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It's been a long time since the San Francisco 49ers have had a truly elite wide receiver. The last top flight WR to don the red and gold was Terrell Owens in 2003. There have been 15 seasons played in the NFL since then and for 15 seasons the 49ers have searched for an Owens replacement. All of that could change in the coming weeks.

How deficient has the production at WR has been for the 49ers? Well ...

  • No WR has caught double-digit touchdowns since Owens in 2002 (16 seasons)
  • No WR has crossed the 1,200 yard barrier since Owens in 2002 (16 seasons)

Using the 1,000 yard barrier, the 49ers have been particularly inferior to other teams. Beginning with the 2004 season (first without Owens) the NFL has had 293 total 1,000 yard seasons by WR's according to Pro Football Reference. That gives the 32 NFL teams an average of more than nine for each team. The Denver Broncos and Arizona Cardinals lead the way with 18 a piece.

The 49ers? Dead last with just three. The three 49ers seasons are Anquan Boldin in 2013 and 2014 and Michael Crabtree in 2012. It gets worse. The 49ers' top single season, Boldin's 1,179 yards in 2013, doesn't crack the top half of WR 1,000 yard seasons in the NFL since 2004 as it's 147th out of the 293.

Read that last paragraph again and let it sink in.

The Janet Jackson/Justin Timberlake nipple incident happened in 2004. Matt Leinhart was only a junior at USC in 2004. The Athens Olympics happened in 2004. The Indian Ocean tsunami that devastated Sri Lanka and other countries happened on 2004. The NASA Opportunity Rover that just died a few weeks ago landed on Mars in 2004. It's been a looong time.

Of course this is all relevant right now because two truly elite WR's are currently on the trade market. Antonio Brown and Odell Beckham Jr. both have character warts but both are undeniably elite.

As was said earlier, the 49ers have zero double-digit touchdown seasons by a WR since 2002 and only three 1,000 yard seasons since 2004. Brown has four double-digit touchdown seasons and seven 1,000 yard seasons since he entered the league in 2010. In six of those seasons he had at least 1,200 yards.

Beckham, meanwhile, didn't enter the league until 2014 but still has three double-digit touchdown seasons and four 1,000 yard seasons.

To get either, the matter comes down to the 49ers' willingness to give up the draft picks required. Head coach Kyle Shanahan has made comments in the past that would seem to make a trade unlikely. David Bonilla wrote about that earlier. (What Kyle Shanahan has said about bringing high-character players to the 49ers)

Shanahan's comments came prior to the 2018 season. There are two points that I'd suggest may have changed his opinion since then.

The first, the greatness of Brown and Beckham is rare. It is not often a WR of their caliber is available either as a free agent or in trade. While character and locker room atmosphere are important to Shanahan, either WR could be enough for Shanahan to relinquish and take the gamble.

The second point is the fact the 49ers went 4-12 in 2018 while not doing enough to make the big splash whether it be Khalil Mack, Amari Cooper, Allen Robinson or whatever other big name you want to insert.

The 49ers have enough draft capital to get either WR and enough cap space to absorb their large contracts.The 49ers shouldn't pay a ransom but neither should cost what their talent indicates. This is especially true in Brown's case.

The time has come for the 49ers to make the big splash. The shift from rebuild to win now has to be made.