The 49ers' road back to the Super Bowl always was going to be tougher than their most recent one. That's what happens when you play a first-place schedule as opposed to a third-place one. But based on a couple of developments Tuesday, that road just got even tougher.
First, Drew Brees took to Instagram to let the world know he would be returning for a 20th NFL season and 15th with the New Orleans Saints.
Brees, who turned 41 in January, was scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent next month, but the quarterback previously had made it clear that he would either retire or return for another season in the Big Easy. Clearly, he chose the latter.
While Brees and the Saints still will need to agree to a contract, it appears that is a foregone conclusion. When Brees hit free agency in 2018, he agreed to a two-year, $50 million contract with New Orleans, but with only one year guaranteed.
Brees will be back with the Saints for the 2020 NFL season, but it now appears unlikely that his backup, Teddy Bridgewater, will do the same. Like Brees, Bridgewater is an unrestricted free agent, and is likely to command a higher salary on the open market than New Orleans can afford after he went 5-0 as a starter while Brees was injured last season.
Taysom Hill, the Saints' do-it-all third-string QB, is a restricted free agent, so New Orleans can match any offer for him and stands a much better chance of retaining him than Bridgewater.
The Saints arguably were San Francisco's toughest competition in the NFC last season, and matched the Niners with a 13-3 regular-season record. That was with Brees missing five games with a thumb injury, and there is every reason to believe New Orleans will be one of the best teams in the conference again in 2020.
If the Saints weren't the 49ers' toughest opponent last season, then it probably was the Seattle Seahawks, who beat San Francisco at Levi's Stadium and came within inches of sweeping the regular-season series to win the division title. Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson has been a thorn in San Francisco's side ever since he was drafted by Seattle in the third round of the 2012 NFL Draft, and he just got another weapon.
Former Carolina Panthers tight end Greg Olsen signed a one-year, $7 million contract with the Seahawks on Tuesday with $5.5 million guaranteed. ESPN's Adam Schefter was first to report the news.
Olsen isn't what he once was, as injuries have taken their toll on the 13-year NFL veteran. Still, after being limited to 16 combined games over the 2017 and 2018 seasons, Olsen appeared in 14 games for Carolina last year and hauled in 52 receptions for 597 yards and two touchdowns.
With Will Dissly coming off a ruptured Achilles tendon, Jacob Hollister a restricted free agent and Luke Willson an unrestricted free agent, Seattle was in dire need of some quality tight end depth. Olsen checks that box, and since he was released by the Panthers, the signing won't cost the Seahawks a compensatory draft pick.
With wide receivers Tyler Lockett and DK Metcalf posing major problems on the outside, Olsen likely will have more room to operate in the middle of the field than all those years spent in Carolina, where he was often his team's No. 1 receiving option. Of course, he'll have to stay healthy to be of use.
The 49ers have some tough decisions to make in how they plan to load up for next season. Clearly, some of their top competitors already have begun that process.