from Sherman as a player. He will be 33 years old next year and has too many miles on his legs. If he wants to continue to play, the Niners should allow him to shop his services. If he wants to retire as a player, the Niners should consider keeping him as a DB coach.

S Jaquiski Tartt: His salary is $4.3 million this year and he becomes an unrestricted free agent next year. If Marcell Harris continues his great play, the Niners should not resign Tartt next year.

DL Ronald Blair: His salary this year is $2.1 million and he becomes an unrestricted free agent next year. Niners would be wise to resign him as he is a great rotational player who has a motor that doesn’t stop.

DL Jullian Taylor: He is still in his rookie contract through 2021. Definite keeper.

DE Ezekiel Ansah: He was signed to a 1 year $1.45 million due to so many injuries and got injured in his first game as a Niner.  If he is healthy next year, the Niners should bring him back to compete for a job. While he had some great years with the Lions, he is on the down slope of his career as an Edge Rusher.

LB Azeez Al-Shaarir: He is still in his rookie contract through 2022. He is a solid backup so is a definite keeper.

Players who have missed at least one game:  WR Brandon Aiyuk (hamstring) WR Richie James (hamstring) CB Emmanuel Moseley (head)  LB Dre Greenlaw (quad) CB Ahkello Witherspoon (hamstring)  DB Dontae Johnson (groin) CB K’Waun Williams (hip/knee)  S Jimmie Ward (quad) 

There are some healthy players on the roster who I think the Niners should off load.

CB Ahkelllo Witherspoon: He is making $2.1 million this year and becomes an unrestricted free agent next year. The Niners should allow him to find another team. He may have talent but he gets toasted much too often.

S Jimmie Ward: He is making $9 million per year through 2022. While he is a good safety, he isn’t great and isn’t worth his contract. Niners should look for a trade partner as his backup Tarvarious Moore has a higher ceiling at a lower cost.

RB Jerick McKinnon: He has been injured for two years so the Niners restructured his contract to only $1 million through this year. He no longer possesss the explosiveness that he once had. But with his small contract, the Niners may bring him back next year to compete for a job.

K Robbie Gould: He is being paid $4 million per year through 2022 and is 38 years old. While he has been great (I call him “Good as Gold”), it may be time to move off of Robbie for a younger and less costly Kicker.

With a lower salary cap in the horizon, the Niners have to clear some large salaries to be able to reward their young stars, specifically, Nick Bosa, Fred Warner, Raheem Mostert and Deebo Samuel. They also have to reward an established star in LT Trent Williams who they must resign. They have already started this process by trading Kwon Alexander to the Saints for a 5th round pick, thus offloading his $54 million contract which rans through 2022.

Pretty amazing that the Niners have still won 4 games with all of these injuries. Speaks volumes to their depth of players and the quality of Shanahan’s and his coaching staff’s efforts.

Knowing how the Niners played during the first two years of the Lynch/Shanahan era, when they didn’t have the talent they have today, the Niners will play competitively in the remaining games but realistically, I don’t see them winning too many more games. I am looking for player improvements in the young players who will continue to be part of the Niner core for years to come.

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