Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports


49ers Facing a Must-Win Super Bowl

Gilbert Brink
Jan 21, 2020 at 8:50 AM


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The 49ers championship window may be closing. That statement may sound absurd to most considering the 49ers will be playing in the Super Bowl next Sunday. Their meteoric rise in 2019 has the fanbase charged with optimism for the present and far into the future, as it should be. Peer into history though and you can see how important it is that the 49ers seize this opportunity to come away with their sixth championship.

It doesn't take a football historian to point out how quickly a team can go from the top of the mountain to bottom of the trash heap. Just last year fans and media alike were glowing about the bright future of the LA Rams and how Sean McVay would be the new Bill Belichik. Here we are, a year later, and the Rams missed the playoffs, fired DC Wade Phillips and are suffocated by the salaries of players they thought were cornerstones who turned out to be cobblestones. Rewind the clock exactly one year and you would not be able to find a single soul to tell you that the Rams championship window was closing, ask that same question today and see the response you get.

When the 49ers last took the Super Bowl stage 7 years ago it felt like what would be the first of many Super Bowl appearances under Jim Harbaugh. As 49ers fans woke up the Monday following that loss, there was disappointment coupled with optimism. Surely this dynamic team led by the phenomenal QB Colin Kaepernick was just getting started. A year later the championship window was slammed shut by the Seattle Seahawks. A year after that, Jim Harbaugh was coaching the Michigan Wolverines and the 49ers were led by a Defensive Line Coach who farted during press conferences.

This is part of what makes the Super Bowl so special. Unlike other sports, the championship is decided in one game. There is no need for a series of games that is skewed towards the notion of "best team wins". No, football embraces the element of "any given Sunday". Both the 49ers and the Chiefs will have one chance to optimize their earned opportunity and walk away as the best in the world.

The Chiefs are gifted with the best Quarterback in football, there's a very good chance this won't be the last time we see Patrick Mahomes taking the field on the first Sunday in February. For the 49ers, they weren't carried to the Super Bowl by the heroics of any one player. After two dominating playoff wins, the 49ers ride into Miami as the more complete team. Their stars may not shine as bright, but they cover much more of the sky. Jimmy Garoppolo often uses the term "complementary football" during press-conferences and locker room interviews. They can win only throwing 8 passes while leaning on the defense and run game or they can win a shootout 48-46 on the road with passing brilliance. He speaks to the true nature of this 49ers team, a cohesive unit of 53 men who play together and are much greater than the sum of their parts. Following the Super Bowl, this team may look drastically different.

The 49ers go into the 2020 season just $16 million under the salary cap. This front office has gotten accustomed to having a large salary cap surplus over the first three years of its tenure. Not only is the money getting short, there are many key contributors set to become free agents in this off-season. Among those names are four starters and a few players who filled in as starters throughout the year. Big ticket item Arik Armstead is the most notable name. The defensive end finally broke through in 2019, accumulating 12 sacks in 18 games. Pass rushers with double digit sack numbers don't stay on the market long, and if the 49ers want to keep Armstead they will have to pay an exorbitant amount for his services. Other starters fit to hit the market are WR Kendrick Bourne (6 tds in 18 games), WR Emmanuel Sanders (acquired via trade with Denver for 3rd & 4th rd picks) and Kyle Juszczyk (club option to retain). While the 49ers are likely to retain Juszczyk, if Bourne and Sanders leave that would be 2/3 of their starting WR corps. While losing starters is difficult, this 49ers team has benefitted so much from its depth. Many of the reserve players have started significant games this year. The following reserve players are free-agents as well: OL Daniel Brunskill, QB Nick Mullens, RB Matt Brieda, C Ben Garland and DE Ronald Blair. Ben Garland is currently the starting Center and playing at a high level, while RB Matt Brieda was once described by Head Coach Kyle Shanahan as the best RB on the team. Many of these players will be playing elsewhere in 2020.

With the growth of the NFL, the salary cap generally increases each off-season. Even with that taken into consideration, the 49ers have no choice but to lose some very talented players in 2020. How will the 49ers replace this talent? Don't look to the draft. In 2020 the 49ers only own six selections, and just one of them comes before the 5th round. While John Lynch and the 49ers scouting department has scoured the draft-boards for late round gems like TE George Kittle and LB Dre Greenlaw, this lack of picks will make it difficult to fill the holes that will be left by the exodus of these veterans.

When examining the 49ers previous drafts, another issue stands out. It is time to pay the bill on some of the younger talent that the 49ers have been developing. The very best TE in the NFL, George Kittle, is going to get paid like the very best TE in the NFL at some point. The 49ers may not pay to keep DE Arik Armstead, but they certainly will pay DT DeForest Bucker, and he too will come with quite the price tag. Leadership on this team is strong because it has players like LB Fred Warner and CB Richard Sherman. Warner's rookie deal ends after 2021 and Sherman will be in the final year of his contract in 2020.

Look around and the 49ers no longer have the problems of a 4-12 team. The 49ers have Super Bowl problems. This is a good thing. This franchise is in good hands with Shanahan and Jimmy G for many years to come, but you never know when you are going to get back to the mountain top. They are here now, they have everything it takes to bring that trophy back to San Francisco. Feels great, baby.
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.


3 Comments

  • NorCal707
    Keep in mind the $ that will also become available when the team moves on from McKinnon after this season and is no longer having to pay his contract. That’s gonna be $6.5m that will become available.
    Jan 22, 2020 at 5:53 AM
    0
  • Sxyninerlady
    Thanks for the departure from the requisite team circleje$k, you make some great points. I'm hoping a super bowl win entices some to stay. Go Niners!!!!!
    Jan 21, 2020 at 11:29 AM
    1
  • Paul
    First, they aren't over the cap they are under. Armstead isn't worth the big bucks he will get on the open market. He is benefitting a lot for the other three on the line. Kyle Juszczyk is very good, but he should be paid less considering that not a lot of teams want a fullback. Garland seems to be as good as Richburg, and much better value. The Rams are a bad example. They paid too many players top dollar. The Rams are going to be horrible for a while. The Chiefs are worse off with the salary cap and that is before the Mahomes upcoming extension. Mahomes may take a discount with his mega contract coming very soon, but players will be leaving KC with the cap.
    Jan 21, 2020 at 10:59 AM
    0
    Response: I agree with you on Armstead and my intention wasn't meant to compare the 49ers to KC. Thanks for the heads up on the cap typo, i knew they were under but mis-phrased it. Thanks for reading btw too, the point of the piece was to focus on how these SB opportunities are rare and how we must get this one now because you never know when you`ll get another chance and I do legitimately believe our roster will not be as good in 2020 as it is right now


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