Many fans of the San Francisco 49ers thought that January would be a time of watching the 49ers battle in the playoffs and try to return to the Super Bowl for the second year in a row. There weren’t many who thought this would be the time that talk surrounding the 49ers would be about what went wrong and how to fix things for 2021.
Murphy’s law is, “Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong.” Perhaps that should be changed to 49er’s law. A season that started with nothing but promise was marred by a never-ending list of injured players. There wasn’t one game where San Francisco had all of its key players on the field at the same time.
Players who spent some time either on the injured list or COVID-19 list were: Brandon Aiyuk (WR); Ezekiel Ansah (DE); Nick Bosa (DE); Kendrick Bourne (WR); Daniel Brunskill (OL); Tevin Coleman (RB); Dee Ford (DE); Jimmy Garoppolo (QB); Robbi Gould (K); Dre Greenlaw (LB); Javon Kinlaw (DL); George Kittle (TE); Raheem Mostert (RB); Nick Mullens (QB); Jordan Reed (TE); Deebo Samuel (WR); Richard Sherman (CB); Jaquiski Tartt (DB); Solomon Thomas (DL); Trent Williams (OL); and Jeff Wilson Jr. (RB). At one point, the 49ers had over $80 million on the injured list.
The 49ers had to also deal with issues at their home stadium in Santa Clara. In the beginning of the year, there were concerns as to whether or not it would be safe to play, as much of California was on fire and the air quality was close to unbreathable. And then at the end of November, because of COVID-19, the 49ers could not play or practice in Santa Clara County. So, they had to make Arizona their new home.
With all the injuries and extra distractions, it’s almost a miracle the 49ers even won six games. After finishing the season 6-10, San Francisco will now look to next year and that starts with deciding who will and won’t be coming back.
General manager John Lynch and head coach Kyle Shanahan will have some difficult roster decisions to make moving forward. The 49ers have 38 players on their current roster who will be entering free agency. Of course, there are some players who didn’t contribute this year and most fans wouldn’t notice if they were gone or not. However, there are a number of key players who, if they don’t re-sign, could leave a large void to fill.
Perhaps the most important player to sign would be left tackle Trent Williams. Williams joined the 49ers on day-two of the 2020 draft after a trade. With only one year left on his contract, it was no secret that there’d be a big decision to make surrounding Williams’ future. And as expected, Williams played like the pro-bowl player he is. Regardless of who is quarterback in 2021 and beyond, keeping that player on his feet is important and Williams can be a big help.
And then looking to sign players from the secondary is another important decision. It’s nearly already been said that Richard Sherman will not return in 2021, so keeping cornerbacks on the roster will be imperative.
Fullback Kyle Juszczyk is also a free agent. Shanahan loves to run the ball and Juszczyk is perhaps the best blocking fullback in the league. Not only does he pave the way for backs, but he is also a threat to catch the ball. Juszczyk rushed for two scores and was tied for second on the team with four receiving touchdowns.
It would seem that the majority of talk surrounding the 49ers would be who they should sign in free agency, but it’s not. The talk, as it always is in San Francisco, revolves around the quarterback position. The 49ers traded for Garoppolo in 2017 and since then, have only got one full year out of him. Garoppolo injured his ACL in 2018 and missed the majority of 2020 with an ankle injury. However, when healthy in 2019, he led the team to the Super Bowl.
Many suggest that the 49ers will take the No. 12 pick in the upcoming draft and use it on a quarterback. The talk is that the 49ers could trade up and try to snag either Zach Wilson (BYU), Justin Fields (Ohio State), Trey Lance (North Dakota State) or Mac Jones (Alabama).
But perhaps the bigger, and more costly temptation would be to trade for Houston’s Deshaun Watson. Reports are that Watson is currently unhappy with life with the Texans and could want to move on. Should the 49ers want to trade for such a dynamic quarterback, it won’t be cheap. Not only would Watson cost two or possibly three first-round picks, he would also cost a second-round pick and possibly a player. Would San Francisco be willing to give up the farm in order to bring in one of the top quarterbacks in the league?
There’s no question that 2020 was a huge disappointment, but the good news is that the offseason will not be without a little bit of drama and excitement. San Francisco still has a strong core group of players and if they remain healthy, should be pounding on the door of the playoffs in 2021.