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Five things the 49ers must do this offseason to return to the Super Bowl

Marc Adams
Feb 24, 2024 at 9:31 AM--

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The San Francisco 49ers are no strangers to coming up just short of winning the Super Bowl. And neither are their fans. Now that the offseason has begun, the 49ers will look to reload and try to get better, as challenging as that may be.

Teams that lose the Super Bowl sometimes struggle the next season. Go back to the 2020 season and you can see some of the evidence. After falling short in Super Bowl LIV, the injury bug bit the 49ers hard, and San Francisco finished the season with a 6-10 record, good for last in the NFC West. Now the 49ers need to find a way to not allow that to happen in 2024.

While some recent Super Bowl losers haven't struggled the way the 2020 49ers did, only the 2018 New England Patriots have returned to the Super Bowl the year after losing in the big game. Tom Brady's Patriots actually won the Super Bowl a season after losing it. Can the 2024 49ers do the same?

First, the 49ers need to make the right choice in hiring a new defensive coordinator. That announcement should be coming soon. And San Francisco currently has 19 scheduled free agents they need to figure out what to do with. With that in mind, here are five things the 49ers must do this offseason to return to the Super Bowl and win it this time:

1. Extend Brandon Aiyuk

Priority one for the 49ers has to be to extend wide receiver Brandon Aiyuk. The star receiver had his best season in 2023, finishing with 75 catches for 1,342 yards and seven touchdowns. Aiyuk also had nine receptions for 149 yards and one touchdown in the postseason. He also had his fewest dropped passes (two) of his career and was among the best in the league in yards per reception. He was excellent all season long.

But one of the most overlooked parts of Aiyuk's game is his ability to block in the run game. He has become one of the game's best-blocking wide receivers and is a big reason the 49ers have had so much success in the run game and the run-after-catch game. He blocks hard for his teammates, especially downfield.

Aiyuk is also one of the league's best route-runners. Despite the comments of Bucky Brooks, who said Aiyuk (and Deebo Samuel) can't win in one-on-one situations against elite corners, Aiyuk is more than capable of beating top corners. Former NFL wide receiver, T. J. Houshmandzadeh, responded to Brooks' comments. saying, "Wrong. Bucky is wrong. I know route-running. I'm not going to disrespect Bucky, but he's wrong as two left feet. BA can run routes with the best of 'em, create separation with the best of 'em... Bucky, what you watching?"

following the Super Bowl, both Aiyuk's brother and girlfriend suggested the receiver may have played his last game in San Francisco. But Aiyuk is the 49ers' best wide receiver and is becoming one of the NFL's top receivers. The 49ers need to extend him this offseason, and with the new salary cap jumping as much as it did, they should be able to figure that out.

2. Find a way to keep Jauan Jennings

If Aiyuk is one of the league's best receivers when it comes to blocking, Jauan Jennings might be the best. Jennings is excellent as a run blocker, often getting under the skin of the defender he's pushing around. Who could forget Jennings blocking a Green Bay Packers defender into the bench during the Divisional Playoff Game?

But it's not just his blocking. Jennings has developed into a really good wide receiver. His nickname, "Third and Jauan" fittingly describes his ability to keep the chains moving in big situations. Perhaps the most impressive of Jennings' statistics is that 20 of his 29 total receptions resulted in first downs.

Jennings only had 19 catches for 265 yards and one touchdown during the regular season, but he had 10 catches for 111 yards and one touchdown in three postseason games, which included four catches for 42 yards and one touchdown in the Super Bowl. With the touchdown pass he threw to Christian McCaffrey in the Super Bowl, Jennings might have been named Super Bowl MVP if the 49ers had won the game.

Jennings is a restricted free agent, meaning the 49ers can place a tender on him before he is allowed to test the free-agent waters. The tender is a fully guaranteed one-year deal. If another team makes Jennings an offer, the 49ers have the chance to match it. If they choose not to match it, the 49ers would receive a draft pick that matches the tender. So for example, if the 49ers placed a second-round tender on Jennings, he will cost more in 2024 than if they placed a lower-round tender on him. But they will also receive better compensation if they lose him.

If the 49ers choose to not tender Jennings, he would become an unrestricted free agent. But that doesn't seem likely, considering what he brings to the team. The 49ers could also choose to extend Jennings' contract another year or two. Either way, they need to find a way to keep Jennings or get compensated well for losing him. This is why a second-round tender would be a good option.

3. Address the right side of the offensive line

The right side of the 49ers offensive line is a problem. Spencer Burford hasn't become the player at right guard that the 49ers hoped he'd become. Jon Feliciano played well at right guard in 2023, but he's a free agent. When he left the Super Bowl, due to injury, Burford wasn't bad, but it was his missed assignment that allowed Chiefs' defensive lineman, Chris Jones, to get quick pressure on QB Brock Purdy, forcing a third-down incompletion. On the play, Purdy had Jennings and Aiyuk open.

Right guard isn't the only issue, though. Right tackle has been a problem for several years, and it's time for the 49ers to upgrade from Colton McKivitz. While it's unlikely the 49ers sign or trade for a highly-priced tackle in free agency, expect to see them draft one or two tackles in April. Not only do they need to upgrade at right tackle, they need to prepare for the day when left tackle Trent Williams calls it quits.

4. Bring in a run-stuffing defensive tackle

Since the 49ers allowed defensive tackle D.J. Jones to leave in free agency in 2022, they have missed having a run-stuffing defensive tackle. That was more apparent in 2023, when the run defense was porous, at times. The playoff games against Green Bay and the Detroit Lions were perfect examples. In the biggest games of the season, teams were able to run on the 49ers defense. If the Lions had chosen to run the ball more in the second half of the NFC Championship Game, it's possible San Francisco may not have been playing in the Super Bowl.

The 49ers had hoped DT Kalia Davis would fill the role of run-stopper. But Davis has barely played, mainly due to injuries. In 2023, Davis appeared in three games with the 49ers and recorded a sack, a QB hit, and one tackle for loss. A healthy Davis would benefit the 49ers defense, especially with the likely loss of free agent DT Javon Kinlaw.

Still, the 49ers need to find a way to bring in another run specialist, be it free agency or the draft.

5. Find a pass rusher opposite of Nick Bosa

It seems like we've been saying this since 2019—the 49ers need to find an edge rusher who can get to the quarterback on the opposite side of star pass rusher Nick Bosa. They've had a collection of players who played well, but not at the level the 49ers need, like Samson Ebukam, Charles Omenihu, Randy Gregory, and Clelin Ferrell. And they've had young players who just haven't shown enough yet, like Drake Jackson and Robert Beal, Jr.

The 49ers even made a big trade deadline splash by trading for Chase Young. But Young never looked like the player he was drafted to be, and he's now a free agent. Joining him in free agency is Gregory and Ferrell. It's likely the 49ers lose all three.

And so the search continues for a talented pass rusher who can take pressure off Bosa. If the 49ers can find that player, this pass rush will become scary.

It will be a challenging offseason for the 49ers, trying to overcome a Super Bowl loss and reload a roster that is still considered among the best in the NFL. If they can do these five things, they will be in contention for another shot at winning the Super Bowl.

It's easy enough to write. It's hard to actually do.
The opinions within this article are those of the writer and, while just as important, are not necessarily those of the site as a whole.

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