The excitement surrounding the 2018 San Francisco 49ers is understandable, considering there wasn’t much to get excited about the last three years.
During that span, we’ve basically watched an expansion team trying to win football games at the highest level. It was laughable. Now, we’re a long way from Jim Tomsula and Chip Kelly, and lightyears from embattled general manager Trent Baalke.
Head coach Kyle Shanahan and general manager John Lynch — with an assist by Paraag Marathe for his mastery of contract language — the 49ers a must-watch team in 2018. That doesn’t mean, however, that they’re going to make a deep playoff run. No, I think the 49ers will be fortunate to finish .500.
Let’s say that the 49ers do in fact finish 8-8 or 7-9. That necessarily wouldn’t be a disappointment. This is only Year Two of the Lynch/Shanahan era, and they walked into a situation that was far from ideal.
First of all, they had to find a franchise quarterback, and while we heard a lot of noise about a Kirk Cousins-Shanahan reunion, Lynch made the shrewd move back on October 30, 2017, to send a second-round pick to New England for Jimmy Garoppolo a day after the 49ers fell to 0-8.
Let’s revisit that 49ers loss to the Philadelphia Eagles. Brian Hoyer and C.J. Beathard were struggling, getting hit at an alarming rate, and Pierre Garcon suffered a neck injury that kept him out the rest of the season.
Things looked bleak for this once-proud franchise. When they left Philadelphia that day, they had no wins, no franchise quarterback, and about as many holes as a normal slice of swiss cheese. How many of you thought it was possible for the 49ers to finish 0-16?
Who knew that one trade could make season-ticket holders re-up, and once again be “Faithful?”
Garoppolo no doubt is the real deal, proving that he was worthy of the second-round pick Lynch sent to New England. His 5-0 run at the end of the season was magical, and it has given fans hope that the momentum will carry over into this upcoming season.
It’s good to be excited, but again, let’s pump the brakes a bit. Realistically, the 49ers are another offseason away from being an NFC power.
Can offseason acquisition Richard Sherman be the same player he was in Seattle? How will the safety tandem of Adrian Colbert and Jacquiski Tartt hold up?
Will Shanahan’s zone-running scheme get cranking? Will Weston Richburg adjust? Will former first-round picks Joshua Garnett, Solomon Thomas and Arik Armstead become impact players?
There are a lot of questions that need to be answered, but on the flipside, there’s a lot to be excited about.
The evolution of defensive lineman DeForest Buckner, for instance. He led all interior defensive lineman in the NFL in 2017 with 19 quarterback pressures. What’s his ceiling?
And how could you not be excited about Reuben Foster and Fred Warner running sideline-to-sideline blowing up anything that comes their way?
This team is no longer an expansion team, something you couldn’t say when Lynch and Shanahan walked into the building.
Looking at the 2018 schedule — especially the first four games of the season — it looks like a daunting road is ahead for the 49ers, but with a quarterback and solid set of skill position players, there’s at least some hope that they can sneak into the playoffs.