Five developments that impact the 49ers' future
With the No. 1 pick...
The 49ers were competitive for the first time in a while, but they did not get the victory to show for their efforts on Sunday against the Arizona Cardinals. The 49ers also remained in the No. 2 draft spot, behind the winless Cleveland Browns, in the race to likely choose Texas A&M pass-rusher Myles Garrett with the No. 1 overall selection.
The 49ers (1-8) are on an eight-game losing streak. The team is going nowhere this season, but every game provides a road map for 2017 and beyond. Here are five developments from Sunday’s 23-20 loss in Arizona that could impact the team’s future:
5) Upcoming contracts
Safety Eric Reid recorded his first interception since the 2014 season. Strangely, his best season was his rookie year of 2013. But maybe that should not be a surprise. After all, look at all the veterans who were around him on that defense. The 49ers do not feel much urgency to get a new contract for Reid because they have already picked up the fifth-year option at $5.676 million for next season. That is not exorbitant, and the team has plenty of cap room to absorb it.
Another player to watch is tight end Vance McDonald, who is showing signs that he can become a more-utilized option in the passing game. He is catching the ball better than at any point in his four-year career. McDonald has 15 catches for 276 yards and three touchdowns in seven games. It seems likely the 49ers would want to retain him, as he is set to become a free agent after the season.
4) Where pass defense needs help
The 49ers’ cornerback situation appears to be just fine, especially considering rookies Rashard Robinson and Will Redmond figure to be around for three more seasons. The 49ers need a pass rush, though, to take the heat off the corners.
The 49ers were counting on a big season from Aaron Lynch, but that was derailed from the beginning when he served a four-game suspension for violating the league’s policy on substances of abuse. Lynch has missed two games with a high-ankle sprain. Eli Harold has played his best football in the past two games. But the 49ers need an impact player. That’s why if the 49ers get the No. 1 pick, it seems obvious Garrett would be the pick.
3) Kaepernick stating case
Quarterback Colin Kaepernick seems to be getting more comfortable in the 49ers’ offense. Although his completion percentage is just 53.0, he is showing improvement in all facets. He has thrown five touchdowns and two interceptions in four starts. Kaepernick is also averaging 7.1 yards on his 32 rushing attempts.
But the future remains uncertain. He has the option to void his contract at the end of this season. What if he continues to improve and the 49ers decide they want him back? Is that an option he would even consider? It remains to be seen what kind of free-agent market would be available for Kaepernick after this season as organizations take into account all of the attention he would generate off the field, too.
2) Man in the middle
It was just one game, but the 49ers on Sunday showed they are capable of shutting down a very good running back. Arizona’s David Johnson, who entered as the NFL’s No. 4-leading rusher, was held to 55 yards on 19 rushing attempts for a 2.9-yard average.
The key: The 49ers had a relatively healthy Glenn Dorsey making his first start at nose tackle. Aside from being able tie up double-teams and keep those extra blockers off the other defensive tackles, Dorsey also brings veteran knowledge to the defensive line that is lacking without him.
1) Chip’s system under microscope
Coach Chip Kelly did not need general manager Trent Baalke to grab the mic and say it. Kelly said it himself. He wants to run the football. While the design of the 49ers’ passing game appears to be generating more opportunities to make plays, the run game has not been consistent.
Running back Carlos Hyde returned to action after missing two games with an injured shoulder and managed just 14 yards on 13 rushing attempts. Hyde was supposed to be the central figure of the 49ers’ offense, but he is averaging a lowly 3.6 yards per attempt. Kelly needs to find a way to get the run game going, extend drives and keep his defense off the field – or his system will never be successful in the NFL.