How 49ers are threading needle between present and future
The 49ers may not have made a ton of huge splashes this offseason, but that may be because they’re in the process of stepping onto the tightrope that NFL teams inevitably reach when they’ve had a sustained run of success.
Some teams push all their chips in to “win now” when they believe their Super Bowl window is open. The Los Angeles Rams are a good example of that. They won a championship, but they now find themselves looking for a new Super Bowl window to open. Other teams tear it all down and try to rebuild.
The 49ers are aiming to do something in the middle, and while they don’t have a championship to show for their efforts, their process to this point has been sound.
San Francisco has taken big swings during the Kyle Shanahan-John Lynch era. They traded for and signed defensive end Dee Ford. They traded up to draft Trey Lance. They sent a boat load of picks to the Panthers for Christian McCaffrey. They traded for and paid Trent Williams. They signed defensive lineman Javon Hargrave. They’ve extended virtually all of their best homegrown talent. They’re at a point now where they could shove all their chips in to try and win now. Instead, they’re hoping to extend their window rather than maximize the one they’re currently in.
Mike Sando in the Athletic offered a good illustration of how they’re doing this. He wrote a piece highlighting the best offseason move for each team. For the 49ers, it wasn’t signing free agent defensive tackle Javon Hargrave to a hefty four-year, $81 million deal with $40 million guaranteed. Instead, Sando pointed out how the team set itself up for the future. Via the Athletic:
The comp-pick chess game continues, with the 49ers in line to score a 2024 third-round choice after losing Ran Carthon (Titans GM) and DeMeco Ryans (Texans head coach). They could get another third down the line if defensive coordinator Steve Wilks spends at least two seasons with the 49ers before landing a head coaching job. San Francisco is in line to receive six additional 2024 comp picks for losing players. Can they maximize those picks?
The 49ers will hold all but one of their own picks next year. They owe the Panthers their fifth-round pick from the McCaffrey trade. On top of six of their own picks, they’re projected to earn five comp picks, giving them 11 in the 2024 draft with five in the first three rounds.
San Francisco has managed to stay in contention while also setting themselves up to have an impactful draft in 2024. For now, they’re on track to replenish the roster with some key losses potentially on the horizon.
Like Sando notes, they have to hit on a few of those draft picks for the process to actually bear fruit. They might also get to the precipice of a Super Bowl again this year and decide next year to push all of their chips in in pursuit of a title after the 2024 season.
The other key here is hitting on a couple of their 2023 picks. They traded up to No. 87 to select Penn State safety Ji’Ayir Brown, but after that they stood pat and didn’t make many waves in the draft. That won’t matter if one or two long-term starters comes out of their nine-player group. Combine that with a successful 2024 draft where they find a handful of key contributors and suddenly San Francisco looks ready to move into a new era without its Super Bowl window slamming shut.
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