The biggest move the San Francisco 49ers made this offseason was hiring Chip Kelly as their new head coach. Jim Tomsula lasted less than a year after serving as the team’s defensive line coach for seven seasons. Last offseason saw several unexpected retirements from key players (LB Patrick Willis, LB Chris Borland, DE Justin Smith, and RT Anthony Davis) after Jim Harbaugh moved on to become the head coach of the Michigan Wolverines.
Under Tomsula, the 49ers had the second-lowest graded offense in 2015 and the 21st best defense. The hiring of Chip Kelly looks to improve on the offense where he inherited a similar situation in Philadelphia – elevating the third-worst offense in 2012 to the third-best in 2013.
Below is a compilation of San Francisco's 2016 offseason transactions, including free-agency moves and draft picks:
Overall grade: C+
Free agency and trades
New Arrivals: QB Thaddeus Lewis, G Zane Beadles, WR Eric Rogers
Re-signings: DI Ian Williams, TE Garrett Celek, K Phil Dawson, HB Shaun Draughn, DI Tony Jerod-Eddie, LB Ray-Ray Armstrong, LB Michael Wilhoite
Departures: WR Anquan Boldin, G Alex Boone, HB Reggie Bush, TE Brian Leonhardt, HB Jarryd Hayne
The 49ers historically don’t make splashes in free agency and this held true in 2016 despite the hiring of Chip Kelly. Kelly was notorious for his splashy and very active free agency signings, cuts, trades, etc. Without personnel control, Kelly only could voice his opinions while GM Trent Baalke made the decisions. With the biggest free agency addition being G Zane Beadles (47.9 player grade, 64th in NFL), the 49ers looked to resign their free agents and build through the draft.
Clearly the best re-signing was of DI Ian Williams, as he finished the 2015 season playing at a very high level and notching the fifth-highest grade through Weeks 12–17 of any interior defender last season. While he was initially given a five-year deal, due to ankle concerns he only signed a one-year prove-it deal. If his career arc continues and his ankles stay healthy, Williams could be in for a big season in 2016 and a big contract next offseason.
The rest of the re-signings are gap-fillers or players the team hopes to develop, such as TE Garrett Celek (704 career snaps in four seasons) and Ray-Ray Armstrong (cut midseason by Oakland).
2016 NFL Draft
- Round 1 (pick No. 7) DeForest Buckner, DT, Oregon
- Round 1 (pick No. 28) (from Kansas City) Joshua Garnett, G, Stanford
- Round 3 (pick No. 68) Will Redmond, CB, Mississippi State
- Round 4 (pick No. 133) Rashard Robinson, CB, LSU
- Round 5 (pick No. 142) (from San Diego) Ronald Blair, DT, Appalachian State
- Round 5 (pick No. 145) John Theus, OT, Georgia
- Round 5 (pick No. 174) Fahn Cooper, OT, Ole Miss
- Round 6 (pick No. 207) (from Denver) Jeff Driskel, QB, Louisiana Tech
- Round 6 (pick No. 211) Kelvin Taylor, RB, Florida
- Round 6 (pick No. 213) Aaron Burbridge, WR, Michigan State
- Round 7 (pick No. 249) (from Kansas City) Prince Charles Iworah, CB, Western Kentucky
The 49ers are looking to field an Oregon Ducks defensive line after drafting Arik Armstead and DeForest Buckner in the first round in back-to-back years. Buckner was the No. 2 player on PFF’s drat board, so landing him with the No. 7-overall pick is tremendous value. Buckner is disruptive against the run and rushing the passer, sporting a best-in-class +43.8 pass-rush grade and the eighth-best run defense grade at +29.1.
While trading up to grab guard Joshua Garnett was a bit of a reach, there is no denying his talent and he should be a perfect fit in Chip Kelly’s scheme. Will Redmond highlights three CBs drafted while Aaron Burbridge is the only WR selected — both were obvious needs for the team. Burbridge isn’t the most gifted WR but he does an excellent job locating the deep ball and making contested catches. QB Jeff Driskel will need a few years of development but he was the most athletic quarterback in the class.
With an obvious question mark at the most crucial position in all of pro sports, the 49ers will hope the hiring of Chip Kelly can elevate the play of either Blaine Gabbert or Colin Kaepernick. Kaepernick has shown the ability and talent to lead a team to the Super Bowl so expect him to start under center in Week 1. The additions of Buckner and fifth-round pick Ronald Blair (No. 103 on PFF's draft board) should improve the defense. The 49ers were quiet in free agency and put together a solid draft, but this offseason and the results of 2016 will be determined by the impact Chip Kelly has on his offense.