Key offseason losses mean the 49ers start 2020 less potent than a year ago.
If there was a specific stock value to the San Francisco 49ers heading into 2020, it would be a bit worse than what it was at the end of 2019. This, namely due to some key losses the team was forced to endure after falling just short in Super Bowl LIV.
Granted, good teams have to go through this sort of thing on a year-to-year basis. Back when the Niners weren’t winning games, they boasted a significant amount of salary cap space.
That’s not the case anymore.
It’s a simple fact for good football teams. Good teams are comprised of good players, and good players want and deserve to get paid like good players. Good teams can only pay so many of their good players. Ultimately, some of those good players wind up going elsewhere.
Yes, the 49ers still boast a Super Bowl-caliber roster heading into this season. That’s not a question. But when comparing what is shaping into the 2020 roster to the one which owned a 13-3 regular-season record and dominated two-thirds of last season’s playoff games, it’s a simple conclusion to make.
Right now, the 2020 Niners aren’t as good as the 2019 Niners.
But before you get upset with this statement, chew on the idea there’s hope and room for serious continuity. Let’s explain.
Key 49ers Losses for 2020
The Niners traded Buckner before playing him on the final year of his rookie contract, clearing immediate cap space and netting the Indianapolis Colts’ top pick in the 2020 NFL Draft, No. 13 overall.
Sanders, however, walked in free agency and will likely generate a fifth-round compensatory pick in 2021.
Those are the high-profile losses. While it’s still a stacked group, the 49ers defensive line isn’t quite as strong as it was when Buckner was in tow. And the Niners receiving corps was awfully disappointing before Sanders joined the room halfway through 2019. It’ll be interesting to see how this unit pans out now, although there’s still that room for hope.
But let’s not sleep on two other departures from the offseason: defensive tackle Sheldon Day and right guard Mike Person.
Yes, Person was overworked by Kansas City Chiefs defensive tackle Chris Jones in the Super Bowl. No getting around that. Still, Person was reliable his two seasons in San Francisco, starting 30 out of a possible 32 regular-season games and posting a modestly decent 61.8 overall Pro Football Focus grade last year.
Why Losses Matter for the 49ers
Losing Buckner hurts. So does losing Sanders, even though he had only two 100-yard receiving games during his stint with San Francisco. Not only did he and Buckner provide crucial veteran leadership, but they were both well-liked in the locker room. Can’t put a stat on that attribute.
Day’s loss doesn’t seem significant. Yet Day accounted for nearly 32 percent of the defense’s snaps last season, and it’s not automatic the Niners have someone pegged to fill in his role.
Meanwhile, Person’s release opens up the door for either Tom Compton, Daniel Brunskill or the rookie, Colton McKivitz, to assume the starting duties at right guard. While any of the three could prove to be an upgrade, it’s important to remember offensive lines take time to jell. Person was a mark of consistency, and that’ll be missed.
While It’s Not All Bad for the 49ers
Just because San Francisco’s balance sheet is a little lower entering 2020 doesn’t mean it’s fallen off completely. Or even significantly for that matter.
The Niners replaced Buckner with South Carolina defensive tackle Javon Kinlaw, who could end up having a prolific rookie season and emerge as the perfect replacement on a rookie contract for the next four or five years. Likewise, the also-Round 1 addition of Arizona State wide receiver Brandon Aiyuk helps alleviate the loss of Sanders.
It’s important to remember, though, both these players are rookies and not established stars. At least not yet. And while both have tremendous upside and potential, their individual stock levels are just at that and nothing more.
The good news, though, is the Niners have largely carried over the core level of talent that got them to within 10 minutes of a Super Bowl victory. While it’ll be hard to replicate that again in 2020, there’s little reason to assume the 49ers suffered some serious drop of any kind.
It’s the situation good teams are forced to endure, and San Francisco handled it as well as it could.