In all likelihood, the San Francisco 49ers aren’t going to be very good in 2016. Playing in a tough NFC West division doesn’t help, and the Niners don’t get any favors from their schedule. Amidst a rebuilding phase, fans shouldn’t worry what the team’s final record will be this season. 2016 isn’t about that.
The 2016 NFL offseason is upon us, and fans of every team across the league are filled with hope, positive thoughts and expectations for a great year.
San Francisco 49ers fans are no different. Yes, 2015 was pretty disastrous. The Niners finished with a 5-11 record — four of those wins were, essentially, games that could have easily gone the other way — and the team ranked at, or near the bottom of, nearly every significant offensive and defensive category.
There were front-office upheavals, quarterbacking controversies, coaching ineptitude and a slew of other problems plaguing this once-proud franchise.
To the 49ers credit, the team realized shake-ups were needed. In comes a new coaching staff, under head coach Chip Kelly, and general manager Trent Baalke elected to reinforce San Francisco’s shortcomings in the trenches and within the secondary first — saving needs at skill positions for some point down the road.
All this is fine. And maybe these efforts translate into something good in 2016.
Still, the 49ers probably aren’t going to be a good team this season. At least not in terms of their record when the year is in the books.
And fans shouldn’t be concerned with it. Not with winning percentages, division standings or anything of that nature.
2016 is a rebuilding year, plain and simple. Recent glory years between 2011 and 2013 are gone now, as are many of the players who graced a Niner team that made three-consecutive NFC Championship games and one Super Bowl berth at the end of 2012.
Instead of holding onto something no longer there, the 49ers are going through a youth movement.
The average age of the team’s current 90-man roster is 23 years old, according to Fox Sports, and the NFL-experience average is only 3.1 years.
That’s pretty low. And, in terms of fielding a field of experienced veteran players, San Francisco probably doesn’t have the wherewithal to compete within the division or the rest of the league, for that matter.
Also not helping is the fact the 49ers own the toughest schedule, along with the Atlanta Falcons in 2016, per CBS Sports’ John Breech.
Let’s put this simply — the Niners aren’t going to make it to the Super Bowl, let alone the playoffs this season. Anything is possible, yes, but San Francisco is anywhere else but in “win now” mode.
These factors may be reasons why Baalke and Co. weren’t particularly active in free agency this last offseason.
Steve Berman of Bay Area Sports guy discussed this last March:
And, while we make fun of the 49ers’ front office quite a bit around these parts, we should admit something. Baalke, Paraag Marathe and Jed York are probably smart enough to know they can’t realistically compete for a playoff spot in 2016. Not in the NFL’s toughest division, not without a franchise quarterback, not with an extremely young roster in a brand new system.
This will be another developmental year, one in which the 49ers hope Kelly and his staff can develop the young players and a considerable number of drafted rookies better than Jim Tomsula and his staff did in 2015.
A case-in-point example is the 49ers decision not to re-sign veteran wide receiver Anquan Boldin during the offseason, despite him being the team’s leading receiver in each of the previous three seasons.
San Francisco’s current MO is the youth movement — evaluating young talent on the roster, seeing what the team has and then electing to move on from there.
All this leads us to the point why fans shouldn’t be overly concerned with the 49ers record in 2016. Standings, wins and losses shouldn’t really matter that much. At least not now. While it would be great to see San Francisco win more games than it loses, there are more important factors here.
What should be the focal point of 2016 will be finding the cornerstones around which to continue building this franchise moving forward.
This means answering critical questions. Like these:
- Can the team move forward with either quarterback Colin Kaepernick or Blaine Gabbert beyond 2016?
- Will running back Carlos Hyde finally emerge as a No. 1 bona fide threat?
- Can young players like offensive guard Joshua Garnett and defensive ends DeForest Buckner and Arik Armstead prove they are the real deal?
- Is linebacker Aaron Lynch going to be a preeminent NFL pass-rusher?
- Who steps up at wide receiver and cornerback?
- How will Kelly’s coaching staff jell, and what will his long-term impact be?
These questions, and more, should be at the heart of the 49ers focus this season. It’s an argument that should have been made in 2015, following the en-masse departures due to retirement and free agency.
But 2015 was a bust, plain and simple. A mulligan. So the context of the situation is merely pushed into this season.
And that’s what 49ers fans should be concerned with this year. Will the lowly statistical numbers improve to a satisfactory mark? Can more than a few Niner players emerge as key figureheads around which Baalke can build moving forward?
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Will this team be able to compete amicably enough against some of the bigger and better competition it faces this season? Or will the 49ers be out of games by halftime, as was so often the case last year?
This is what you should be looking for this season. Wins are nice but, in the Niners case, aren’t going to come easy or frequently.
Instead, focus the attention on the other areas of the roster and which players stand out. Chances are, if things continue on the right path, these will be the big-name guys who help usher in, hopefully, the next era of 49ers greatness.