The Seahawks could be in a season-long struggle with the 49ers to win the NFC West in 2021. How did the 49ers offseason go in preparation for this year? Whatever San Francisco did part of it was likely with the thought in mind to get healthier.
The 49ers struggled with injuries last year and it completely affected their season. A year after barely getting past the Seahawks for the NFC West crown but on the way to the Super Bowl, it seemed like the 49ers lost every player at one time or other that had an important role heading into the year.
How will the 49ers offseason help them against the Seahawks in 2021?
12th Man Rising: The 49ers appeared to do well in free agency as the players they lost shouldn’t affect their overall season. Of the players the 49ers did sign, which ones do you think will help the most?
Peter Panacy: Re-signing Trent Williams was the flashy, high-profile move. But perhaps an even more important one was inking veteran center Alex Mack, who thrived in head coach Kyle Shanahan’s offense in Atlanta back in 2016. Centers are massively important in Shanahan’s outside-zone offense, and this was a positional weakness over the last year-plus after now-retired center Weston Richburg was injured late in 2019.
Mack might not be the elite-level player he was a few years ago, but his presence and experience could make a massive difference.
12th Man Rising: What did you think about the 49ers draft? Sure, Trey Lance gets the biggest buzz, but which players do you think might help the most this coming season?
Peter Panacy: Trey Lance has what it takes to be special, and the buzz surrounding him out of training camp has been exemplary. That’ll be fun to watch.
But the rookie who’ll likely provide the biggest impact is third-round running back Trey Sermon out of Ohio State. I initially wasn’t thrilled about the selection and thought the 49ers had bigger needs elsewhere, yet Sermon has been a major standout both during OTAs and in training camp. Considering how run-heavy Shanahan’s offense is, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Sermon, perhaps even more than Lance, make the biggest difference right away.
Look for fifth-round safety Talanoa Hufanga to be a riser, too, especially on special teams early. He’s a playmaker in the making, demonstrated by four interceptions over six games with USC last year.
12th Man Rising: Heading into the season and after offseason changes, how confident are you that San Francisco can get back to a 2019 level in 2021 and why?
Peter Panacy: I don’t think the 2019 level is quite there just yet, although the Niners do project to be a playoff-caliber team, provided they stay healthy. Depth in the secondary is still a massive concern, particularly at cornerback, which was already thin coming into the season and could be tested to the extreme if one of the many oft-injured corners goes down again. A reinvigorated pass rush with both Nick Bosa and Dee Ford back could help matters, but I think San Francisco is a year away from legitimate Super Bowl contention.
Especially if Lance proves to be the X-factor.
12th Man Rising: The 49ers still have some cap space to play with. What, if any, further additions do you see the 49ers possibly doing?
Peter Panacy: Probably not too much, unless the 49ers elect to address some cornerback depth needs. They just added a veteran, B.W. Webb, but perhaps grabbing another experienced veteran here would be wise. Particularly if it’s a cheaper deal.
The Niners have to think about saving up money for what’ll be a lucrative extension for Bosa at some point down the line, too, meaning whatever cap space saved this year will be a bonus rollover into next year and potentially beyond.
A caveat, though, will be getting out from underneath Jimmy Garoppolo’s contract. If that happens sooner than later, San Francisco could splurge a bit.
12th Man Rising: How would you grade the 49ers offseason and is there a move they should have made but didn’t?
Peter Panacy: The 49ers should get a solid B-grade for the offseason. They re-signed key players like Williams, Jason Verrett, K’Waun Williams and Kyle Juszczyk while bringing aboard an upgrade in Mack.
Lance will define the Niners’ draft class. So, if he pans out as desired, the offseason retrospective grade would jump up to an A-plus, obviously.
Yet the Niners failed to take advantage of a deep and talented wide receiver draft class despite the need being there for depth, and that’s potentially a problem this season. It also would have been wise to invest earlier in the defensive backfield, grabbing a cornerback in particular, since that depth is already showing up as a bit of a problem. But if the offensive upgrades, including Lance, wind up panning out nicely, they could potentially cover up any defensive weaknesses within the secondary.