San Francisco's "revenge tour" was derailed as the 49ers closed the chapter on their disappointing 6-10 finish to the 2020 season. While the focus has already turned to 2021, the team could be faced with a number of player and personnel changes heading into next season. Kyle Shanahan and John Lynch addressed the media to provide updates on a number of decisions looming for San Francisco over the next few weeks. Here are a few takeaways from the head coach/GM duo:
Robert Saleh's Future in San Francisco
The 49ers defensive coordinator's name continues to circle around several franchises as the number of vacant head coaching jobs across the NFL currently sits at six. Saleh has drawn interest for a head coaching position dating back to last offseason when the defensive coordinator interviewed with the Cleveland Browns, ultimately occupied by former Minnesota Vikings offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski. He also turned down an interview for the head coaching job at Michigan State last offseason.
Despite the rash of injuries this season, Saleh led a San Francisco defense that ranked fifth in the league in total yards allowed per game (314.4), fourth in passing yards allowed (207.9), tied for seventh in rushing yards allowed (106.4) and registered 20 takeaways on the season.
Both Lynch and Shanahan confirmed Saleh has drawn interest from the Jacksonville Jaguars, Atlanta Falcons and Detroit Lions. It has also been reported throughout the week that Saleh will meet with the New York Jets and Los Angeles Chargers for their head coach vacancies.
While San Francisco hasn't had to deal with much turnover on their coaching staff since Shanahan and Lynch took the reins in 2017, the team has already begun bracing themselves for the potential shake up of losing one of the brightest defensive minds in the NFL.
"We've got a great coach in Saleh, and that's why I think he's going to get what he deserves," Shanahan said. "That's also why for the sake of being selfish - I won't say selfish because I care about the Niners more than Saleh - I hope Saleh stays.
"We're going to be all right, and if that's presented and we do lose Saleh, I'll be excited to put together the best decision possible because I think I'm going to have a lot of good choices. Until that happens, everyone keeps asking me today, what are we doing? We're not doing anything. We haven't lost one coach. So, we're just sitting here. I think Saleh will go kill these interviews. I think he's going to do a great job."
Ford + Bosa
When San Francisco traded for Dee Ford in March of 2019, the 49ers expected him to add stability to their host of first-round talent along the defensive line. After undergoing an "extensive clean up" procedure to repair a chronic knee condition that plagued his 2019 campaign, the pass rusher felt optimistic heading into his second season in San Francisco.
Instead, the defensive end suffered a back injury following the Week 1 season opener and didn't play a snap since. In his two seasons in San Francisco, Ford has missed 20 games and logged 272 defensive snaps. Considering the severity of neck and back injuries, the 49ers are uncertain if Ford will be ready by the start of the 2021 season. Lynch expressed that the team is looking for more "clarity" on the status of his health and future in the NFL.
"Our sole focus right now is to help Dee in any way that we can to get him healthy," Lynch said. "I think everybody understands that we're a better football team when Dee's out there. He's an impactful player. He's the finisher. He's pretty emblematic of a lot of the issues that plagued our team this year. The old saying, 'your best ability is availability' and we weren't available enough this year and that went for Dee. When you're dealing with that part of your body, the back, sometimes these things take more time.
"I can't tell you with absolute, that yeah, he's going to be ready. We're working hard and he is working hard to try to get there."
In addition to Ford, the 49ers also spent the season without another first-round pass rusher. Nick Bosa suffered an ACL tear in Week 2, ending what was projected to be a promising sophomore campaign for the reigning Defensive Rookie of the Year. According to Lynch, the 49ers have kept in contact with Bosa throughout his recovery in Southern California, and are pleased with his progress so far.
"Bosa is doing great in his recovery," Lynch said. "He had a significant injury to his knee, but like everything in life, he attacks it head on and a hundred percent. The only thing with him is pulling him back so he's not doing too much. We've kept in good contact with Nick, with the people who he's training with. With COVID, we felt like it was best to get him out of the building and he went down to Orange County. He's been down there working with some great people and really making tremendous progress. We're very pleased with where he's at."
Keeping the "Core" Together
Coming off of their Super Bowl run last season, San Francisco sought to keep the core of its roster together heading into the offseason. The team managed to do so for the most part, returning 18-of-22 starters from the 2019 season. It won't be as simple of a task this time around as the 49ers have some difficult decisions to make over the next two months. Some of San Francisco's looming dilemmas are in part due to a decreasing salary cap in the wake of lost revenue due to the global pandemic.
"We were set up to have just about everyone back," Lynch said. "Now, we just have to be a little more creative in doing so, and I think we'll figure some things out."
San Francisco has 41 pending free agents on the current roster, 27 of which are unrestricted free agents. Trent Williams, Kyle Juszczyk, Jason Verrett and Richard Sherman are a few notable names who top that list. During the team's final meeting to close out the season, Lynch and Shanahan delivered the message of wanting to keep the core of the team together. But the reality of the situation is that due to the lack of financial flexibility, the 49ers may be forced to part ways with key members of San Francisco's nucleus.
"We've got a lot of guys that we do want to bring back because we do believe we have a good team, a really good team. We've got to find ways to improve it through our decisions that we make," Lynch said. "We just finished a 6-10 season and we understand there's a lot of reasons that led to that, but that's not to our standard and so we have to improve. So, we've got to make every decision with one thing in mind. What is best for the 49ers.
"We've got a tough puzzle here. How do we keep it together in the best interest of our team? That's all we ever try to do."