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49ers have fourth-best odds to win Super Bowl according to ESPN’s FPIby Jas Kang on May 27, 2020 at 8:01 pm
Photo by Michael Zagaris/San Francisco 49ers/Getty Images San Francisco comes in behind Kansas City, Baltimore and New Orleans. With a stacked roster mostly intact, the San Francisco 49ers are getting some 2020 Super Bowl love from ESPN’s Football Power Index. The Niners came out of nowhere to finish 13-3 last season. Although they lost three starters this offseason, ESPN’s FPI gives San Francisco a 12% chance to win it all next year, behind only the Kansas City Chiefs (21%), Baltimore Ravens (17%) and New Orleans Saints (13%). FPI’s projected win totals for the 49ers is 10.2 wins, and it gives the Niners an 81% chance to make the playoffs, the second highest in the NFC, trailing only the Saints. Here is ESPN’s explanation on why it has New Orleans just ahead of San Francisco: “Though FPI thinks the 49ers are the third-best team and the best NFC franchise, the New Orleans Saints (fourth in FPI rating) are actually the third-most-likely team to win the Super Bowl at 13%, with San Francisco coming in at 12%. Why? New Orleans faces a slightly easier schedule than the 49ers and is a tad more likely to win the NFC South (59%) than the Niners are to win the NFC West (53%). The Saints are our narrow NFC favorites in what could be quarterback Drew Brees’ last ride.” Let’s not forget ESPN’s FPI had the 49ers projected win total at 7.7 going into last season, while ranking them as the 21st best team in football. San Francisco blew that total out of the water. FPI has the Niners offense ranked No. 5 in the league. It is interesting to see the defense being ranked fifth as well, behind the Patriots, Bills, Steelers and Buccaneers. The Special Teams unit comes in at No. 3 overall. The one thing FPI does have right in my mind is that the Niners, Chiefs, Saints and Ravens are the four best teams in the league by quite a wide margin. FPI’s ability to predict Super Bowl contenders has been pretty good over the last five years, with four out of the last five Super Bowl champions being ranked in the top five of FPI’s preseason rankings. But, with the coronavirus pandemic still looming large, there will be many factors that will play a role in determining a champion next season. We don’t know how far behind the curve incoming rookies like Javon Kinlaw and Brandon Aiyuk will be with a non-traditional offseason. Another factor to consider is potentially playing games without fans, which will have obviously a huge impact on home-field advantage. Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross believes things will be back to normal by the fall, but as a California resident, I am skeptical. I don’t see large gatherings being allowed here until a vaccine is developed, which most likely won’t happen until early next year. Either way, the expectations are Super Bowl or bust for the 49ers. Their roster is loaded with high-end talent, and with the continuity going into next season, San Francisco should be among the final four teams going into the Conference Championship games. If the league is forced to alter its schedule and cancel OTAs, while playing games without fans in attendance, how much of an impact do you think it will have on the 49ers?
49ers 90-in-90: Kwon Alexander will have a career year in 2020by Kyle Posey on May 27, 2020 at 6:01 pm
Photo by Ian Johnson/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images Breaking down the 90 players on the 49ers offseason roster in 90 posts (over 90 or so days). Today is linebacker Kwon Alexander Kwon Alexander tore his ACL in Week 7 of 2018, but that didn’t stop the San Francisco 49ers from giving Alexander a four-year, $54 million deal the following March. The signing of Alexander received quite a bit of backlash as he had a high rate of missed tackles. Kwon returned in time for the start of the 2019 season, and it didn’t take long to realize the 49ers made the right move by adding the speedy linebacker in free agency. Alexander’s aggressiveness (borderline recklessness) against the run was a key piece in seeing the team get stops on early downs. On passing downs, Alexander’s awareness, athleticism, and range made him one of the best coverage linebackers during the first half of the season. What Kwon did on the field was great, but his energy and enthusiasm off the field were greater. Specifically, the effect he had on his running mate. Fred Warner transformed into a confident leader, and that doesn’t happen without Alexander. You could see the two shared a bond and how Alexander brought a side of Warner out that previously didn’t exist. Then, on November 1, Alexander tore his pec. He would return for the playoffs, but it was evident that Alexander was limited and not the same player. With a chance to fully recover, Alexander has been working out all offseason with teammate Kendrick Bourne. When the 49ers return to the field, Kwon will have to earn his starting spot. Basic info Age: 25 (turns 26 August 3) Experience: Five accrued seasons Height: 6’1 Weight: 227 Cap Status Alexander enters the second year of his $54-million deal. Kwon’s cap hit during 2020 will be relatively low, still at $4.5 million, but that number climbs to $16 million in 2021. Alexander will have pressure on him as the 49ers can get out of his contract after this season if he does not live up to expectations. San Francisco can save $13.4 million by releasing Alexander post-June 1 next offseason with only $3.1 in dead money. What to expect in 2020 Last year I expected variance from Alexander as that’s who he showed us he was previously as a player. One play he would avoid a block and make a tackle for loss. Another play Alexander would be chaotic and miss a tackle. The 49ers linebackers are a prime example of how all missed tackles are not created equal. Yes, you remember Alexander’s missed tackle in the Super Bowl. You probably forget the few he had during the season that slowed down the ball-carrier and turned into a loss for the offense. Consistency is what I expect from Kwon in 2020. It’s unfortunate that injury clouds what was sure to be his best season of Alexander’s young career. Another year playing alongside Warner and a star-studded defense will put the 49ers in a difficult position next offseason. Ultimately, I believe Alexander will beat out Dre Greenlaw thanks to being better in pass coverage and his contract. You’re not going to let Alexander ride the bench with the money he’s making and set to make. Alexander’s first half was on par or better than Greenlaw’s second half. One thing to keep an eye on Last year I wrote that Alexander struggled in coverage. That was far from an issue in 2019. Alexander thrived in coverage, both zone and man. The 49ers shut down passes over the middle of the field last season and, especially early on, a large part of that was thanks to Alexander. This year we have to watch Alexander’s health. Two seasons in a row he hasn’t made it to the halfway point. That’s worrisome. The 49ers have Greenlaw, who gained valuable experience, but there were still some subtle issues Greenlaw had in coverage that gives Alexander a leg up. Greenlaw will surely take a step forward as he’s comfortable with the speed of the game and knows what he can and can’t get away with. Keep an eye on Alexander’s health and Greenlaw’s development. There’s no denying Dre’s playmaking ability, and if he keeps forcing turnovers, it’ll be tough to keep him off the field.
Breer: A revenue shortfall could affect a long-term deal for Kittleby Kyle Posey on May 27, 2020 at 4:01 pm
Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images That is if a new deal doesn’t happen before the season There is nothing new to report on the contract front for San Francisco 49ers star tight end George Kittle. If reports are true about teams possibly having minicamp in June, then we could see negotiations with Kittle start to pick up. If there are no fans, the loss of revenue will impact the salary cap for 2021, Albert Breer reports: I would expect teams to be cautious in doing long-term deals with star players in the coming months, especially in situations where those teams have the flexibility to wait. The reason? If there’s a revenue shortfall this year, and the cap equation spits out a number lower than the $198.2 million figure in place from 2021, it’s pretty unlikely that the league and union will leave that as is. The potential bloodletting of pricey vets and tightened purse strings otherwise would create a one-year free-for-all. More likely would be negotiating a deal where the league would borrow cap dollars from future years, which could lead to multiple years of a flat cap (probably at least until the new TV money kicks in). For now, no one’s sure if it’ll come to that. But teams at least have to be prepared for the idea it could happen, which will lead at some teams to be conservative with their spending. And that’s without even considering that the threat of a revenue shortfall might make teams more conscious of their cap spending too. Regarding flexibility, that’ll depend on whether Kittle is willing to take the field entering the final year of his contract, where he makes $2 million. Again, everything John Lynch has said, the team will pay Kittle. There’s no reason to believe it won’t happen. The return to the field will keep the ball rolling. Breer noted that this would affect young non-quarterbacks, and it’ll be a little tougher financially over the next couple of months. The players Breer mentioned? Joey Bosa, Jamal Adams, and Kittle. Why? Because each player is expected to become the highest-paid player at their positions. In Kittle’s case, he’ll be the highest-paid tight end of all-time. Despite what Lynch has said, the longer Kittle goes without a new contract, the more these types of topics will continue to come up. The hypotheticals Breer laid out are all out of the box. Borrowing cap dollars from future years is something I would have never thought of. The new TV deals were supposed to be negotiated at the end of the 2022 season. That would mean a flat cap for at least two seasons. Lynch has been so aggressive during his tenure as the 49ers general manager that a flat cap or lost revenue will only force the front office’s staff to get more creative when it comes to structuring new contracts.
Which quarterbacks pose the biggest threats to the 49ers defense in 2020?by Kyle Posey on May 27, 2020 at 2:01 pm
Photo by Steven Ryan/Getty Images We listed the top-five Heading into 2019, you would have looked at the San Francisco 49ers schedule and said the top quarterbacks they’d face were Russell Wilson, Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees, Matt Ryan, and Cam Newton or Big Ben. I wasn’t falling for Cleveland’s offseason hype, so Baker Mayfield was never a legitimate option for me. The Niners didn’t have to face the former two, and Rodgers or Ryan didn’t “wow” against the 49ers. Now that we have hindsight, I’d say the most difficult quarterbacks the team faced were Wilson, Kyler Murray, Lamar Jackson, Brees, and can I say Wilson again? Looking at this year’s schedule, which quarterback will give the 49ers the most fits on defense? As long as Wilson is on Seattle’s roster, he’ll be the top answer, especially since San Francisco will play him twice a season. After Wilson, I’m sticking with Murray. I’m not saying Kyler will be the second-best quarterback the Niners face this season, but he won’t be far off with the weapons Arizona has and Murray’s ability to extend the play. The Saints and the Packers are on the schedule once again this year. Will 41-year-old Brees still be able to stress defenses down the field? If I’m a defense, I’m testing Brees’s arm strength and loading the box. That’ll be a fun cat and mouse game come Week 10. After the Packers didn’t add any firepower for Aaron Rodgers, I feel like we’re just going based on name if we list him. That’s not a slight to Rodgers, but what did you see in 2019 from Green Bay that would lead you to believe they’ll pose a threat to the 49ers defense? Not much! The question is, who will pose the biggest threats to the 49ers defense. I’m not asking who the best quarterbacks the 49ers face are. That’s too easy. The options are Carson Wentz, Tua Tagovailoa, Josh Allen, and Dak Prescott. I’ll believe in the young New York quarterbacks when they give us a reason to. Dak is a no-brainer. He’s not as mobile as Wilson or Murray, but Prescott can make plays outside of the structure of an offense. Against the 49ers, there is no more dangerous weapon at quarterback than a player that can run out of sacks, which brings us to the fourth answer, Wentz. NFC East fans have been arguing all offseason who is better: Wentz or Dak? My answer is Wentz has 15-20 plays a season where he looks superhuman and plays at an MVP level, while Dak has 15-20 plays where he one-hops a third-down throw or misses on another play. Those are the plays we remember, so that’s why there’s an argument. Football is about consistency, and that’s why I’d pick Dak. Both quarterbacks are incredibly talented and will keep their teams in the game against the 49ers. Tua is a rookie. Allen is inconsistent, though, by Week 13, he may have found his groove. Dwayne Haskins finished the year on a high note in his final two starts, but he has a long way to go. The process of elimination brings us back to the Hall of Famer Brees. My answers: 5) Brees 4) Wentz 3) Dak 2) Murray 1) Wilson Who is your top-five?
George Kittle named to PFF’s “All-Clutch” team”by Kyle Posey on May 27, 2020 at 12:01 pm
Photo by Michael Zagaris/San Francisco 49ers/Getty Images Kittle was the only 49er on the hypothetical team Pro Football Focus put together their first and second team “All-Clutch team” and San Francisco 49ers tight end George Kittle was unsurprisingly the tight end: TE GEORGE KITTLE, SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS Second Team: Jonnu Smith, Tennessee Titans Nothing changed for Kittle when things were tight late in the game. He was still the best player at the tight end position after the catch (position-high 113 yards after the catch and 8.7 yards after the catch per reception) and a nuisance to bring down in the open field (four missed tackles forced). As good as he was as a receiver, Kittle was equally as effective as a blocker in the run game. His run-blocking grade in the fourth quarter and overtime of one-score games ranked second at the position among qualifiers — a throwback when it comes to a tight end position that has shifted more towards big slot receivers in recent years. When the 49ers needed a play, Kittle came through for the offense. There is no better example than the fourth quarter of the New Orleans Saints game, where Kittle took a short crossing route and turned it into one of the highlights of the season to help secure a victory for the Niners. I’m more curious about who was omitted on the 49ers. Kittle was an easy option. In a year where the 49ers defense was historically good against the pass and getting after the quarterback, it was surprising that they weren’t represented on defense. PFF defined clutch as how well a player graded in one-score games during the fourth quarter and overtime. Were the Niners penalized due to not playing in close situations? If you include the playoffs, 10 of San Francisco’s games last season were won by more than one possession. That may explain why players like Fred Warner and Dre Greenlaw weren’t listed. When the games were close, those two always seemed to save the day. If blowouts were the reason we only see one 49er on this list, then hopefully there are zero next year. Keep the blowouts coming and the “gray hair games” to a minimum.