49ers’ promising future will stall without more talent on roster

San Francisco 49ers’ Kyle Juszczyk in action before an NFL football game against the Indianapolis Colts, Sunday, Oct. 8, 2017, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

Jimmy Garoppolo is in the zone and the 49ers have won three in a row. They’re one of the hottest teams in the league.

Just how bright is their future?

How many franchise cornerstone players do the 49ers really have?

I’m not talking Pro Bowl alternates or guys who used to be Pro Bowl talents or may become Pro Bowlers someday. I’m talking legitimate Pro Bowl players. Guys you can build a playoff team around right now.

Let’s break down the 49ers roster and separate the former cornerstones from the potential cornerstones and the real cornerstones.

Click here to read my column.

This article has 56 Comments

  1. Good article Grant. Pretty much agree with all of it. 49ers definitely have their work cut out for them improving this roster.

    One guy you didn’t mention was Witherspoon. I think he falls in the category 3 or category 4. He’s done alright since he became a starter. Colbert may be a category 3 for some as well, though I would like to see him do it for more than a few weeks.

    1. Thanks, Scooter. I agree Witherspoon and Colbert have done alright. But I don’t think either one will be a franchise cornerstone player.

      1. I said that in 2014 and 2015 Baalke ill-served the Niners by making a really bad selection in the critical first round. I never see Armstead making a big difference. He is more a second-team guy. Ward played an unimpressive football schedule at a no-name college and was never a good first round choice. I saw him as no more than a third rounder. As Grant says, neither man can stay healthy. Huge number of holes to fill this year and it likely takes 2-3 years to fill them. Jimmy G sure makes the bad OL look better though.

    2. We need a legitimate pass rusher ASAP. We have not had one since Aldon’s first year. Baalke failed to address this need. Lynch needs to and fast. I agree with Grant that the entire OL needs to be replaced with the possible exception of Trent.

  2. No question, the 49ers are anything but a complete team. They certainly need more talent, but IMO, the 3 most important pieces of the NFL puzzle are now in place, giving them an excellent opportunity to complete the process.

    No guarantees, but I LOVE where they are, and where they seem to be heading. It’s a process in which they are well ahead of schedule, and have surpassed my earliest expectations. What more could a fan ask of a first year HC/GM? Rome wasn’t built in a day!

    I’m all in on the ShanaLynch/Garoppolooza hype train! Choo Choo!

    1. ShanaLynch have set the foundation for long term success. Now they need to complete the process. With a young franchise QB, a boatload of money to spend, a bounty of favorable draft picks, and the ability to develop young players that Kyle and his staff have shown, it’s no wonder the 49ers are suddenly the most hyped 4-10 team in NFL history!.

      1. Let’s see what they do with those picks and money. Can they hit the lotto getting lucky and wheel and deal some extra picks and some solid FA’s..and pick-up OG Q. Nelson and other big playmakers on both sides of the ball. They did great last draft getting more picks and drafting Foster, he hits hard but seems fragile, how long can he last.!..Build around JG by giving him a SOLID foundation..the OL..which is key to everything else..passing, running, first downs, running the clock, keeping JG from getting killed, ect..even the D by giving them a rest.

  3. Thank you Grant for pointing out the obvious ;)

    Its no secret we are a rebuilding team, but how much easier is it to rebuild when you have a franchise QB, an offensive guru at HC, and a sharp GM??? Pivotal, crucial offseason coming up, but should be fun.

    1. It seems more probable that they will increase their talent than it does that they will not considering the extra cap money and draft picks they will have to work with. It would take someone along the likes of their last GM to make sure that they will not improve the quality of their roster quite a lot next off season. This regime seems to be the type that will never stay pat with what ever they have.

  4. 2. DE Solomon Thomas.
    I think franchise cornerstone is above Thomas’ ceiling. He’s a good piece right now and he can get better, but he’s not an elite talent.

    1. Agreed. I think he’s a good player but even Witherspoon has higher upside.
      Thomas is a good player who is bust proof but his ceiling and floor are very close together as a solid slightly above average d-lineman.

  5. I’m trying to remember how far we had to go before the Garoppolo trade, and subsequent stellar performances…boy, have we come a long way in short order, or what? It’s fantastico!

    1. The thing is in the type of rebuilding process that Shanny and Lynch are doing the teams won/loss record will not initially their actual progress. That was compounded by the multiple injuries that had a huge effect on an already thin roster. They were always better than they appeared to be ( a win less team ). Once the pieces start to fit together the results should improved dramatically.

      The major thing is that they have yet to use the bulk of the resources available to them in the rebuilding process. This season was just to test what they already had. They still have that huge cap space and the high draft picks to use for the coming season. Their recent success only will act as a lure to getting free agents to sign with them. They are presently a team on the rise rather than one on the decline as it has been for recent years. Players can see the team as being a contender.

  6. So if they had better players, they would win more games ?
    Who hired this guy, his Dad ?
    Is that him retweeting his kids tweets ?
    Anyone have an IQ over 50 on here ?

  7. 13 most crucial NFL positions and 49er current status:

    1. QB. Check (GP is da man)
    2. Pass Rushing linebacker: Need
    3. Offensive Tackles: Check (Staly, Brown)
    4, Offensive Guards: Need
    5. Running Back: Check (Hyde, Breda)
    6. Inside Linebacker. Check (Foster)
    7. Wide Receiver with size and speed. Need
    8. Tight End. Check (Kittle, Celek)
    9. 350 Lb Run Stuffing Nose Tackle. Need
    10. Cover Cornerbacks. Need
    11. Hard Hitting Safeties. Check (Reed, Tartt)
    12. Center. Check (Kilgore)
    13. Defensive Ends. Check (Buckner, Thomas, Armstead)

    I rate 8 out of 13 categories as check. With 100 million in cap space and a plethora of draft picks I have every confidence that the five categories I rate as needs can be filled before the start of the 2018 season.

    Glass is definitely more than half full.

    Go Niners.

    1. It’s a nice list Rick, but I do dissagree with the 350 lb Nose Guard (or NT). In my experience, that’s a quality more typical of a base 3-4 NT. It’s not the style defense the 49ers are currently deploying.

      “While philosophies may differ, the most usual job description of the 3-4 nose tackle is to simply be a space eater. The nose tackle will usually be the biggest guy on the field, and more often than not, he’s not doing anything real flashy. Yes, they will have the occasional sack or big tackle in the backfield, but for the most part, they are there to eat up the double team and keep the linebackers clean so they can make those big plays.”

      Good stuff though. GO NINERS!

      1. I think his list is good but it’s based on the 3-4 which SF used to run, not the current system. The pass rusher is more of a DE in their hybrid role, in this system so the niners still need that and they need outside linebackers as well.
        I also am still not sold on our tackles… Staley is old and Brown still sucks at run blocking… you can’t be an elite tackle if you suck at half your job😏.

    2. Seems to me most should be needs..1. is check..6. check but fragile..8. ok check..13. ok check…the rest as far as top NFL is “Need” basically. Buckner needs to show up more, Thomas is green and needs to work his rear off season, Armstead is incomplete, will he ever be healthy, Staley is slower getting beat, Hyde shows up once in a while and will be gone, Breda 2nd string, Reed is good at times and gone next year. They need an D. Edge like Clowny, not sure about 350lb. NT. 2019 there’s a NT/DT from Houston ED Oliver who will be great some day 6’2 295 and runs like a LB, very strong.

      1. I agree with your assessment more than Ricks. I think this list should also consider not only if their is a need, but how much of a resource should be spent on bettering that position. A lot depends on available replacements. If something is a need but filling that need requires a huge investment then it might be better to defer that replacement for a future date. You can always get better at almost any position if the opportunity presents itself. Some positions are easier to improve in with out a major cost in resources. Those opportunities should be taken when they become available.

        That is one reason I was never on the Cousins train. As it turns out a different and better opportunity presented it self a bit later. When you have a time frame that Shanny/Lynch were given to work with, you can be selective in your choices. You do not have to act out of desperation.

        1. In respect to the RB position keeping Hyde is not a check because he is not under contract. The decision has to be made if they want to resign him. He is just like any other free agent. The same would also apply to Reid.

          Now while the same situation exists in respect to JG, it is not actually the same , because resigning JG is a no brainer. I doubt that very many people question his ability and importance to this franchise. Is their anyone who would suggest they let him walk? I really doubt that. Whether to resign a player is a different issue than replacing an existing player already on contract.

          Resigning a player is the same as signing a free agent or using a draft pick to improve a position. In respect to resigning Hyde/Reid/ other free agents one must consider them as being it as being in the same catagory as improving the team because resources have to be spent the same as it would cost signing any other free agent. You are not really standing pat.

          It all boils down to the cost of improving each position and whether the need is big enough to justify the spending of resources or if their are better cost to value options available. This is the same reason that sometimes a team will stick with a player because getting rid of them is not worth the trade off in cost.

  8. I think the guys on the radio postgame show were having this cornerstone conversation and their results were much the same.

    The primary cornerstone for a successful team must be the QB. That’s the base stone and everything else is built around that.

    Agree with you that until he signs a long term deal Garoppolo isn’t that.

    1. They got his right for 3 years. They have already come out and said they will use the Franchise Tag on him if they have too. They have a massive amount of cap space. There GM understands it’s going to be a big contract extension. He is here long term…. The contract will be figured out right around the deadline for a Franchise Tag to be applied. Nothing to see here.

      1. And if they do figure it out than he’s a cornerstone guy.

        If he’s on the tag it makes it a little tougher sell to offensive free agents who won’t have any assurances past the 1 year.

        1. When your GM comes out and says that they expect him to be a Niner for a very long time that would indicate that he knows JG has the leverage in contract talks and that he is willing to basically give him a blank check. Plus Lynch went on the radio today and said that there plan is to build a lot more around JG…He is not just a cornerstone piece he is the entire structure. He will be signed long term in the off season.

          1. “He is not just a cornerstone piece he is the entire structure.”

            Well that’s not quite true, but he’s definitely THE cornerstone.

            And again, he might very well sign that long contract. I hope he does. But until that happens it’s a question mark.

          2. RAW

            Watch what you say…Remember that ‘Chip’ Kelly was told that he would be here for a very long time…How long is ONE season…?

    2. Garoppolo isn’t going anywhere. The grass isn’t always greener on the other side of the fence. He’s young, and has an opportunity to play in a QB friendly system. Look at the numbers he’s already putting up. The 49ers are flush with cash. Why would he want to leave unless the 49ers try to lowball him, which I don’t see happening? John Lynch is a player’s GM, and Kyle Shanahan is a QB’s HC. That’s one reason he ended up here in the first place. He’ll sign a 5 year deal with the 49ers at some point, with a boatload of guaranteed money. He’s in a fantastic situation for a young, talented QB, and he’d be foolish to look elsewhere IMO, especially considering the 49ers already hold his rights for the foreseeable future.

      1. 49er reasons—- You are correct. JG is not stupid and I believe he realizes that this team is on the rise. Now if he were on a team that resembled the present 49er team, but one that was not in the first stage of rebuilding he might not even consider signing unless the offer was so lucrative it would be stupid to refuse. Anyone with a brain can see that this team will be contending in no time. Shanahan is also a very good communicator. He is able to outline the plans for this team, which is why the team is played with enthusiasm despite the fact they were winless for so long. That was the reason that Kerley praised Shanahan even after he was released. It was because the building plan was explained to him that he understood why the move was made.

  9. Wow! You’ve written an excellent piece of sports journalism. Your home work is to do it again. And again. Until then, you are promising but as yet undeveloped. Keep your nose to the grindstone and avoid snark no matter how tempting. Rock on a and light a menorah candle for me Bubulah…

  10. “Cornerstone” means linchpin or bedrock or backbone or centerpiece or core. I completely disagree with the entire premise of the article — the need for a bunch of “cornerstone” players. The most successful franchise model is New England and the model is a basically the combination of an excellent franchise QB and an offensive scheme to match his skills. Maybe it has one or two stars (like Gronk) in the team. Salary cap does allow for cornerstones without weakening other positions.

    The challenge to draft and develop so-called cornerstone players is a fool’s errand since draft is fundamentally a crap-shoot. Instead the model franchise develops a procedure to consistently use the combination of FA and draft to provide a steady supply of competent role players each and every season. Basically every piece is expendable except the QB. Both offensive and defensive schemes are slightly adjusted every season to hide the weakest positions in the schemes.

    Currently, Niners do not have competent role players at many starting positions. The front office has done an excellent job with free agency and draft in a season where evaluation and player development has been the priority, as has been getting a novice GM, HC and DC acclimated to their new roles. I expect that in this off-season the FO will acquire competent role players for the key positions (CB and OL in particular) in FA and then use the draft to stock up with athletically talented and football-smart players for development, especially in defensive areas such as pass rush.

    1. Mood – I think you are 100% correct and would only add that not only is getting a “cornerstone” rookie a crap-shoot but it is too easy to lose one to free agency even if you’re lucky enough to draft one. I also think that because good HCs and GMs lean more towards your strategy of building around a franchise QB, you see the reasoning around not having a backup QB with a different skill set. This means, in the event that a franchise QB goes down to injury, the team at least has a fighting chance if the backup can utilize the same scheme and role players even if it is at a lower level. The days of the genius HC that can take any random group of players and devise a scheme to compete successfully are long in our past.

  11. Jags LB Telvin Smith on 49ers game: ‘This is a hat and T-shirt week.’

    Jags will be shocked on sunday…..49ers win 24 – 20

  12. Good God, on JG what exactly do you expect him to say in “committing to the franchise” Grant? This is not the time for any of that talk. on either side.

    You contradict yourself when you say that 5 games (3 as a 49er) isn’t a big enough body of work to declare him a future franchise cornerstone or commit to a long term deal from Lynch and Shanahan’s standpoint. Yet you think that it’s enough for him to verbally commit to the team for years to come?

    You also said in an article last week I believe that JG holds all the cards and has the power in this situation. Wouldn’t verbally committing to the team take away some of that power? I am sure Don Yee knows what he’s doing in telling his client what to or not to say in regards to where things are at this time.

  13. Not to mention any “the sky is falling” rhetoric about JG not signing a long term deal is nothing more than articles trying to gain more clicks. He isn’t going anywhere with or without the franchise tag.

    I can’t believe that you actually believe there’s a chance that he won’t be inked to a contract with franchise QB numbers once this season ends.

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