Outside of Northern California, you would have been hard-pressed to find fans predicting the San Francisco 49ers would finish the 2019-20 NFL season with the league’s second-best record, and ultimately, represent their conference in the Super Bowl. The 49ers were bound to make progress during a full season with a healthy Jimmy Garoppolo at the helm. Even after an undefeated 8-0 start, many were reluctant to consider San Francisco among the NFL’s best teams.
While some will try and credit the defense, we forget that the 49ers scored 28 points or more on five occasions in their first eight games. Their elite defense played a role in their 13-3 record and Super Bowl berth, but the offense was more than capable over the course of the season. In fact, San Francisco finished fourth in total yards per game and second in total points per game.
If the 49ers are willing to give up assets in an aggressive, win-now approach, there’s no urgency to use those assets on an offensive weapon. Especially in today’s NFL, teams often set themselves up to suffer when giving up major draft capital for an offensive player, only to see the player’s performance fail to live up to expectations.
On the other hand, making a trade for one of the best all-around defensive players could pay greater dividends for the 49ers moving forward.
San Francisco should attempt to make a reasonable trade for New York Jets All-Pro safety Jamal Adams.
Adams, 24, has earned a spot in the Pro Bowl each of the last two seasons. In addition, he was named as a Second-Team All-Pro talent in 2018 to First-Team All-Pro the following year. He is the best safety in the league and his best playing days could potentially be ahead of him.
This does create a slight dilemma: In addition to giving up a treasure trove of either picks or players to the Jets, the 49ers could theoretically view Adams as a two-year rental. Based on reasoning, the front office would be foolish not to think about locking up Adams after the 2021-22 season.
Adams is scheduled to make $7.1 million and $9.8 million over the next two seasons. Four safeties currently make over $14 million in average salary: Bears safety Eddie Jackson, Titans safety Kevin Byard, Chiefs safety Tyrann Mathieu, and Redskins safety Landon Collins. As long as Adams continues to play at this current level, he would likely be due to become the highest-paid player ever at the position. Adams could command $15-18 million in average salary for his next contract extension.
In order for the 49ers to win now, keep Adams satisfied, and build for the future, the front office should explore all options to land the play-making safety.
Would the Jets consider a package of a 2021 first-rounder, another mid-round pick, and current 49ers’ strong safety Jarquiski Tartt?
A first-round pick is reportedly the starting point for trade talks with the Jets, and getting a starting-caliber safety back wouldn’t hurt to sweeten the deal. With quite a few teams interested, many trade suitors, and an eight-team preferred list of destinations, there could be a bidding war for Adam’s services.
(Adams has since then added the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to his preferred list.)
I don’t think the 49ers should engage in a bidding war if things got out of hand, but I could see a “mid-round pick” being bartered up to a second-rounder. Using Kang’s mock trade for inspiration, I’ll propose a package I could see the 49ers and Jets agreeing on.
- 49ers receive: S Jamal Adams, 2022 seventh-round pick
- Jets receive: S Jarquiski Tartt, 2021 first-round pick, 2021 sixth-round pick, 2022 second-round pick
The defensive backs for San Francisco would include Richard Sherman, Ahkello Witherspoon, Jason Verrett, Jimmie Ward, and Adams as the centerpiece. With the cornerbacks and safeties keeping tabs on the receivers, the aggressive defensive front of Arik Armstead, Solomon Thomas, Javon Kinlaw, and Nick Bosa will continue to be afforded more time to terrorize opposing quarterbacks.
It’s unlikely the 49ers would be able to maintain this defensive core forever. Sherman is aging, and the defensive front will all want bigger contracts with their inflated sack totals. Bosa in particular will be a free agent around the same time that San Francisco would be weighing extensions for Adams and tight end George Kittle.
Adams would be the wisest piece to build around on the defensive side of the ball. He has all the signs of being an elite player at the position for years to come. The 49ers defensive tackles and defensive ends are very talented and deserve to be paid as well. However, losing some of these pass-rushers, or an outside cornerback, would hurt a lot less than losing a special talent like Adams.
Adams could be the building block and defensive leader for the 49ers for years to come. Pass-rushers are more easily replaceable than the best safety in the league, a 24-year old who is still trending upwards heading into just his fourth NFL season.
San Francisco will have competition in defending their NFC title, including the Seattle Seahawks, New Orleans Saints, Green Bay Packers, and perhaps Tom Brady’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Adding Adams to an already-stringent defense would give them the boost they need to stay above the competition in 2020.
See Also: Top Trade Suitors for Jamal Adams