Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports


The 49ers’ Super Bowl window has slammed shut

Nov 5, 2020 at 12:35 PM


Championship windows come and go quicker in the NFL than in any other major professional sports league and it's becoming increasingly evident one the San Francisco 49ers appeared to be in has closed right before our very eyes. In a season the players dubbed "the legendary revenge tour," the 49ers have found themselves ravaged by the injury bug at an inconceivable rate in a season during which the team currently has 40% of its salary cap being absorbed by players who are on injured reserve.

The staggering number of injuries certainly has played a vital role in the major regression the team has seen this season, which is incredibly disappointing given how much the 49ers invested in going all in for another run at a Lombardi Trophy. The important thing to remember is injuries and their subsequent rehab and recovery come with a substantial amount of uncertainty and there is no simple solution along the lines of "they'll just get healthy and run it back next season." Due to the question marks around the overall health of the team and the impending decrease in the salary cap due to lost revenue this season, it appears the 49ers will have to put their Super Bowl aspirations on hold as they face an uphill battle going into the 2021 season.

Although the roster is currently stacked with talent, the 49ers have 29 veteran players who are scheduled to be unrestricted free agents this upcoming offseason. Combining that with the pending uncertainty of the 2021 salary cap makes it difficult to chart a path to the team retaining core players like Richard Sherman and K'Waun Williams while still having the financial flexibility to re-sign key contributors like Trent Williams, Jaquiski Tartt, and Jason Verrett , the latter of whom has appeared to have carved out a key role on the defense moving forward.

The 49ers' front office will be faced with some very difficult decisions in the coming months due to the near impossibility of keeping intact a roster that just played in a Super Bowl 10 months ago. In theory, the building blocks are there for a long-term run as contenders, with players like Nick Bosa and Fred Warner on the defensive side of the ball and young studs at wide receiver in Brandon Aiyuk and Deebo Samuel to pair with All-Pro tight end George Kittle. The foundation they have to build on is one of which many franchises would be envious. However, it likely won't be enough to get them back to immediate contention without some serious tinkering/additions to the roster, including a change at the most important position in the sport.

The 49ers are no strangers to the fact they must compete in one of the best divisions in football, while also understanding they play in a quarterback-driven league. It is difficult to envision a scenario in which the 49ers can take command of a division for the long term with a quarterback who is at best the third most talented out of the four in the NFC West. The easiest path to the NFL playoffs is to win your division, and as long as the current gap at the quarterback position exists between the 49ers and the Seahawks (and to a lesser extent the Cardinals) the 49ers will have a difficult time winning the division with any consistency.

This goes beyond just winning the division, as the correlation between top-10 quarterback play and being among the league's top 10 teams is a noteworthy trend. The 2019 49ers saw their season end by Patrick Mahomes, who finished the season #2 in QBR, while their own quarterback was outside the top 10 in the same statistic. The Seahawks currently hold the NFC's #1 seed even with the league's worst total defense, in large part due to the elite play of Russell Wilson, who leads the league in passer rating. The importance of quality play from the quarterback position has never been higher. As a result, the 49ers can continue with a quarterback who's proven to not be elite and struggle to regain their championship form as a result. Alternatively, they will be forced to pivot and acquire one through the draft or via a trade, something that should cause the offense to go through an adjustment period to reach the growth needed to be a Super Bowl worthy unit.

Ultimately, the 49ers find themselves in good position in the long term given the young talent they have stockpiled. However, considering the amount of turnover the roster will face during the coming offseason it is unrealistic to expect the team will enter 2021 with the same Super Bowl or bust expectations that were present this year. The focus must be centered around developing the raw talent of a player like Javon Kinlaw and the rehab of a superstar like Bosa, whose recovery timeline from his ACL tear correlates directly with the 49ers' chances at making another deep playoff run.

If they can temper expectations and regroup, it becomes easy to see a track to another Super Bowl window opening in 2022 or 2023, depending on the decision they make at quarterback this offseason. The unfortunate reality, however, is the squad that dominated in 2019 has already seen its best days and its championship window already closed.
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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