General manager John Lynch and coach Kyle Shanahan got six-year deals partly as acknowledgement of that fact. Even though they made a flurry of moves to bolster the roster, they still passed on trying to force finding a franchise quarterback and opted instead to sign a bridge starter in Brian Hoyer. This season will lay the foundation as they hope to find their quarterback next offseason and potentially begin adding playmakers around him.
How long do you think it will take for the 49ers’ rebuild to work and for them to contend for the division again?
Josh Weinfuss, ESPN Arizona Cardinals reporter: The Niners’ turnaround is going to take some time. Their personnel moves and commitment to rebuilding their roster were impressive this offseason, but it won’t be translate into a winner in 2017. Five, six or seven wins might even be a stretch. It’ll take at least three seasons for them to compete in the division again. They’re young, and that comes with its own learning curve. And they don’t have a quarterback of the future — yet. Once they find a quarterback who can be the offensive foundation for years to come, then San Francisco could turn the corner and become a competitive team in the West again. That may take another draft or two, or even another free-agent class or two. It’ll certainly take time.
Alden Gonzalez, ESPN Los Angeles Rams reporter: There’s a reason Lynch and Shanahan were brought in on six-year contracts. This is going to take some time. The 49ers went 2-14 in Chip Kelly’s first and only season as coach then completely retooled, using nearly $80 million in salary-cap space to address what became a barren roster. The Niners improved an offense that finished last in the NFL in passing yards mostly through free agency, adding a couple of quarterbacks, led by Hoyer, and a handful of pass-catchers, headlined by Pierre Garcon. They then addressed a defense that was by far the league’s worst last year through a savvy draft that netted Solomon Thomas and Reuben Foster at the top. But there are still holes throughout the roster. And the Niners aren’t going to be a legitimate contender until they find their quarterback of the future. The 2018 draft class looks good at quarterback. And if that doesn’t work out, Shanahan can always take a stab at trading for old friend Kirk Cousins. Patience is key, though. FPI projects a 5-11 record for the 49ers in 2017 and gives them a 3 percent chance of making the playoffs. This will take at least three years.
Sheil Kapadia, ESPN Seattle Seahawks reporter: It’s difficult to see the 49ers competing for the division before 2019 — at the earliest. Lynch and Shanahan have inherited a massive rebuilding project, and until they find a long-term solution at quarterback, it’ll be tough to take them seriously as contenders. We have seen what Shanahan can do when he has talent to work with offensively, but this season will offer a test on some of the limitations of coaching and scheme. If the 49ers are able to come up with a solution at quarterback next offseason, that could make up for other areas of weakness on the roster and speed up their rebuild.
The 49ers are rebooting all over again in 2017. So far, they’re off to a smart start with Kyle Shanahan and John Lynch.
Since Chip Kelly became one-and-done and dragged Trent Baalke out the door with him, the 49ers already have showed signs they struck gold with their new coach-GM combination.
San Francisco’s mission was to mine as much talent as possible with three years down the line in mind. Although the offensive-minded Shanahan may need to wait to develop his ideal attack, the defensive-driven Lynch has stockpiled well for an equally massive transition on the other side of the ball.
The 49ers won’t suddenly become Shanahan’s 2016 Falcons or Lynch’s 2002 Buccaneers, but the blueprint is evident in their new depth chart.
It may have seemed odd for the 49ers to give Garcon, who turns 31 in August, a five-year deal. He still has a good amount of his speed and quickness, but it was his tough route-running and impressive intangibles that were most attractive for a post-Washington reunion with Shanahan. The 49ers have been missing some basic reliability at wideout after moving on from both Michael Crabtree and Anquan Boldin. Garcon will be a leader and a go-to outside receiver for Hoyer, with the natural transition to thrive with Cousins again.
Jeremy Kerley was useful in the slot as the team’s leading receiver last season, but by scheme and by necessity because of oft-injured Bruce Ellington, he may be called upon to line up outside as the only true veteran complement to Garcon. As for former Bill Marquise Goodwin, Shanahan will look to use his track-star speed in special packages, exactly as he did with Taylor Gabriel in Atlanta. The group may not be as prolific or pretty as that of other teams, but the 49ers did get better and grittier at wide receiver.