Updated: Mar 13
This isn’t the offseason the San Francisco 49ers are used to – no draft picks, no money, and picking at the end of each round, starting at No. 31 overall. Their approach in 2020 is going to be a lot different, but they have to figure out a way to come out ahead and not fall victim to regression the way winning teams do.
Considering the 31st overall pick is their most valuable asset, it makes sense to look there as to how they can leverage that piece into a noteworthy offseason. Their other top asset is breakout defensive lineman Arik Armstead, who could be franchise tagged and traded (either for a player or draft capital).
The vision here, at least on my part, is for the 49ers to use that capital to settle wide receiver once and for all, and give themselves some mid-to-and/or-late-round draft picks, which they sorely need.
Quickly on other needs in consideration at #31:
IOL: They're already spending a lot on Weston Richburg and they reached the Super Bowl with Ben Garland. They traded for Detroit washout Laken Tomlinson, who has developed into their best interior lineman. They have good scouts and coaching there; this is about finding the right fits, not just high picks.
CB: Definitely worthy of a first-round investment, but with Emmanuel Moseley coming back, the 49ers could hold off for another year, especially since they aren't getting C.J. Henderson or Jeff Okudah.
RB: This may be a need, but it's not first-round investment worthy unless the 49ers have their backs against the wall, a situation where they have like :03 left on the clock and J.K. Dobbins is clearly the best on the board.
Now, wide receiver, on the other hand, has been a defining problem not only under head coach Kyle Shanahan, but from regime to regime. It's been a longstanding issue, wherein the football gods blessed San Francisco with Jerry Rice and Terrell Owens, and then declared, "Never again!" Today, it remains a high-priority. None of Shanahan's wide receivers other have worked out -- either due to effort, ability, injury or other -- and the rest are seemingly leaving or are on the trade block.
If the 2020 season started tomorrow, this would be Deebo Samuel in the wide receiver room:
Now, if you rewind back to the season, you may remember Odell Beckham Jr. and his future in Cleveland being murky, a storyline that hasn't quite been forgotten about, but buried beneath all the recent draft talk. But, now that it's the offseason, Beckham should be a topic of discussion in the 49ers' front office for several reasons…
To begin, even the most cursory Google search of Beckham Jr. will bring up a host of results showing an uncertain future in Cleveland. This story isn't dead. When asked about the sticky-handed receiver, new Browns GM Andrew Berry at the 2020 NFL Combine even said:
“It’s something that you always pick up the phone and you listen to anything across the table.”
While this draft class is stacked, it doesn’t mean the 49ers’ solve is there. Henry Ruggs III, Jerry Jeudy and CeeDee Lamb are going in the top-15 to 20, and Denzel Mims is going top-25. And, frankly, the only receivers I’m sure are going to set the world on fire are Ruggs, Jeudy and Lamb. If the 49ers do not secure one of them, they’re having a draft similar to year’s prior – a total chance on second- and third-tier receivers, which is risky, considering they've done this and have nothing at the position.
Because the draft is stacked, a lot of teams are thinking about settling receiver there -- but are the 49ers sure they can get their guy? Meanwhile, Beckham is kind of in limbo, and nobody is looking over there. The last time we checked in on him, multiple confirmed he said “come get me” to at least one of four teams in October before the trade deadline (Browns and 49ers played on Monday night, 10/07). With a new regime, if Beckham has not bought in and Baker Mayfield is a question mark, they could entertain shopping him for building blocks.
He'll be cheaper via trade. This would be his third uniform by age 27. He's got mileage, he's had injuries, he's coming off an unspectacular season, and he's been in plenty of headlines that have caused people to form opinions of him. That's great for the 49ers because he's still elite, but his perceived value has shrunk.
Another big caveat: we know for a fact Shanahan likes Beckham a lot. NBC Sports Bay Area Insider Matt Maiocco reported in March 2019 that San Francisco would be interested if he were made available, and it was later confirmed by the team that they had genuine interest and tried to trade for him. Cleveland would wind up swooping in, but Shanahan is a fan:
“Odell’s a freak in the way he can move and his hands and people do not get how tough and good of a football player Odell is, also. He’s physical and competes his tail off in the run game and the pass game.”
For those who champion the locker room and chemistry, which is important when making a trade of this magnitude, it's worth noting that there actually is a preexisting relationship extending beyond Beckham and Shanahan. A source told Charles Robinson of Yahoo! Sports the wide receiver and quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo are close by non-teammate standards:
“[Odell] talks to Jimmy on and off the field. They have a friendship that is more than just saying hello before or after [a game]. There’s a lot of mutual respect there as football players and people — which is important [to Beckham].”
On the field, I don't think there's any doubt Beckham would be unstoppable in Shanahan’s offense. He’s pure perfection on slants – if Shanahan gets him open, he's a blur, able to take one 70 yards to the house – and for better or for worse, that’s Garoppolo’s bread and butter. OBJ also, notably, provides the downfield threat the 49ers otherwise don’t possess and have been yearning for.
Now, think of OBJ and George Kittle together. That’s a breath of fresh air in San Francisco, and a way to avoid a Super Bowl hangover. Emmanuel Sanders, and Armstead, for that matter, and that same team staying would increase the likelihood of a stale season or "hangover." And with no disrespect to Sanders, he was their intended WR1 and didn’t put them over the hump. He’s great, but just shy of elite.
Shanahan with Beckham Jr. and Kittle would finally unleash the awesome power of this offense. Not having adequate weapons has been an injustice to Shanahan’s brilliance. The defensive manipulation and havoc the 49ers head coach and play-caller could cause with two elite NFL weapons like that would be a spectacle. It would equal Reid-Hill-Kelce, which is what they need to compete with, apparently.
Former 49ers secondary coach Joe Woods is the defensive coordinator over in Cleveland now. San Francisco could explore a package of Armstead and #31 for Beckham Jr. and a mid-round pick(s). The fit, familiarity and need are there. Pair Armstead with Myles Garrett and let him co-lead a defense with a first-time DC he's already had success with.
Window closing: Joe Staley and Richard Sherman are the two top veterans leading the charge for a young 49ers team that is in win-now mode. They provide great balance and leadership and are worth making an aggressive play for. And, Beckham, 27, also becomes a franchise piece and the savvy veteran after they're gone. It's a strong short- and long-term plan.
Many would agree the 49ers are already spending too much on defense, the line in particular. They’re going to have to pay DeForest Buckner, Nick Bosa, and eventually Fred Warner – that’s three marquee guys in the front seven, plus D.J. Jones, who will be a value buy, but a necessity for years as well. While it may be painful to break up Buckner and Armstead, there must be an investment in offense (i.e., points scored).
Not to mention, if they get mid-round pick(s) back in a deal for #31 and Armstead, they could potentially move up for an interior offensive lineman or cornerback, finding a second impact starter. A deal like this settles two problems: WR and the lack of draft capital. It hurts losing a familiar face that performed and a first-round pick, but this is the type of splashy move at a position of need -- and sure-fire acquisition -- the 49ers should make to stay on top in 2020.
*The franchise tag deadline is Monday, March 16, 11:59am EST. If Arik Armstead is not tagged before then, it is possible the 49ers could still pursue this deal with the #31 pick.
Media courtesy USATSI
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