49ers

49ers' Nick Bosa feels fortunate for landing with playoff-ready team

49ers' Nick Bosa feels fortunate for landing with playoff-ready team

SANTA CLARA -- Rookie defensive end Nick Bosa might not be an NFL talent evaluator, but he knew whichever player was selected No. 2 overall was going into an ideal situation with the 49ers.

The 49ers had a lot of talent returning, including quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, who played just three games before sustaining a torn ACL in 2018. The 49ers slid to a 4-12 record and were set to pick behind only the two-win Arizona Cardinals.

Moreover, the 49ers had already made significant gains in the offseason with the acquisition of edge rusher Dee Ford in a trade with the Kansas City Chiefs by the time the NFL draft rolled around.

“Just being a football fan last year, knowing what kind of players they had on the roster,” said Bosa, who was named NFL Rookie of the Year by the Pro Football Writers of America this week. “I didn't know to this extent how good the depth was and stuff like that, but I just knew that of the top teams picking, this was definitely the most playoff-ready team.”

Bosa and Ford did not line up together as much as either player would have liked during the regular season. But that makes little difference now.

Ford missed all but four snaps in the final six games of the regular season with a hamstring injury. He was back on the field in the divisional round of the NFC playoffs, and Bosa could feel the benefits.

“Just having Dee is a mismatch for just about anybody, which opens up things for the other guys and everybody reaps the benefit,” Bosa said.

Bosa registered two sacks and Ford had a sack of his own in the 49ers’ 27-10 victory over the Minnesota Vikings on Saturday. The 49ers advanced to the NFC Championship Game on Sunday against the Green Bay Packers at Levi’s Stadium.

Ford brings a unique ability to threaten offensive linemen off the snap of the ball with his quickness. And that kind of ability to get around the edge is something that helps everyone on the 49ers’ defensive line, including defensive tackles DeForest Buckner and Arik Armstead.

“Just speed. It makes the O-Line think,” Bosa said. “They usually know something's up and then we can catch them off guard with some other things. Then, obviously the other side of the line has to deal with Buck and Armstead.”

The key to the 49ers’ pass rush against the Vikings, in many ways, was a direct result of the team’s ability to handle running back Dalvin Cook on the early downs. That will be an equally important part of dealing with the Packers’ offense on Sunday.

The key to defending the passing attack of Aaron Rodgers will be to keep running back Aaron Jones in check. Defensive line coach Kris Kocurek always makes stopping the run his top priority.

“The same thing needs to happen for us to win,” Bosa said. “It usually revolves around stopping the run, setting edges, stuff like that. Just being physical is probably his biggest message every week.”

[RELATEDFord does walk-through but is held out of 49ers practice]

General manager John Lynch sought out to build a dominant defensive line after inheriting a team that included first-round picks Armstead and Buckner.

The 49ers drafted Solomon Thomas at No. 3 overall in 2017. Ford, a 2014 first-round pick of the Chiefs, was added in a trade for a second-round pick. And Bosa gave the 49ers a fifth first-round selection along the defensive line.

Each of those players got into the sack column against the Vikings. And they are expecting more to come in the postseason.

“From the beginning of the year, we knew there was a lot invested in the room and if the team wanted to go where we wanted to go, we had to be a part of it,” Bosa said. “And, obviously, it's not all up to us because we've had bad games and everybody else has picked up the slack for us. We just need to finish this year out strong.”

Programming note: NBC Sports Bay Area feeds your hunger for 49ers playoff coverage with special editions of “49ers Central” all week (6 p.m. Tuesday and Thursday; 8 p.m. Wednesday and Friday)

Also tune in at 2:30 p.m. Sunday for “49ers Pregame Live,” with Laura Britt, Jeff Garcia, Donte Whitner, Ian Williams and Grant Liffmann previewing the NFC Championship Game against the Packers. That same crew will have all the postgame reaction on “49ers Postgame Live,” starting at approximately 6:30 p.m.

49ers roster analysis: Future secondary needs warrant action now

49ers roster analysis: Future secondary needs warrant action now

This is the eighth installment of a nine-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.

Today, a look at the 49ers’ defensive backs.

Under contract (signed through)

-CB Richard Sherman (2020)
-S Jaquiski Tartt (2020)
-CB K’Waun Williams (2020)
-CB Ahkello Witherspoon (2020)
-S Tarvarius Moore (2021)
-CB/S D.J. Reed (2021)
-S Marcell Harris (2020)
-CB Tim Harris (2022)
-CB Teez Tabor (2020)
-S Jacob Thieneman (2021)
-CB Jermaine Kelly (2021)
-S Chris Edwards (2021)
-S Derrick Kindred (2020)

Sherman enters the third year of the three-year, $27.15 million contract he negotiated with the 49ers after the Seattle Seahawks released him in March of 2018. Tartt and Williams also are on the final years of their contracts, so the 49ers could look to extend any of them during the offseason.

Expiring contracts

-S Jimmie Ward (UFA)
-CB Jason Verrett (UFA)
-CB Dontae Johnson (UFA)
-CB Emmanuel Moseley (EFA)

Ward is a priority to re-sign. It’s just a matter of how much attention he receives on the open market (if he gets that far) and how far the 49ers will go to re-sign him.

A year ago, Verrett signed a one-year, prove-it contract. He went on injured reserve early in the season.

Moseley will be back on the team. He has no outside negotiating power because of his status as an exclusive-rights free agent.

What needs to happen

The defensive backfield situation might be the most complex to figure out for the 49ers this offseason. Ward is scheduled to be a free agent, but the 49ers also have three of their other top-five defensive backs entering the final years of their contracts.

First things first, they have to figure out how to approach Ward. They would like to retain him, but there might also be some hesitancy because of his injury history. Ward finally played a 16-game season, but that was only after missing the first three games, then picking up three games in the postseason.

Sherman, who turns 32 next month, had an outstanding regular season. Do the 49ers open talks with him about extending his contract?

On the other side, Moseley ended up as the starter over Witherspoon, who enters the final year of his deal. After the demotion, Witherspoon asked to play more special teams. Moseley generally played well, but he was in the middle of the biggest play of Super Bowl LIV.

Tartt, the starting strong safety, also enters the final year of his contract. He and Ward were high-school teammates and work well together.

Williams, one of the top nickel backs in the league, also is entering the final year of his deal.

The 49ers have just one pick in the first four rounds of the draft. This is why it makes a lot of sense to trade back (and trade back and trade back) to acquire selections in the second, third and fourth rounds.

This is a good draft for defensive backs. And while drafting for need is not often advisable, it becomes a lot better of a plan when it is a need that is projected a year down the road.

[RELATED: Ascending linebackers should make group better in 2020]

Expectations

The 49ers had the best pass defense in the league last season. Despite playing with a lead for most games, the 49ers allowed just 169.2 yards passing per game. That was the lowest average passing yards allowed in the NFL in more than a decade.

It will be nearly impossible to match that level of pass defense of a year ago. So much of the success the 49ers experienced against the pass was a product of the team’s pass rush. That will likely have to be the case again next season.

Teams generally shied away from Sherman’s side. But Sherman gave up a couple of big plays in the postseason, including one late in the Super Bowl. He likely will be challenged more in 2020, which will give him more opportunities to add to his career total of 39 interceptions (including postseason).

The 49ers must find more consistency on the other side. Moseley enters the offseason as the starter. Witherspoon is competing for a role. Tartt appears locked in as one starting safety, but the other spot is wide open at this point.

If Ward does not return to the team, Moore could be next in line to step in as a starter.

If the 49ers use an early draft pick on a safety or cornerback (or both), then competition could potentially lead to a rookie or two in the team’s starting defensive backfield.

49ers roster analysis: Ascending linebackers should make group better in 2020

49ers roster analysis: Ascending linebackers should make group better in 2020

This is the seventh installment of a nine-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.

Today, a look at the 49ers’ linebackers.

Under contract (signed through)

-Kwon Alexander (2022)
-Fred Warner (2021)
-Dre Greenlaw (2022)
-Mark Nzeocha (2021)
-Azeez Al-Shaair (2021)
-Joey Alfieri (2021)
-Demetrius Flannigan-Fowles (2021)

The 49ers and Alexander agreed to a contract restructure in November that saves the team more than $8 million in cap space for the 2020 season. His salary is set to leap to $12.55 million in 2021. Three voidable years were added to his contract. He is still scheduled for unrestricted free agency after the 2022 season.

Expiring contracts

-Elijah Lee (RFA)

Lee was among the 49ers’ final cuts and was signed to the practice squad. He was promoted to the active roster for the final eight games of the regular season after Alexander went on injured reserve. Lee saw action in each of the 49ers’ three postseason games as a core special-teams contributor.

What needs to happen

The 49ers’ only real decision is with Lee, who is a restricted free agent. The lowest tender of $2.144 million is probably too much, but the 49ers can look to re-sign him to a minimum level contract.

But even with some uncertainty surrounding Lee, the 49ers appear set with their starters and backups. The 49ers certainly do not need to spend free-agent money to add a player. And they do not need to use one of their top draft picks to bring in a linebacker, either.

[RELATED: 49ers roster analysis: Work needed to keep up defensive line dominance]

Expectations

This position group is comprised of players who are all ascending. The unit was good in 2019. It should be better in 2020.

Warner was one of the breakout stars for the 49ers as a second-year player. He had an interception of Patrick Mahomes in the Super Bowl that looked, at the time, to be one of the big plays in that game. Warner believes he can make improvements in all areas, including the production of more game-changing types of plays.

Alexander sustained a torn pectoral in the middle of the season. Then, worked hard to get back for the playoffs. Although he settled back into the 49ers’ defense as a part-time player, Alexander still served an important role on the team due to his leadership and energy.

Greenlaw became an every-down player after Alexander’s injury and made one of the most memorable plays of the season when he stopped Seattle Seahawks tight end Jacob Hollister just inches short of the goal line to preserve the 49ers’ Week 17 win to clinch the NFC West and home-field advantage in the playoffs. It will be difficult to keep Greenlaw off the field.

Al-Shaair, who defied the odds to win his roster spot last season as an undrafted rookie, and Nzeocha are solid backups and core special-teams players, too.