How 49ers offseason doubled down on their existing star power

The 49ers entered the offseason with a loaded roster, and many fans hoped they'd add to that level of star talent. But they took a different direction, one that doubled down on their existing talent.

Super Bowl LVIII - San Francisco 49ers v Kansas City Chiefs
Super Bowl LVIII - San Francisco 49ers v Kansas City Chiefs / Ethan Miller/GettyImages

The San Francisco 49ers sent the most players of any team to the Pro Bowl in 2024, and all nine of those players will be returning to the roster. They also had 12 alternatives, and nine of those players will also be returning to the roster.

That is 18 players on the roster this year that played at or near a Pro-Bowl level.

That level of talent is rare in the NFL, and it has been the driving force behind San Francisco's recent run of success.

That success, however, has not translated into the ultimate prize: a Super Bowl victory.

Each time the Niners have come short, each time their talented roster ultimately not getting it done when it matters most. Heading into what may be the final year of their contention window, after Brock Purdy may receive a contract worth $55 million per year in the years to come, many thought the 49ers would double down on their roster by adding a couple big-name players to take them over the hump.

And, well, the 49ers doubled down. Just in a different way than anticipated.

49ers valued consistency over explosiveness

That phrase -- consistency over explosiveness -- defines the Niners' offseason approach. They made the difficult decision to cut Arik Armstead, one that signaled a re-shaping of their roster. They replaced him, effectively, with Maliek Collins, a defensive tackle from the Houston Texans who, analytically, was a touch below Armstead's play.

But the main difference between the two is that Armstead had been dealing with injuries that would take him out of the lineup, and that the 49ers have Collins under contract at around $8 million, a cap figure they reportedly offered Armstead himself.

Beyond Armstead, the 49ers made other moves around the edges. Instead of Chase Young, whose explosive highs were met with lackadasical lows, the Niners signed Leonard Floyd, who has missed almost no games in his career and has a relentless motor. Instead of Javon Kinlaw, who finally put together a healthy season, the 49ers signed Jordan Elliot.

Along the defensive line and beyond, San Francisco consistently went for consistency over explosiveness.

In the aftermath of Javon Hargrave's signing, I wrote that the 49ers approached free agency the right way, paying premium money for premium talent and not getting lost in the aggressive markets that drove prices up for less-accomplished players.

This year, the Niners went about things differently. They entered the market for the "middle class" of NFL players, an area in free agency where it is rare for a player to meet contract expectations.

But this appraoch can still work, because of one thing.

49ers doubled down on their star power

The 49ers' free agency approach works in the context of their specific roster, one with talent littered all over the field.

They have needle-movers on the defensive line in Hargrave and Nick Bosa, they have elite linebackers, they have a terrifiic core in the secondary, they have weapons upon weapons, and most importantly, they have one year with a cost-controlled young ascending quarterback. They have the rough sketches of a dominant roster in terms of talent.

This offseason became a way to fill in the gaps and leave no weaknesses.

It may be the case that Floyd does not generate the same level of pass rush that Young could on his best days. But when Bosa collapses the pocket, Floyd will always be there to clean up the mess.

This sentiment holds true for the entire free agency class.

The 49ers have banked on their stars making star players, and now having the right players around to take advantage of that. It has its risks, that their players cannot by themselves drive the team to victory.

But if it works, the 49ers will have not only the most talented, but also the most complete roster in the NFL.

That could be the final step necessary to the elusive sixth Super Bowl.

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