The driving force behind the success of the 49ers is their defensive line. More specifically, their pass rush. It’s the unit that propelled them into championship contention, and it’s the unit that will keep them in championship contention.
If Nick Bosa or Dee Ford are to miss any regular season action, it could drastically alter the path of the upcoming season. At the moment, Bosa and Ford are both hurt. Bosa just had an MRI on his leg, which revealed a muscle strain. And Ford is battling calf irritation.
Neither appear to be serious, but it is tough to feel comfortable with these “minor” injuries, considering their health history. Especially with Ford.
I’d argue that Bosa and Ford are two of the top-five most important 49ers this upcoming season. With the others being Jimmy Garoppolo, Trent Williams, and George Kittle. Simply put, they are vital to the success of the team.
According to Over the Cap, the 49ers have just shy of $8.6M in cap space. The team could certainly carry over that cap space to next season, which would be beneficial considering the unknowns of the 2021 salary cap.
However, I’m an advocate that they should spend it all THIS season. Believe it or not, there are still impact players out there on the free agent market. Experienced impact players who, despite missing the majority of camp, should be able to quickly catch up to speed.
I’m not advocating for the players below to be signed for the sake of being signed, but rather because they serve a position that is an area of concern for the upcoming season. One serves the concerns surrounding the run defense, while the other adds more pass rushing fuel.
Side note: In addition to run defense and lack of pass-rushing depth, I also see right guard and inexperience at wide receiver as areas of concern. With Larry Warford opting out of the 2020 season, there aren’t many better options at guard. With Antonio Brown and Josh Gordon suspended, there aren’t many better options at wide receiver. Though I am an advocate for signing either.
Here are two one-year rentals the team should, but probably won’t sign:
1. Damon “Snacks” Harrison - Nose Tackle
Why Harrison should be signed:
The 49ers run defense ranked 17th in yards allowed last season. With the departure of DeForest Buckner, it is likely that the run defense will be worse. The team is counting on strong seasons from D.J. Jones and Javon Kinlaw, which has its concerns.
Jones has struggled to finish a full 16 game season. In fact, it is something he has never accomplished before. His short stature carries a lot of weight, and his body has yet to show that he’s durable enough to make it through the rigorous regular season.
What has Jones done to prove he can stay healthy for a full season? Nothing. At this point, it is more wishing that he can stay healthy, opposed to firmly believing he will. Behind Jones, there are a lot of inexperienced d-linemen looking to take the next step.
Sure, they could take that next step. But as a Super Bowl team, they should minimize as many development risks as possible. I believe the approach should be to fill in question marks in regard to ability, with more proven talent. With the end goal being to win a Super Bowl.
Back to Harrison. Harrison resembles Buckner in the sense that he is an absolute iron man. From 2013-2019, Harrison played in 113 out of 114 possible games. He’s also just as impressive as a run defender, as he is durable. Harrison is one of the top run defenders in the game, as he posted a Pro Football Focus run grade of 87 or higher, in six of eight seasons.
A signing of Harrison would stunt the rookie season of Kinlaw. But that may be okay, considering multiple 49ers’ beat reporters have reported Kinlaw certainly looks like a project. If Kinlaw takes time to develop, it’ll be fine as long as there is an established veteran at the position to right the ship. Otherwise, there will be a lot of pressure on the 14th pick to hold his own on a Super Bowl caliber team.
2. Jadeveon Clowney - Edge
Why Clowney should be signed: The 49ers were a completely different team last year without Dee Ford. While Clowney is not the pure speed pass rusher that Ford is, he certainly is a more dynamic pass rushing threat.
In my opinion, a Clowney signing would benefit both the team and player. The 49ers don’t have the cap space to meet the exact salary demands of Clowney, but they have other things to offer. The logic below is why I believe Clowney would sign with the team in exchange for their remaining cap space.
By signing with the 49ers, Clowney has a legit shot to win a Super Bowl. More importantly for him, at least it seems that way, is that he has a tremendous shot at signing a large contract next offseason.
With the regular season about two weeks away, it is looking extremely unlikely that Clowney gets a large multi-year deal from a team. Ultimately, leading a team to sign him to a one-year rental deal.
Coming to San Francisco means Clowney gets to play with other top-tier defensive talent. That is a luxury he did not have in Seattle, where he posted an abysmal 3 sacks during the regular season.
Clowney needs other elite pass rushers around him, for him to be most effective. Joining a defensive line that also features Ford, Nick Bosa, and Arik Armstead, would certainly free him up when it comes to getting after the quarterback.
The more he gets to the quarterback, the more he’ll get paid next offseason. He helps the 49ers out now with providing additional pass rushing depth, and he’s helping himself out by being in a prime position for a large payday in the future.