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Five (actually six) 49ers who need to have a big offseason

Marc Adams
Mar 30, 2024 at 8:46 AM--

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Players from the San Francisco 49ers dynasty still preach it: Championships are won in the offseason. While Super Bowls may be won and championships completed during the season, it is the work that takes place in the offseason that puts a team over the edge. Hall of Fame wide receiver, Jerry Rice, may have broken records during the season, but it was the grueling work he committed himself to in the offseason that made him so great.

Go back to Jim Harbaugh's first season with the 49ers in 2011. There was a lockout in the NFL, and Harbaugh was unable to meet with his players. It was a very difficult situation for a new coach coming in.

But QB Alex Smith and DT Justin Smith rounded up the players and put in the work on their own. That team didn't win a championship, but they went much farther in the playoffs than anyone anticipated. Partly because of Harbaugh and his staff. And partly because of the players pushing each other in the offseason.

The 49ers look to regroup and work to get back to the big game after a devastating Super Bowl loss. But if it's going to happen, it begins now, in the offseason. Here are five (actually six) 49ers who need to have a big offseason:

1. QB Brock Purdy

Brock Purdy was excellent in his first full season as a starting NFL quarterback, passing for 4,280 yards and 31 touchdowns. He also led the league in multiple statistics, including passer rating (113.0) and QBR (72.8). Additionally, Purdy was named to his first Pro Bowl and finished fourth in NFL MVP voting.

With such a great season, why is Purdy on this list? Because the 49ers are going to go as he goes. And with his 2023 film out there for teams to study, defensive coordinators will have some new wrinkles planned for head coach Kyle Shanahan's offense. Purdy needs to use the offseason to improve on those things that can help get the 49ers over the top.

Fortunately, Purdy finally gets an offseason to work on those things. Two years ago, he was preparing for the NFL Draft. Last offseason, Purdy was recovering from a torn UCL. This time, he can focus on fine-tuning his craft and learning more about the game and the offense.

The 49ers need Purdy to keep improving. And with a contract extension in his near future, the QB certainly would like to have a season even better than the one he had in 2023.

2. WR Brandon Aiyuk

Brandon Aiyuk had his best season as a pro in 2023, with 75 catches for 1,342 and seven touchdowns. He's on this list because of the current contractual situation in which he finds himself. Aiyuk is headed into his fifth season and wants a new deal. The 49ers seem intent on giving him one, as well. But as we've seen in recent offseasons, contract disputes can affect how, and when, a player comes into training camp. And that can have an impact on that player's season.

Two years ago, Deebo Samuel was in the same spot as Aiyuk. He wasn't happy, and he wanted to be traded (or so he said). Samuel showed up for offseason activities but did not take part in them. He and the team agreed to an extension a couple of days into training camp. Unfortunately, Samuel arrived to camp in less than stellar shape, by his admission. As a result, he didn't have as good of a season as he had the year before.

Last year, Nick Bosa was in the same situation. His contract wasn't completed until well into training camp. Bosa got off to a slow start in the regular season and admitted that the contract situation affected his preparation and his play.

If someone like Bosa can be affected by a contract dispute, anyone can. So Aiyuk needs to have the kind of offseason he had a year ago. Just do your work and let your agent take care of the contract. The 49ers can't afford for him to have a down season.

3. Injured staters, LB Dre Greenlaw and S Talanoa Hufanga

Dre Greenlaw suffered an Achilles tear in the Super Bowl and no one seems to know when he could return. Some orthopedists say November, if at all. Others say it could be early in the season. The 49ers are hoping for an early season return. Greenlaw seems to believe he can be back even sooner. Either way, he needs a strong offseason/recovery because the 49ers need their number two linebacker. The defense is not as strong without its "enforcer."

Talanoa Hufanga tore his ACL in November and is expected to return by the start of the season, if not sooner. Hufanga needs a strong offseason even more than Greenlaw does. Not that he's more important to the defense than the linebacker from Arkansas, but because of the interest the 49ers have shown in other safeties, be it in free agency or the draft. Hufanga will likely get his starting spot back, but he's not guaranteed it.

Also, Hufanga will be looking to get a new deal soon. So he needs to have a big offseason to get back to the level of play he's played at in his first two seasons as a starter. The 49ers need Hufanaga and Greenlaw healthy and ready as soon as possible in 2024.

4. Edge Drake Jackson

Drake Jackson was drafted with a lot of promise out of USC. But so far, he hasn't lived up to that promise. And now that the 49ers have added edge players like Leonard Floyd and Yetur Gross-Matos, Jackson will have fewer opportunities. And if second-year pro, Robert Beal, Jr., starts to develop, he may pass Jackson on the depth chart, if he hasn't already.

Jackson finished his second season inactive, just as he had the season before. And while Beal, Jr. didn't play much, he was active for the final four games of the regular season, as well as the postseason. He even played some snaps in the Super Bowl. So Beal, Jr. may have already passed Jackson.

And if that's the case, Jackson may not make the team, especially if the 49ers add another edge rusher in the draft. He needs to have a huge offseason.

5. WR Danny Gray

Danny Gray has been in the NFL for two seasons. In that time, he's appeared in only 13 games, has one catch for 10 yards, and one rush for nine yards. That's not much production for a wide receiver taken in the third round.

Fans were initially excited about Gray, a speedster who ran a 4.33 in the 40. The hope was that Gray would give the 49ers a much-needed deep threat. And since he was drafted in the same offseason the team was preparing for Trey Lance to become the starting quarterback, many believed the duo would be hooking up for big plays for years.

But Lance didn't last long, and Gray didn't play much in 2022. And in 2023, an injury kept him out for the entire season. Can Gray have the kind of offseason he needs to get on the field and impact the team? He likely needs to work on running better routes and learning to block in the run game. Those two things will get him more playing time.

If Gray doesn't improve enough to get himself on the field in 2024, as a receiver, he may not have much of a career ahead of him with the 49ers. Fortunately, beyond Aiyuk, Samuel, and Jauan Jennings, there's not much competition. All Gray has to do is beat out Chris Conley and Ronnie Bell. But that may not be easy. Bell had six catches and three touchdowns last season as a rookie. And Conley had some big postseason moments.

These five (actually six) players need to have a big offseason. Not only do the 49ers need it to happen, but each player needs it, as well.
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