Here are four moves the 49ers should make to boost their chances of going on a Super Bowl run
If the 49ers want to reach their first Super Bowl since the 2012 season, these are the moves they still need to make
This time a year ago, the 49ers weren't just a trendy playoff pick. They might've been the most popular Super Bowl sleeper. Even though they were coming off a 6-10 finish that represented their fourth-straight playoff-less season, the 49ers captured five of those six wins in the final five weeks of the year, all with newly acquired quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo under center. The thinking was, with a full season of Garoppolo at quarterback, the 49ers were on the cusp of greatness.
We all know what happened. Garoppolo didn't make it out of the month of September,. As a result, the 49ers bumbled their way to a 4-12 finish. So much for the playoffs or that surprise Super Bowl run.
But the timing of Garoppolo's injury might actually help the 49ers actualize their Super Bowl dreams during the upcoming season. The 49ers weren't the second-worst team in football last season, but they earned the second-overall pick in the draft, which allowed them to grab the best player regardless of position in edge rusher Nick Bosa, who only fell to them because of the Cardinals' admiration for quarterback Kyler Murray. Considering edge rusher might've been their biggest need entering the offseason, the 49ers were incredibly fortunate to land Bosa.
The 49ers made a few key additions before the draft too. They signed Tevin Coleman to . They by signing (and overpaying, but I digress) Kwon Alexander. They , who is coming off a 13-sack season. On paper, the 49ers should be competing with the Seahawks for second place in NFC West behind the Rams and as a result, they should be in play for a wild-card spot.
That doesn't mean they should be done adding to their roster. It's early May, but there are still some capable players available to sign in free agency. The 49ers spent big before the the draft, but they're still fourth in available cap space with $37.2 million. They've done well to build a solid team around Garoppolo, but weaknesses still exist -- mostly on the defensive side of the ball. A year ago, the 49ers ranked 23rd in defensive DVOA. That didn't have much to do with Garoppolo's injury.
With that in mind, let's take a look at the four moves the 49ers can still make to improve their chances of making a Super Bowl run. It should come as no surprise that three of the four moves pertain to their defense.
We begin with one of the best players remaining in free agency.
1. Sign Eric Berry
Before free agency began, some thought the 49ers would be in play for Earl Thomas. It made sense given the secondary remains the weakness of the 49ers' defense. While the 49ers have some solid-to-good pieces on the backend of their defense (OK, maybe only one in Richard Sherman), the area is not nearly as capable as their defensive front.
The 49ers finished last season with Pro Football Focus' last-ranked secondary.
Thomas is no longer available, of course, but another good safety is. Eric Berry,after and remade their defense, remains a free agent. When healthy, Berry has the potential to be one of the best safeties in football, evidenced by his three First Team All-Pro selections. The only problem is, Berry is so rarely healthy, evidenced by his three games played (four including the playoffs) over the past two seasons.
But the 49ers might not be bothered by Berry's injury history. They just signed Alexander after his torn ACL. Last year, they signed Sherman despite his torn Achilles. They drafted Reuben Foster in the first round two years ago . , who has played in five games over the past three years. Why would Berry's injury history scare the 49ers off?
He's probably worth the risk. Berry would be the best player in their secondary. And given he's still unsigned at this point in the NFL calendar, he's unlikely to cost a ton of long-term money. The 49ers might be able to get him on a prove-it type of contract. And if they do have to overpay for him, remember that the 49ers have more than $37 million in available cap space. They can afford to gamble by overpaying for a player who is a game-wrecker when healthy.
The 49ers have thrownin recent offseasons. If they're willing to do that, they should be willing to throw money at a risky player who plays a more important position than the ones the 49ers have spent loads of money on in recent years.
2. Sign another corner
Sherman, despite his age, is the team's best cornerback. The 49ers' decision to sign him last year paid off despite the risks that came attached. But they could use another adequate player to join their secondary, a group that includes Ahkello Witherspoon, Jimmie Ward, and Jason Verrett. It's not the most inspiring group of cover guys.
Verrett could end up becoming a bargain signing if he can stay healthy, but that's one big if. Witherspoon is still young, but his 2018 season should inspire more worry than hope. And Ward is still Ward.
The problem of course is that at this stage of free agency, there aren't any standout corners remaining. But the 49ers could add another decent, if not great, body -- partly to challenge Witherspoon, Ward, and Verrett for playing time, and partly for depth given Sherman's age and recent injury history. If Sherman were to go down, the 49ers' secondary would go from underwhelming to awful.
Again, the good news is that the 49ers have loads of cap space. They can afford to scoop up one of the best remaining free agents.
That player could be Morris Claiborne, the former first-round pick of the Cowboys who played some of the better football of his career with the Jets over the past two seasons. He's a very flawed player who commits loads of penalties (nine penalties in each of the past two seasons, per PFF), but he did notch a career-high 14 pass breakups last season.
If the 49ers want to sign another aging veteran, Brent Grimes, 35, could be their guy. Grimes' level of play declined on a bad Buccaneers defense last season, but he has been a productive player in recent seasons. Grimes has said he's open to playing for a contender in 2019. If he's willing to take a cheap deal, he could be a nice buy-low kind of signing without any long-term consequences.
3. Add depth at linebacker
It's not just the back end of the defense that is concerning. The 49ers have built a menacing defensive front with Bosa, Ford, DeForest Buckner, Solomon Thomas, and Arik Armstead, but the players behind them are lacking. Linebacker might not be as much of an issue as the secondary, but the loss of Foster hurt.
The 49ers attempted fix the problem by giving Alexander $13.5 million per season. But it's not clear if Alexander will be the solution the 49ers need. Alexander has missed 14 games over the past two seasons.
I'm not suggesting the 49ers should sign someone to compete with Alexander, or replace Fred Warner or Malcolm Smith. I am, however, suggesting the 49ers bolster their depth to go along with fifth-round rookie Dre Greenlaw.
4. Keep Robbie Gould unless Bears offer a king's ransom
The 49ers are in a bit of a tricky situation with their kicker, but it's one that they have complete control over.
Earlier this offseason, they franchise tagged Robbie Gould, which means Cody Parkey debacle.if they can't come to a long-term agreement with him. The problem is that Gould has which still resides in Chicago. It just so happens that Gould's former team, the Bears, are in after the
The 49ers should not trade Gould even if he threatens a holdout, unless the Bears make them the kind of offer they can't refuse. Kicking matters in the NFL -- again, just ask the Bears about that. And Gould is one of the best kickers in football, having made 96.5 percent of his field goals since he left the difficult conditions of Soldier Field three years ago. Throughout his entire career, which included 11 years in Chicago, he's made 87.7 percent of his field goals. If the 49ers make it back to the Super Bowl, Gould will likely play a huge role.
That said, the 49ers can't really turn down a king's ransom for a 36-year-old kicker with a huge cap hit. If the Bears were to get desperate enough to offer a mid-round pick for Gould, the 49ers would be foolish to reject the offer. They could still sign a quality replacement like Matt Bryant in free agency.
But the 49ers should only move Gould if they get a crazy offer. Kicking matters. And they're lucky enough to have a really good kicker on their roster already.
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