In Kwon Alexander, 49ers are getting defensive playmaker they need

In Kwon Alexander, 49ers are getting defensive playmaker they need

The 49ers were severely lacking for players capable of coming up with big defensive plays.

Do you want some evidence to support that claim?


The 49ers last season were the worst team in NFL history when it came to generating takeaways. The 49ers forced just seven forced turnovers. The record prior to last season was 11, shared by the Baltimore Colts (1982), Houston Texans (2013), Dallas Cowboys (2015) and Chicago Bears (2016).

The 49ers also set the record for fewest interceptions in a season with two. The previous record was three, set by the Houston Oilers during the nine-game strike-shortened season of 1982.

That is where Kwon Alexander fits in.

He may be on the small side, listed at 6-foot-1, 227 pounds, but he is a playmaker the 49ers desperately need.

In 46 games over four seasons with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Alexander recorded seven sacks, six interceptions and six forced fumbles. The 49ers consider his production to be elite playmaking ability. He was snubbed from the NFC Pro Bowl team after recording 145 tackles in 2016. A year later, he was selected to the Pro Bowl.

Alexander started every game in which he appeared during his time in Tampa Bay. He was suspended for four games as a rookie for violating the NFL’s policy on performance-enhancing substances. He missed four games with a hamstring injury in 2017. And he was sidelined for the final 10 games last season with a torn ACL in his left knee.

Fred Warner started at middle linebacker last season for the 49ers as a rookie. He led the team in tackles. But Warner lacks top-end play-making ability to generate turnovers. That is why the 49ers targeted Alexander and agreed to terms on a four-year, $54 million contract.

The 49ers went strong after Alexander. C.J. Mosley was widely considered the top inside linebacker on the open market. In five seasons, Mosley recorded 8.5 sacks, nine interceptions, six forced fumbles and four Pro Bowls. He is expected to cash in as multiple teams are reportedly bidding for his services.

The 49ers are no longer interested after locking in Alexander.

Alexander called the signals as middle linebacker with the Buccaneers. In the 49ers’ defense, the middle linebacker and weakside linebacker positions are interchangeable. The only difference is the middle linebacker receives the radio communication directly from defensive coordinator Robert Saleh and relays the signals on the field.

However, the Alexander deal comes with some risks.

After all, Alexander sustained his knee injury on Oct. 21. That places his rehabilitation approximately eight weeks behind running back Jerick McKinnon and a month behind quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo. Both McKinnon and Garoppolo are expected to be cleared for full football activity when training camp opens in late-July.


Alexander addressed his Buccaneers teammates at halftime of the game he sustained the season-ending injury late in the first half of the Week 7 against the Cleveland Browns. Then-Tampa Bay coach Dirk Koetter called Alexander “the heart and soul of our defense.”

[RELATED: Alexander wants OBJ on 49ers]

Coach Kyle Shanahan has stated he does not mind his team overpaying for character and players who are passionate about football.

Apparently, that's what the 49ers are getting with the decision to make him their highest-paid defensive player at an annual average of $13.5 million.

49ers mailbag: Could co-coordinators ease Kyle Shanahan's workload?

49ers mailbag: Could co-coordinators ease Kyle Shanahan's workload?

It has been two weeks since the 49ers’ loss to the Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl LIV. That’s more than enough time to turn the page and look ahead.

So that’s what we’re doing -- with the help from some of our Twitter friends. Here is the first offseason edition of the 49ers Mailbag.

Kyle Shanahan is one of the best play-callers in the NFL. I don’t think there’s even a question about that. Is there? So I can’t envision any scenario in which Shanahan stops doing the thing he does best.

Shanahan certainly believes McDaniel and LaFleur are ready to call plays. McDaniel and LaFleur are, in essence, co-offensive coordinators. They are responsible for putting together the first components of the weekly game plan.

Through the first three seasons together with the 49ers, they have found a pretty good rhythm together and Shanahan finds himself placing more trust in them. What they’re doing is working.

If the 49ers have the $19 million-plus in cap room to devote to a franchise tag for Arik Armstead, then I think they could work out a long-term deal that would work for both sides.

As for the question about a tag-and-trade, I’m sure you’re thinking about how the Kansas City Chiefs tagged Dee Ford a year ago and, then, traded him to the 49ers. In that instance, the Chiefs had Frank Clark on the line, so that made sense.

In this case, I don’t think there’s anyone who plays Armstead’s position they would prefer over him. Armstead is exactly what the 49ers need: A defensive end on base downs who moves inside next to DeForest Buckner to rush the passer in nickel situations.

There is no need for the 49ers to do anything with Thomas, except work with him to continue to improve and become more valuable as a rotational player on the defensive line. The 49ers certainly will not pick up the fifth-year option on Thomas for the 2021 season. But with Thomas’ rookie contract guaranteed, there is no cap advantage in parting ways with him this year.

Regardless, Thomas should have a significant role next season. But if for whatever reason Armstead is not back, Thomas has a strong chance to be a starter.

The possibility of recouping a draft pick is part of the reason the 49ers felt compelled to make the trade in the first place. In my opinion, they would have preferred Mohamed Sanu, who was under contract through the 2020 season. But the Patriots offered the Atlanta Falcons a second-round draft pick, and the 49ers did not have a second-round pick after dealing it to Kansas City for Dee Ford.

Instead, the 49ers acquired Sanders and a fifth-round pick from Denver in return for third- and fourth-round draft picks. The 49ers do not figure to be active with veteran acquisitions on the free-agent market this offseason, so it is likely the 49ers have more losses than gains. If Sanders is a loss, the 49ers would stand a good chance of picking up a compensatory pick for the 2021 draft.

Get stronger. Work. Work. Work.

Pettis had a good offseason program a year ago, but he was not the same player when he came back for training camp. Other receivers on the team came back stronger at the opening of camp. Pettis did not. That is why Pettis struggled and fell out of favor to the point he rarely played in the second half of the season.

Pettis needs to take it up another few notches to get stronger and avoid the nagging injuries that also set him back last season. Pettis has more ability than almost anyone on the team to run some of Shanahan’s favorite routes. He will have an opportunity to prove himself in the offseason and training camp this year.

If Jalen Hurd and Pettis are both healthy, I think the answer is Hurd. The reason is because of his size and his unique skill set.

I envision Hurd being a big part of the 49ers’ two-minute offense because of his versatility. The 49ers can line him up anywhere in the formation, including running back. That puts the onus on the defense to figure out how they want to treat him. Is he a runner, wide receiver or tight end? Then, based on the defensive personnel, the 49ers can exploit those weaknesses.

[RELATED: Juice sick of Jimmy G, Shanahan criticism after Super Bowl]

The draft takes place more than a month after free agency. So the answer to this question could change, based on what the 49ers’ roster looks like at the time of the draft. But, right now, if the 49ers hold onto the No. 31 overall pick, the team can choose among the best available wide receiver, cornerback or defensive lineman.

There are two ways to look at this. But if there’s a team willing to move up to No. 31 overall, then that is the default move. It would make a lot of sense to sit out the first round of the draft to come away with multiple picks on Day 2.

But if there is someone at No. 31 with whom the organization has fallen in love, then they should take that player. The advantage of holding onto the first-round draft pick is that the 49ers would control the contract rights to the player for five years, instead of four.

49ers' Kyle Juszczyk sick of Jimmy Garoppolo, Kyle Shanahan criticism

49ers' Kyle Juszczyk sick of Jimmy Garoppolo, Kyle Shanahan criticism

Losing the Super Bowl was tough on the 49ers, to say the least. It was especially tough for the team's fullback, Kyle Juszczyk, who hated hearing the criticism of Jimmy Garoppolo and Kyle Shanahan, his quarterback and coach.

"Those are two guys that have absolutely nothing to prove to the rest of the guys in the locker room," Juice said Friday on NFL Network's "Good Morning Football." "You look at Jimmy, for people that are stats guys, 4,000 yards passing, better than a two-to-one, touchdown-interception ratio, 70 percent completion."

He added with that alone, you're looking at a "phenomenal quarterback."

"For whatever reason, Jimmy just gets this extra criticism, this extra heat, but I think at one point in the game he was like 19-for-22," Jusczyk said. 

"That's football, though -- you just change one or two plays in the game, and the whole dialogue changes, the whole narrative."

Juice mentioned the moment that could have put Jimmy G in the same category as Tom Brady as a Super Bowl MVP. The moment that could have led to the 49ers popping champagne in San Francisco amongst the faithful.

That could have been a game-changer.

The play in question caused wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders to storm out of the media room following the Super Bowl LIV loss to the Chiefs. Garoppolo's overthrow in the fourth quarter changed everything.

[RELATED: What Juice regrets most from 49ers' Super Bowl collapse]

And they know it. Jimmy knows it. Sanders knows it. Shanahan knows it. 

"It's a shame that one or two plays can really change everyone's outlook on someone," Juszczyk said.