49ers' offseason ranked 16th-best in NFL, but opened gap in NFC West

·4 min read

There are still some notable names currently unsigned, but generally speaking, the roster-building portion of the NFL offseason has concluded. The draft -- and most of free agency -- is in the rearview mirror, and now we can more accurately evaluate the progress, or lack thereof, that each team has made.

ESPN's Bill Barnwell has been ranking all 32 teams' offseasons, and he ranked precisely half of them as having worse offseasons than the 49ers, who came in at No. 16.

"The 49ers stuck to their plan on both sides of the ball with their two first-round picks," Barnwell wrote in describing what went right for San Francisco. "After trading defensive tackle DeForest Buckner to the Colts for the No. 14 pick, they used that selection to draft his replacement, Javon Kinlaw. The 49ers then traded up six slots in the bottom half of Round 1 to add another weapon for Kyle Shanahan, wide receiver Brandon Aiyuk, who gives Jimmy Garoppolo another playmaker who can threaten opposing defenses with the ball in his hands.

"Later during the draft, they found the best possible replacement for the retiring Joe Staley by trading two picks for star offensive tackle Trent Williams."

While Barnwell believes the 49ers did well to replace outgoing standouts, he is less confident in some of their other choices.

"Buckner was one of the NFL's best defensive linemen, and while Kinlaw could develop into a superstar, that dominant 49ers line is going to miss Buckner's talent," Barwell argued. "San Francisco also re-signed Arik Armstead to a five-year, $85 million deal, which is an awful lot of money for a player who has only one season in five as an impactful pass-rusher. Armstead is a great run defender, but the organization is paying him like the guy who had 10 sacks in 2019 as opposed to the one who had nine sacks combined across his previous four seasons."

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While Barnwell is correct in pointing out that Armstead is coming off a contract-year performance, he also fails to acknowledge that the 49ers really didn't have much of a choice in giving him that deal. They knew they weren't going to be able to keep both Armstead and Buckner moving forward, and only one of them was going to retrieve a first-round pick in a trade. So, while Armstead's price tag might seem high to Barnwell, it ultimately was the better road to go down of the two -- assuming Kinlaw turns out to be the player the 49ers hope he'll become. 

As for what San Francisco could have done differently, Barnwell suggests that the 49ers should have traded back in the first round of the draft to collect more picks, rather than trading up to select Aiyuk. That's a fair critique, and it's certainly possible there will be players drafted after Aiyuk who turn out to be better receivers. But, if general manager John Lynch and coach Kyle Shanahan identified Aiyuk as their guy, then it's tough to blame them for making the aggressive move to acquire him.

Remember how the roster-building portion of the offseason has concluded? Well, not exactly. There are still many tasks all 32 teams have on their plates, and one obviously stands out above the rest for San Francisco.

"Extend George Kittle," Barnwell described as the 49ers' top remaining offseason priority. "San Francisco's star tight end is entering the final year of his rookie deal, and after Austin Hooper became the first tight end in league history to sign a deal averaging more than $10 million per season, Kittle should push the market much further forward. A four-year extension should top $50 million."

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It's not a matter of if Kittle will get that record-setting contract, only when. And assuming that gets accomplished during the offseason, one would imagine the 49ers might get a slight bump in the offseason rankings. Still, for a team that was at least one tier above all but three other NFL teams last season, having an "average" offseason is nothing to scoff at. After all, it's easier to improve when you have more ground to make up -- or at least you'd think that would be the case.

The 49ers still fared far better than two of their divisional opponents. The Los Angeles Rams were ranked 28th, while the rival Seattle Seahawks came in at 26. Given that San Francisco already was superior to both of those teams entering the offseason, it would appear the gap between the 49ers and the rest of the NFC West has grown even wider.

49ers' offseason ranked 16th-best in NFL, but opened gap in NFC West originally appeared on NBC Sports Bay Area