For fans hoping for the San Francisco 49ers to trade up for a top tier player on April 30, you may need to re-examine what is best for the team. It's understandable to want to best player within reach, but that may not always be the most beneficial move for a team. You want that star power. That one guy that can come in and electrify and rejuvenate his position. However, the bigger picture should be addressed. Many fans want the team to stay put at the number 15 spot or even move up if they can. With recent events, the 49ers should make a draft day trade, but perhaps it should be in the other direction.
If the opportunity were to present itself, the 49ers should seriously consider trading down and not up. It's something that they have not been afraid to do in the past. A mass exodus by free agents, retirements by linebackers Patrick Willis and Chris Borland, a likely retirement by defensive lineman Justin Smith, troubles with the law for the team's fullback, and other issues have severely hurt the team's depth. The 49ers need bodies immediately to field a competitive team. They may need to look at acquiring multiple solid contributors as opposed to just one outstanding player.
Last year, the team passed up on trading up for wide receiver Odell Beckham, deeming the price too high. The roster was seemingly loaded so the team may have been able to do so and still seemed ok. Injuries during the season would hurt the team, but that would have happened anyway. It was a freakishly odd season, almost as bizarre as the current offseason. Beckham would have been a nice addition, but it alone may not have saved the 49ers' season.
This year, if that top tier player were to fall to the 49ers, should they take him or see how much another team might give up in order to acquire him themselves? What has more value? Is it the 15th overall pick or a lower first round pick and the addition of another second? If there are still players on the 49ers' draft board that they feel can come in and contribute immediately, they may be willing to move down. How far should they move down? Should they move down to the end of the round? No. No one is saying that. But they may be able to afford to move down a handful of spots for more selections in the following rounds. They would increase their odds of finding another diamond in the rough. After all, first round picks are no guarantees themselves.
They partially addressed their need at wide receiver. While they lost Stevie Johnson and don't appear to have a desire to bring back Michael Crabtree, they added Torrey Smith from the Baltimore Ravens who can help the team stretch the field and provide the deep threat that the 49ers have lacked for some time. They'll still need to draft a receiver for a little more depth.
At running back, they lost Frank Gore, but are hopeful that the trio of Carlos Hyde, Kendall Hunter, and newly signed Reggie Bush can fill that hole. Bush's career has been plagued with injury, but being part of a trio may help alleviate that. However, don't assume Bush will make the team if he 49ers draft someone that impresses in training camp.
Along the offensive line, the team thought ahead and planned for the departure of guard Mike Iupati. They have a good replacement in 2014 third round draft pick Brandon Thomas. The first-team All-ACC selection brings size, quickness, and athleticism to the position. His pass-blocking skills could turn out to be an upgrade as well. He only fell to the third round because of an ACL injury that dropped his stock. The 49ers were able to select him and bank on the fact that he would contribute down the road. That is looking like a brilliant move now. Want to know more about Thomas? Beat writer Ryan Sakamoto wrote an excellent piece about him on Monday. Give it a read.
The defense, once the shining star of this 49ers team, is starting to crack. The team needs to move soon in order to patch those cracks sooner rather than later. However, they still have players that can fill in as starters. For instance, Ahmad Brooks has played linebacker inside. He is a candidate to replace Borland — who was replacing Willis. Hopefully NaVorro Bowman can return from injury. If he can't, that is when things could get really bad for the linebacker position. Once the strength of the defense, the linebacker position will need to be addressed in the draft. A solid inside linebacker addition would allow Brooks to stay on the outside.
Another tidbit brought up by beat writer Matt Barrows regarding Brooks moving inside...
Received many tweets suggesting Ahmad Brooks will return to ILB, which he played for the Bengals in 06-07. Note: Brooks is now 270 pounds.— Matt Barrows (@mattbarrows) March 17, 2015
Along the defensive line, the 49ers have newly signed Darnell Dockett and youngster Tank Carradine, who showed flashes of solid play during his appearances in 2014, ready to fill in for Justin Smith and Ray McDonald.
Cornerback should be a big concern, but the 49ers are use to turnover at that position and general manager Trent Baalke has made it clear that he is confident in the players that will fill in for the losses of Chris Culliver and Perrish Cox. The NFL Draft and potential cuts from other teams could help solidify this position. The team brought in former San Diego Charger Shareece Wright, who they hope can finally live up to his potential. They also re-signed Chris Cook, who played well for the 49ers in 2014 before suffering a season ending injury.
The 49ers may no longer have the luxury of of selecting injured players in the draft like they did with Thomas. That will likely need to stop. They need players that can contribute immediately, even as backups.
The key for success in 2015 will be to stay healthy. While the starting lineup may be more solid (more or less) than some think, the 49ers may lack the depth it has enjoyed over the past few years. As far as injuries go, the 49ers can't afford a repeat of 2014 and expect to remain competitive. A massive number of injuries this year would be far more damaging than it was last year.
If the 49ers can't fill all of their needs through the draft, the team still has some salary cap space available and may look toward the June 1 cuts to make some moves. Don't panic if every hole isn't addressed immediately. No matter how bad things seem now, teams don't win football games in March. There is still a lot of offseason left and numerous opportunities for the team to improve.