49ers

49ers' Fred Warner focused on making big improvements for 2020 season

49ers' Fred Warner focused on making big improvements for 2020 season

Linebacker Fred Warner was one of the 49ers’ breakout stars during the 2019 season.

He led the team with 118 tackles during the regular season, to go along with three sacks. As the middle linebacker, and the player who relays the defensive signals to the huddle, he also took another step toward being a leader. And for a while it looked as if he made a play to remember in Super Bowl LIV when he intercepted a pass from Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes in the third quarter.

The 49ers' offense cashed in to take a 10-point lead.

But Warner, 23, said on The 49ers Insider Podcast that expects a lot more of himself in his third NFL season. And the 49ers’ 31-20 loss to the Chiefs will help fuel him and his teammates.

“I feel like as the year went on, in my second year, I continued to get better and better, and I think that’s what’s key,” Warner said. “Hopefully . . . not hopefully, I’m going to make sure that I start off next year the way I left this year or make sure I’m even better.

“I don’t want to take any steps back. Because you’re never the same. You’re either getting better or you’re getting worse. I want to make sure I’m better.”

The 49ers let a 10-point fourth-quarter lead slip away as the Chiefs outscored the 49ers 21-0 in the final seven minutes of the Super Bowl. It was a loss that is going to stick with the team for a long, long time. The only way to get past it, Warner said, is to begin making improvements for the future.

“It sucks, but you can’t sit and dwell about it for too long because you’re just wasting time,” Warner said. “I want to get back to work. I want to be able to become a much better player than I was this season. And I know I will. It all starts now.”

Three days after the loss, coach Kyle Shanahan held a meeting at the 49ers headquarters in Santa Clara, during which he spoke to the team about all that was accomplished in 2019 and into 2020. The 49ers bounced back from a 4-12 season in 2018 to go 13-3, win the NFC West, earn homefield advantage in the NFC playoffs, then tear off two 17-point victories to reach the Super Bowl.

“Being so close, then falling short, it hurts a lot,” Warner said. “But I think the biggest thing I’ve taken from it is that we’re going to be a lot better next season. We have to be if we want to win the thing. I think we have a great plan. We have a great team.

“It was special to talk about the things that went well. There was a lot to talk about. It was a great season. (We) just talked about going into next season and our expectations of ourselves and we’re excited for the future. It’s really bright. We had an outstanding year this year, and we’re excited to get back to it next season.”

There will be some comings and goings during the offseason, but the nucleus of the 49ers’ roster is under contract and will return. And most of team consists of ascending players, such as Warner.

[RELATED: How 49ers' coverage allowed KC's Super Bowl-altering play]

Warner began to receive recognition around the league for his play in the middle of the 49ers’ defense last season, but when he watches himself, he constantly sees areas in which he believes he can improve.

“Everybody talks about it was a good season, but I feel I can be so, so much better,” Warner said. “That’s what’s exciting to me. I know that’s how a lot of guys in that locker room feel.”

49ers roster analysis: Signing George Kittle to new contract top focus

49ers roster analysis: Signing George Kittle to new contract top focus

This is the fourth installment of a 10-part series that examines the 49ers’ roster coming out of the 2019 season, looks ahead to 2020, and outlines the offseason challenges facing general manager John Lynch and coach Kyle Shanahan on a position-by-position basis.

Thursday, a look at the 49ers’ tight ends.

Under contract (signed through)

-George Kittle (2020)
-Daniel Helm (2020)

For the first time this offseason, the 49ers and Kittle’s representation can negotiate a multi-year contract extension. After being a fifth-round draft pick in 2017, Kittle has greatly outperformed his contract. He is in line to become the highest-paid tight end in the league at far more than $10 million a season.

Expiring contract

-Levine Toilolo (UFA)
-Ross Dwelley (EFA)
-Garrett Celek (UFA)

Celek, 31, announced his retirement on Feb. 7 after eight NFL seasons. Celek experienced back issues the past couple seasons and underwent surgery in June to repair a herniated disk. He played five games last season before going on injured reserve when his back flared up. He finished his career with 82 receptions for 1,104 yards and 12 touchdowns in 91 games.

Dwelley as an exclusive-rights free agent has no outside negotiating rights and certainly will be back with the 49ers for a third season.

What needs to happen

One thing needs to happen this offseason: The 49ers and Kittle must agree on a multi-year contract extension. It should happen. It has to happen.

It does not make any sense for Kittle to take the risk of stepping on the field again without first receiving a large sum of guaranteed money to reward him for the best three-season opening to a career of any tight end in NFL history.

The 49ers have produced great tight ends in their history. But Kittle is the first to eclipse the 1,000-yard mark. And, now, he has done it two seasons in a row. His 1,377 receiving yards in 2018 were the most in a single season by a tight end in NFL history.

How vital is Kittle to the 49ers? His teammates voted him as the winner of the Len Eshmont Award, the team’s most prestigious honor, for his courageous and inspirational play.

Toilolo was the second-most-used tight end on the team late in the season and into the playoffs due to his blocking ability. He could be back on a veteran minimum contract.

[RELATED: 49ers roster analysis: More receiver depth needed around Deebo Samuel]

Expectations

Kittle is the best player on the team. He will continue to be the best player on the team.

Dwelley made a big jump from his rookie season to Year 2. If he can make another big improvement with his blocking, he will position himself to see a bump in playing time. He stepped in and made some big catches while Kittle was out with ankle and knee injuries in the middle of the season. Dwelley had 15 catches for 91 yards and two touchdowns on the season.

Toilolo became the team’s sixth offensive lineman, in effect, as he played 34 snaps combined in the playoff games against Minnesota and Green Bay when the 49ers dominated with their ground game. Toilolo has enough value for the 49ers to re-sign to fill a similar role in 2020.

The 49ers promoted rookie Daniel Helm from the practice squad late in his rookie season. The club originally claimed him off waivers from the Los Angeles Chargers in August. He did not see action in any games, but it was a clear indication the 49ers see something in him that they can develop for the future.

Why Kyle Long wants to see 49ers sign Tom Brady in NFL free agency

Why Kyle Long wants to see 49ers sign Tom Brady in NFL free agency

Should he decide to leave the New England Patriots in NFL free agency, Tom Brady will have no shortage of options of where to suit up for the 2020 season.

The six-time Super Bowl champion will be 43 when the season begins, but Father Time hasn't gotten the best of him yet. Given the right situation in which he's surrounded by a stout line and dynamic playmakers, Brady can put up elite numbers and lead another team -- should he choose to leave New England -- to the Super Bowl.

While the Raiders, Tennessee Titans, Los Angeles Chargers and Chicago Bears are the teams commonly thrown around as landing spots for Brady, former NFL offensive lineman Kyle Long wants to see TB12 head to a different team out west -- the 49ers.

"I think this will drive people crazy," Long said on "NFL Total Access." "I know people like to talk during the offseason and one name I've thought about is a guy named Tom Brady and the team called the San Francisco 49ers. It would be something where we would find out if the 49ers are really in love with Jimmy Garoppolo, and I think Tom Brady has earned the right to select a turn-key organization that is one quarterback away from the Super Bowl. Who better than the 49ers? He's a hometown kid. He grew up idolizing Joe Montana."

Long isn't the first person to float the idea of Brady ending his career with the team he grew up cheering for. Kyle's brother, Chris, who played with Brady in New England has said the 49ers might be the only team the legendary quarterback would leave the Patriots for. Of course, Chris said that before Garoppolo led the 49ers to Super Bowl LIV, a game they appeared to have won before suffering a monumental collapse in the final eight minutes against Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs.

On the biggest stage, Garoppolo had moments of greatness mixed with cringe-worthy mistakes. There was the first-quarter interception that set up a Chiefs field goal. After that, Garoppolo was the picture of efficiency, carving up Kansas City's defense during the second and third quarter as the 49ers took a 20-10 lead.

But with the 49ers trailing late in the fourth quarter, Garoppolo had Emmanuel Sanders open for the would-be go-ahead touchdown, but he overthrew him so badly that Sanders didn't even have a chance to make a play on the ball. 

[RELATED: 49ers need to add more receivers around Deebo in offseason]

The 49ers have one of the NFL's top defenses, an offensive innovator in head coach Kyle Shanahan and the best tight end in the game in George Kittle. If San Francisco wasn't already piloted by Brady's former backup they would be the ideal landing spot for the free-agent signal-caller. 

But if Brady goes anywhere this offseason, it won't be to San Francisco. The 49ers are Jimmy Garoppolo's team for better or worse.