49ers

49ers roster analysis: Kicking-game stability is big positive change

49ers roster analysis: Kicking-game stability is big positive change

This is the final 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’ special teams.

Under contract (signed through)

Kicker Robbie Gould (2022)
Punter Mitch Wishnowsky (2022)
Long snapper Kyle Nelson (2022)

Expiring contracts

None.

What needs to happen

A year ago, the 49ers had uncertainty at kicker, punter and long snapper. Now, the organization is set for a while.

Each of the 49ers’ specialists is signed through the 2022 season. Unless something dramatic happens, the 49ers do not need to do anything with those spots for at least a couple of seasons.

Return man Richie James was solid on kickoffs and punts. He did not mishandle a punt during the regular season but muffed his first opportunity of Super Bowl LIV. Shanahan said at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis that he wants to see Dante Pettis elevate his game and challenge James for the punt-return job.

[RELATED: 49ers roster analysis: Future secondary needs warrant action now]

Expectations

Gould got off to a rough start as the 49ers went through three long-snappers before Nelson returned after serving a suspension for violating the league’s policy on performance-enhancing substances. Gould missed a career-high eight field-goal attempts, including going 0-for-4 from beyond 50 yards.

After getting more time with Wishnowsky and Nelson, Gould came on strong and was named NFC Special-Teams Player of the Month for December, when he kicked field goals as time expired to beat the New Orleans Saints and the Los Angeles Rams.

Wishnowky had a good rookie season. He tied for 12th in the NFL with a net average of 41.6 yards per punt. He won NFC Special Teams Player of the Week in November for a game against the Arizona Cardinals. Wishnowsky also handled the kickoff chores, but that area of his game needs a lot of improvement.

49ers, Sharks games not expected before November, health official says

levisnovap.jpg
AP

49ers, Sharks games not expected before November, health official says

A South Bay health official suggested this week that an optimistic goal might be for the return of sporting events in mid-November.

Santa Clara County executive officer Dr. Jeffrey Smith told the county’s Board of Supervisors on Tuesday that games -- presumably high school, college and professional -- might not return to the South Bay for at least another seven months due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

Smith said he did not expect there would be “any sports games until at least Thanksgiving, and we’d be lucky to have them by Thanksgiving. This is not something that’s going to be easy to do."

His comments were first reported by the Los Angeles Times.

The project would mean no games in Santa Clara County for the 49ers, San Jose Sharks, Stanford University and San Jose State University.

Listen and subscribe to the 49ers Insider Podcast:

The 49ers will follow the lead of the NFL, as well as local and national health officials, a team official told NBC Sports Bay Area. The 49ers stance is consistent with a statement the club released on March 12.

“Our organization continues to collaborate with federal, state, and local health organizations, as well as our League office, to monitor the evolving developments regarding COVID-19,” the organization said. “Our intent is to make the most informed decisions regarding the health and wellness of all San Francisco 49ers and Levi's Stadium employees, patrons, and the community at large.”

Last week, NFL executive vice president Jeff Pash said the league is proceeding as if there will be a full 16-game schedule this season.

"All of our discussion, all of our focus, has been on a normal traditional season, starting on time, playing in front of fans, in our regular stadiums, and going through a full 16-game regular season and full set of playoffs," Pash said. "That's our focus."

The NFL has proceeded with the free-agent signing period and the upcoming 2020 draft despite travel restrictions and shelter-in-place guidelines for all league personnel. The NFL is also expected to release its full regular-season schedule around May 9.

[RELATED: Oklahoma WR Lamb could be 49ers' Sanders replacement]

But the Santa Clara County official told the Board of Supervisors he believes the risk of exposure to the coronavirus is not going away any time soon.

“There will definitely be individuals who will get sick,” Dr. Smith said. “And because there are individuals who get sick, there will be individuals who die after the order is released, unless we come up with a foolproof immunization, which is highly unlikely.”

Why Bobby Wagner is wrong Seahawks, not 49ers, are NFC West team to beat

Why Bobby Wagner is wrong Seahawks, not 49ers, are NFC West team to beat

The 49ers are reigning champions of their conference and division. They held a double-digit lead midway through the fourth quarter of Super Bowl LIV. Though the Kansas City Chiefs ultimately came back to win, that was only San Francisco's fourth loss of the season, including the playoffs. In those four defeats, the 49ers lost by a combined total of only 24 points -- nearly half of which resulted from the Super Bowl.

So, naturally, San Francisco would be the team to beat -- if not in the NFC, surely in the NFC West -- next season, right?

Not according to Seattle Seahawks linebacker Bobby Wagner.

During an appearance on ESPN's "First Take" on Wednesday, Wagner expressed significant confidence in his team, and made the case that the Seahawks should be the favorites in the NFC West.

"I feel really confident," Wagner said. "Obviously, Russell [Wilson] is an amazing quarterback; the things that he does on the field are just amazing. Like you said, he's one of the greatest quarterbacks in our game. We're confident on that side. I feel like from the defensive standpoint, there's a lot of room for improvement. We have to play a little bit better. I feel like if we make those changes and make those improvements, I still feel like we'll be the team to beat."

Still? Hmmm ...

Listen and subscribe to the 49ers Insider Podcast:

He's absolutely right about Wilson. The guy is a magician in the pocket -- and that's where you hope to contain him. Wilson has been a thorn in San Francisco's side ever since he entered the NFL, and there's arguably no more terrifying opposing QB to 49er fans. With Wilson having two deep targets in Tyler Lockett and DK Metcalf, as well as a strong running game, there's ample reason for Wagner to be confident about Seattle's offense.

The defense, on the other hand? Well, he's correct that there's room for improvement. Plenty of it.

Last season, the Seahawks ranked 26th overall in total defense, and tied for the second-fewest sacks in the NFL. That was with standout defensive lineman Jadeveon Clowney in tow, but all signs point toward him signing elsewhere this offseason in free agency. They re-signed defensive tackle Jarran Reed, traded for cornerback Quentin Dunbar and signed pass-rushers Benson Mayowa and Bruce Irvin, but other than that, Seattle hasn't really addressed the defensive side of the ball this offseason. Granted, the 2020 NFL Draft is right around the corner, but there's no guarantee they'll find any immediate contributors there.

Wagner is phenomenal, and fellow linebacker K.J. Wright is very solid, as well. But they both lived up to those reputations last season, and look how that worked out. Yes, the 49ers won the division by a matter of inches in Week 17, but Seattle also required overtime to beat a shorthanded San Francisco squad in Week 10, which was without star tight end George Kittle.

Though the 49ers have retained most of their own free agents, they did see wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders sign with the New Orleans Saints, and made the tough decision to trade defensive tackle DeForest Buckner to the Indianapolis Colts. Of course, San Francisco didn't lose Buckner for nothing -- like Seattle might with Clowney. The 49ers got the No. 13 overall pick in the upcoming draft in exchange, which should help them replace Buckner or Sanders, or address another position.

[RELATED: Oklahoma WR Lamb could be 49ers' Sanders replacement]

The Seahawks currently have five picks in the first four rounds of the 2020 draft, but they gave up a third-rounder to acquire Clowney last offseason, and their earliest selection doesn't come until No. 27 overall.

In addition to the No. 13 overall pick, the 49ers also possess No. 31.

Any team with Wilson behind center should feel confident. But last I checked, he doesn't play defense, and that, among other reasons, is why the 49ers -- and not the Seahawks -- are the team to beat in the NFC West.