This is the second part in a brand new series I am running on TheInsideZone. Playing GM will see me cover a new team weekly and simulate an offseason as that selected team. I will identify holes that need filling, and then plug these gaps in Free Agency and through the NFL Draft. Next week I will be covering the Miami Dolphins. Please tweet @TomLikeNFL using #TomPlayGM with suggestions for next weeks team. This week I have the task of trying to re-build the talent poor San Francisco 49ers roster utilizing their high draft picks and large salary cap space. Enjoy.
2016 Season Review
The less said about 2016 the better. It was General Manger, Trent Baalke’s last season with the 49ers; he became GM in 2011 shortly before Jim Harbaugh was hired. San Francisco went 2-14 in 2016, one of their worst ever season records and the lowest since 2004. As a result, ownership (Jed York) fired both Baalke and first year Head Coach Chip Kelly.
The 49ers will enter 2017 with their fourth Head Coach in four seasons. 49ers new GM John Lynch and expected new Head Coach, Kyle Shanahan, will both have a lot of work to do in trying to rebuild this roster and get this team competing quickly.
In 2016, the 49ers ranked 27th in points scored and 31st in total yards on Offense. The Niners Offense under Chip Kelly was 4th in rushing but 32nd in passing yardage. The Defense was dead last, by a significant distance, in points allowed and yards allowed. The 49ers were 14th in passing yards allowed (top half of the NFL) but were utterly abysmal in run defence, conceding nearly 400 more yards than the second worst run D (Browns).
Heading into 2017
On Defense I believe the secondary can remain pretty much intact for 2017. Despite having the League’s worst Defense in 2016, the 49ers ranked in the top half of the NFL in defending against the pass (14th). The 49ers were 28th in yards allowed per pass attempt showing that they were at times susceptible to the deep ball and gave up large plays in the back end. FS Eric Reid (2013 1st round pick & Rookie Pro-Bowler), CB Tramaine Brock (PFF’s 25th best CB in 2016) and CB Jimmie Ward (2014 1st round pick) should all return for this Secondary. I believe SS Antoine Bethea (3x Pro-Bowler), could be a cap casualty as he is in the final year of his contract and the Niners have seen him decline over the past two seasons. 2015 2nd round pick, Jaquiski Tartt, won the starting SS job from Bethea in his rookie season but ended 2015 on IR.
The 49ers will continue to play a 3-4 as they invested their last two 1st round picks on the “twin towers” from Oregon. Arik Armstead (2015, no.17 overall) and DeForest Buckner (2016, no.7 overall) are both 6 foot 7 and weigh around 300lbs. Armstead had a down year in 2016 while Buckner proved he belongs in the NFL. The 49ers should look to bring in a run stuffing NT in free agency or the draft to help improve this teams abysmal run Defense. The 49ers allowed the most rushing yards, TDs and 1st downs by rushing in the League. The team allowed nearly 500 rushing yards more than the Cleveland Browns (31st in run D).
To stop the run the 49ers will also need to upgrade their Linebacking corps. This team never found a replacement following Patrick Willis’ shock retirement after the 2014 season. Gerald Hodges and Ray-Ray Armstrong are above average back ups in rotation, but the 49ers really need to find a bulldozer in the run game to plug next to their stud ILB NaVorro Bowman. When you remember those Jim Harbaugh 49ers that went to three consecutive NFC Championship Games, it all started with Patrick Willis, NaVorro Bowman, Ahmad Brooks and Aldon Smith. San Francisco can roll with Hodges and Armstrong in rotation and NaVorro Bowman at ILB. On the outside they could rotate the veteran Ahmad Brooks and youngster Aaron Lynch (2014, 5th round pick) at one of the spots and look to fill the other opening with a talented pass rusher in the Draft. Brooks and Lynch combined for 12.0 sacks in 2014 and 13.0 sacks in 2015, showing that the 49ers could get production out of both but I believe Brooks’ best days are behind him and in his final year of a six-year contract, the Niners are likely to cut him.
On Offense the Offensive Line needs a complete rebuild. Joe Staley is a plug in LT and he’s been playing at a high level since coming into the League in 2007. Staley did not play at his usual Elite level in 2016, but with an improved cast around him he should return to his All-Pro form. 2016 1st round pick Joshua Garnett struggled in his rookie season, but should start at RG in 2017 as the team will hope he can take the next step. LG Zane Beadles was atrocious in 2016, but his versatility and football intelligence are an asset. Over a 3 game stretch last year, Beadles played 58 snaps at LG, 99 snaps at LT and 13 snaps a Center. Beadles made the Pro-Bowl in 2012 but has never lived up to the expectations coming out of college. Beadles could be a 1-year solution for this O-Line as the 49ers will most likely not be challenging for the Division in 2017 as they enter Year 1 of a re-build. The Niners need a RT, C, LG and LT for the future…
QB is a clear need. As is a number 1 WR alongside a TE and RB. It would easier just to state that the 49ers need a complete re-build on Offense and I believe new Head Coach (not confirmed but highly likely) Kyle Shanahan is just the person to oversee that project. The Niners are looking for GMs who can work with Shanahan and he will look to try and recreate the current Falcons Offense which has fired Atlanta into the Super Bowl. I asked the question oh how the 49ers should address the QB situation, and below is the results from a poll I ran on twitter…
OverTheCap currently have the 49ers with $81.04m of cap space for 2017. The 49ers are likely to make roster moves to resign rookie contracts and veterans to add depth. For this we will deduct $20m to allow the 49ers to pad out their roster with back ups. This would leave the 49ers will $61m before cuts, free-agency and the draft.
SS Antoine Bethea, if cut, would save San Francisco $5.75m with only $1.25m in dead money. That would leave the 49ers with $66.75m remaining.
OLB Ahmad Brooks should also be a cap casualty. Brooks has a $6m cap hit which would be wiser invested in a younger play with more tread left on the tires and a greater upside. Cutting Brooks would save $5.3m with $0.85m in dead money. This could boost the 49ers cap space to $72.05m.
Finally, the 49ers should look to release QB Colin Kaepernick. Kyle Shanahan and the new regime should draw a line under the failures of previous regime and cut Kaepernick, ending a painful period in 49ers history. In economic terms, it also makes sense. Cutting Kaepernick pre-June 1, would lose only $2.45m in dead money, but save San Francisco $16.9m. By cutting three veterans, the 49ers could free up $27.95m. This would leave the 49ers with $88.95m to pursue game changing talents in free agency.
Free Agent Targets
Alshon Jeffery, WR (Chicago Bears)
Jeffrey is the gem of this seasons Wide Receiver class of free agents. Jeffrey has protypical no.1 Receiver size and showed he can be extremely productive during his time in Chicago. In Jeffrey’s 2013 and 2014 (his only full seasons in Chicago), he put up huge numbers.
|Receptions||Yards||TDs||Yards per Catch|
Jeffery put up these numbers with Jay Cutler and Josh McCown at Quarterback. Of course he had Brandon Marshall and Martellus Bennett on his team forming an intimidating receiving trio, but Jeffery showed he can be productive and a true no.1 receiver if he has a strong supporting cast around him.
At 6 foot 4, 230lbs with a 4.48, 40 yard dash, Jeffery is a ‘poor’ mans Julio Jones but still has all the traits to be a top-10 Wide Receiver in the NFL. Jeffery could be, soon to be Head Coach, Kyle Shanahan’s Julio in the Offensive playbook he will bring over from Atlanta. Having a larger receiver like Jeffery will also be of tremendous benefit to any young Quarterback the 49ers might look to draft and develop.
Jeffery could be a key piece in the re-build of this 49ers Offense, however, he will likely be looking for big money. The Bears franchised tagged him this year costing them $14,599,000. Jeffery could be after top 3 receiver money, and I think he will get it. Not quite A. J. Green or Julio Jones, but just behind the two with Demaryius Thomas and Dez Bryant’s contract of $14,000,000 per year with just under 50% guaranteed. This would leave San Francisco with $74.95m left over.
Riley Reiff, RT (Detroit Lions)
The 49ers need to rebuild their Offensive Line and the upcoming Tackle class is extremely poor, compared to previous years. Riley Reiff has been a consistent performer for the Lions first as their starting LT from 2013 to 2015, before moving to RT this past season. Despite being in a contract year, Reiff did not protest and showed his team-first attitude as he made way for the Lions’ 1st round draft pick, Taylor Decker.
Reiff proved himself a competent LT and if signed by the 49ers, could eventually move to LT when the Niners eventually move on from Joe Staley. He is better in pass protection than run blocking and if paired with Staley could quickly form part of, one of the NFL’s best Tackle duo. Reiff would likely look for ‘very-good’ LT money, as RTs on average earn half of what LTs earn. Reiff’s athleticism and the ability to run in space to block downfield is something that could add on a few more dollars, as athleticism like that is hard to find in Offensive Tackles. I believe the 49ers would have to pay Reiff, around the 14-16 LT range of around $8,500,000 per year. The highest paid RT earns $11,250,000 while the second highest to eight highest earn $6,750,000 to $6,000,000. At $8,500,000 per year with around 35% guaranteed; San Francisco would have $66.45m remaining.
John Sullivan, C (Washington Redskins)
Although John Sullivan’s best days may be behind him, he is still a veteran player who can start in the National Football League and help a young Quarterback under centre. The 2018 Draft Class looks like a strong class for Centers, and Sullivan could be more of a stop gap solution than necessarily building an interior for the future. Sullivan was a back-up this season in Washington, but played extremely well in the two games he played significant snaps for (started one and filled in for an injury in the other). Sullivan was the anchor of the Minnesota Vikings O-Line in 2012, when Adrian Peterson was the League’s MVP and came just 8 yards short of breaking Erick Dickerson’s rushing record. San Francisco could get 2-3 more starter level years out of Sullivan, who would also help any young QB lined up under Center, calling out protections and adjustments. Sullivan signed a team friendly 1 year deal with the Redskins in 2016 for only $855,000. The 49ers could bring in the veteran at Center as a stop gap solution on a 2-3 year deal averaging $875,000 per year. The 49ers would have $65.575m remaining
Jack Doyle, TE (Indianapolis Colts)
Doyle was predominantly known as a blocking Tight End during his first three seasons with the Colts. However, in 2016 he was second on the team in receptions and receiving yards, putting together a solid campaign with 59 receptions for 584 yards and 5 TDs. Doyle could be an every down Tight End for the 49ers and a reliable check down target for whatever option they end up going with at QB. Doyle would most likely get a deal of $6,000,000 per year (Jordan Cameron money). With Doyle and McDonald at TE, Shanahan could be extremely creative in San Francisco. $59.75m left.
Justin Hunter, WR (Buffalo Bills)
Coming out of College, Justin Hunter was regarded as a speedster with excellent size. At 6 foot 4, 196lbs – Hunter ran a 4.36… Julio Jones at 6 foot 2 and 3/4 inches, 220lbs – ran a 4.39. Justin Hunter could excel under Kyle Shanahan and next to Alshon Jeffrey as both WRs would present mismatch problems against Corners for every single team, owing to both players being 6 foot 4.
Justin Hunter’s career has been derailed by injury since being taken in the 2nd round in 2013. Three teams and four years later, Hunter is still a Red Zone threat owing to his size and has consistently proved himself to be a big play threat. Hunter has featured in 48 games but only started 18. In his career he’s hauled in 78 receptions for 1,305 yards and 12 TDs. What is most impressive about Hunter and something that Shanahan could utilize in San Francisco is his average yards per catch. In four years Hunter has averaged: 19.7; 17.8; 12.0 and 18.9 this season. If Shanahan could squeeze the talent and potential out of Hunter, lined up opposite Alshon Jeffery – we could have another ‘Taylor Gabriel – where did he come from?’ type scenario in the Bay in 2017.
Hunter signed a 1 year deal with the Bills for $900,000. His skill set will attract many admirers and I believe GM John Lynch will have to pay Hunter around $2m per year over a 3 to 4 year contract (just under Ted Ginn’s $2.1m contract). This would leave the 49ers with $57.75m.
Brian Hoyer, QB (Chicago Bears)
This decision is purely for depth incase it all goes pete tong with the rookie QB and the Niners don’t fancy keeping Blaine Gabbert around. 1-2 year deal on his current contract of $2,000,000 per year. $55.75 remaining.
Abry Jones, DT (Jacksonville Jaguars)
Abry Jones turned heads with his performance this year in Jacksonville. Despite playing DT in a 4-3 scheme for the Jaguars, Jones could play NT in the 49ers 3-4 scheme. He is a big bodied run stuffer who can clog lanes, occupy gaps and help shut down opponents run games… something the 49ers are in desperate need of. Jones is also an emerging pass rusher and took advantage of his opportunity to start the second half of this season in Jacksonville. Jones was PPF’s 17th best Interior Lineman in Run Defense and could be a young building block for this 49ers Defense as it undergoes a re-build in the Front Seven. I believe Jones’ play this year in Jacksonville will have earned him an extra $1m easy. The 49ers could look to lock him up on a long-term deal that averages $3,250,000 per year. $52.5m remaining.
Zach Brown, ILB (Buffalo Bills)
Zach Brown came out of nowhere this season and earned Pro-Bowl and 2nd Team All-Pro honours for his performance. A 2nd round pick in 2012 for Tennessee, scouts gushed at the Linebackers athleticism (he ran a 4.44!!). However, Brown proved this season that he is more than just great in coverage, and can be a run stuffer inside as consistently finds his way through traffic to the football. The Bills got Brown on a bargain 1 year deal for $1.25m. To get Brown to come over to the Bay and perform a dynamic inside duo with NaVorro Bowman; the 49ers will most likely have to pay him $4,750,000 per year (just under Paul Posluszny’s $5m a year). $47.75m left.
John Simon, OLB (Houston Texans)
John Simon has played well in rotation for the Texans over the past two years. Simon has demonstrated he is able to bring a pass rush from the outside as he registered 8.5 sacks in 27 games, starting just 12 over the past two seasons. Simon has also been extremely effective against the run, something the 49ers need to address desperately. John Simon should be available for $4,000,000 a season (Trent Cole money). $43.75m left.
Stephon Gilmore, CB (Buffalo Bills)
The Buffalo Bills are fools for letting Gilmore test free agency. Ok, his performances have been up and down, but if someone can get him into the right scheme; he looks every bit of the new build of elite corners. Gilmore is long (6 foot 1), athletic (4.38- 40 time), aggressive, sticky in coverage, and not afraid to get involved in the run game. Gilmore was named to his first Pro-Bowl in 2016 and pulled in a career high 5 Interceptions while adding 12 pass defenses. Gilmore will most likely command elite Cornerback money and while the 49ers will most likely over-pay him to secure his services; this team simply needs young play makers on Defense, who are also effective at stopping the run. Gilmore will be looking for Joe Haden-type money and will most likely get it. The 49ers could sign him on a long (5-6 year) deal with an average of $13,500,000 per season. $30.25m remaining for the Draft.
No.2; No.34 (2nd in 2nd round); No.66 (2nd in 3rd round). Plus more to be confirmed.
I really wanted to explore a possible trade scenario whereby the 49ers could trade the no.2 pick to the Jets, for their no.6 overall and their 2nd round pick. From this the 49ers could get ILB Reuben Foster from Alabama at no.6 and then RB Christian McCathery and OLB Charles Harris in the early 2nd round. However, I have decided to stick with the draft order as it is.
No.2 Mitch Trubisky, QB – North Carolina
The boring choice or the risky choice? Its been 11 NFL Drafts since the 49ers drafted Alex Smith ahead of Aaron Rodgers, a decision that has gone down in Draft legend. The 49ers passed on the hometown kid, a player who has gone on to become arguably the best QB in the NFL; for the “safer” choice in Alex Smith, a player they traded 7 seasons later.
I believe the 49ers will not even get a chance to swing and miss on Kirk Cousins in Free Agency as the Redskins should look to lock him up to a long-term deal, or franchise tag him. Mitch Trubisky has an extremely limited sample as he featured in only ten games in 2014 and nine games in 2015 as a back up, attempting only 125 passes. Trubisky took over the starting job in 2016 and has shown enough in a such a short period of time to warrant the 49ers taking him over all.
Mitch Trubisky is an extremely accurate QB, with excellent decision making and able to win games for his team. In 2016, Trubisky had 304 completions off 446 attempts (68.2%), 3,748 yards, 30 TD – 6 INT with 308 rushing yards off 93 attempts (3.3 average), 5 rushing TDs. Sitting behind starter Marquise Williams was greatly beneficial as Trubisky learnt the Offense and did not miss a beat in his first season as a starter. Despite an impressive showing in 2016, many scouts and the Browns might question if he is ready to make the step into the NFL with only one full season under his belt.
While some may question Trubisky’s mental readiness to play QB in the NFL; there is little to doubt in his physical readiness. He is an ideal height and weight at 6 foot 2 and a half inches with a slightly thicker build at 220lbs. He uses his big arm to drive the ball downfield and to the sideline with velocity. He has also displayed great accuracy and touch on the football in 2016. This is a huge positive as many college offenses now utilise balls thrown behind the line of scrimmage or quick hitters. Unlike DeShone Kizer (who some have going here), Trubisky has won big games and is an impressive 60% when completing passes on third and long or while trailing in games. Money time essentially. He is ideal height and weight and also has an added athleticism that enables him to move around the pocket and pick up 1st downs by scrambling. With the work Kyle Shanahan has done with Matt Ryan in Atlanta, I love this pick for the 49ers as Front Office will look to re-construct this Offense from the ground up and put play makers around Trubisky, much as Thomas Dimitroff has done in Atlanta.
No.34 Charles Harris, OLB – Missouri
I love this fit for the 49ers, the only issue is whether Harris will be available in Day Two. I have seen mock drafts with Harris going anywhere from mid to late 1st round, all the way back to late in the 2nd round. If Harris is available here, I would choose him over a RB like Christian McCathery for this 49ers team.
Harris is an athletic edge rusher who has the necessary speed to incite fear into opposing Offensive Lines. Harris has been productive at Missouri and showcased an arsenal of moves that he can deploy to get after the Quarterback. While critics point out that Harris is not as strong in the run game; he is at his best when charging up field and causing disruption in the back field. If the Niners had NaVorro Bowman and Zach Brown Inside, Harris could be a space eater who forces opposing RBs inside and into the arms of the 49ers two tackle machines. Having a player like Charles Harris on your Defense, gives you game changing and play making speed. Teams in the NFC West, repeatedly fail to address their Offensive Lines and a player like Harris could bully Tackles for many years in the NFL with his raw speed, spin move and ability to covert speed-into-power.
No.66 Curtis Samuel, RB – The Ohio State
I will repeat again. I love this fit for the 49ers, and incoming Head Coach Kyle Shanahan. Shanahan’s Offense was so effective in Atlanta as he had a dynamic duo in the backfield. If the 49ers take Curtis Samuel in the 3rd round, they could have their very own ‘Thunder and Lightning’ backfield, featuring the heavier and bull dozing Carlos Hyde with the lighter and speedy Curtis Samuel.
Many regard Samuel as a 1st round talent, but his stock will likely fall as many are unsure where he will play in the NFL. Samuel has predominantly been a traditional Half Back for the Buckeyes in 2016, but has also played receiver, kick returner and wildcat Quarterback. Samuel could be the Tevin Coleman in Shanahan’s 49ers Offense. Samuel is aspeedster who is also extremely effective at catching the ball out of the backfield and can line up as a slot WR. He was extremely productive for the Buckeyes this season as he rushed for 771 yards off 97 attempts (7.9 average) with 8 TDs, alongside 74 receptions for 865 yards (11.7 yards), 7 TDs.
Samuel is not a three down back who is going to touch the rock 30 times a game. However, he could touch the ball 10 times as a RB and line up 10 times as WR, where other teams would be forced to line up either a nickel corner or Safety on him, as he would abuse Linebackers in coverage over the middle. Samuel is a weapon on Offense, and that is something this 49ers team desperately needs.
I have not gone cap mad here (49ers should have around $20m left following the Draft) as I believe San Francisco should keep some cap space back for the 2018 free agency class where they should look to improve upon the 2017 campaign. 2017 will be the first year in a full re-build and Shanahan and the Front Office will have more of an idea by 2018, exactly where they want to target marquee free agents. Below would be the 49ers starting line up heading into 2017: