49ers: One way to upgrade the outside linebacker position

49ers

October 5, 2014; Santa Clara, CA, USA; Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith (11) passes the football against San Francisco 49ers linebacker Aaron Lynch (59, right) during the second quarter at Levi’s Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Today, Niner Noise provides 49ers fans (and hopefully GM John Lynch) some potential options to upgrade the outside linebacker position.

The San Francisco 49ers have multiple positions of need that new general manager John Lynch will need to address during the 2017 offseason. With little front-office experience, many fans are worried Lynch will be unable to rebuild the franchise.

But have no fear and lose no sleep, Niner Noise is here to help Lynch and the front office throughout this offseason.

The 49ers have major holes that need to be filled. Normally, such glaring roster issues would take extensive amounts of time, but the 49ers are in a position where they can see an immediate turnaround at specific position groups when compared to previous seasons.

One such position is the outside linebacker group.

In 2015, the 49ers recorded 28 sacks. In 2016, that increased to 33. Those numbers are simply not good enough. How bad are those sack totals? To put it another way, compare those year-end totals to the 2015 Denver Broncos (52 sacks), and you can see why the team needs to upgrade the position.

So without further ado, let’s upgrade the outside linebackers the Niner Noise way.

(Statistics provided courtesy of Pro Football Reference).

49ers

Dec 3, 2016; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Wisconsin Badgers linebacker T.J. Watt (42) tackles Penn State Nittany Lions quarterback Trace McSorley (9) in the first half during the Big Ten Championship college football game at Lucas Oil Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

Draft an Edge Rusher

OK, the obvious choice here would be one Myles Garrett from Texas A&M. Garrett is an elite college prospect who is widely regarded as the No. 1 overall player in this year’s NFL Draft. In fact, Niner Noise recently published a more in-depth player profile on Garrett. You can give it a read at the link below.

In summary, Garrett is a ferocious pass-rushing monster who reminds this writer of Patrick Willis, if Willis played as a 3-4 outside linebacker.

However, San Francisco does not hold the No. 1 overall selection in the 2017 NFL Draft. That honor belongs to the Cleveland Browns. Most draft experts expect the Browns to select Myles Garrett with the No. 1 pick.

If, by chance, the Browns decide to pass on Garrett, the 49ers should immediately select him. Still, if Garrett is selected by the Browns, the 49ers have plenty of other options available later in the draft. In fact, the 49ers best option if Garrett is off the table is to trade down.

One prospect to keep an eye on is T.J. Watt. Watt had a fantastic season for the Wisconsin Badgers, bringing down opposing quarterbacks 11.5 times. He also made 63 total tackles with 15.5 tackles-for-loss. Watt is would be a great day-two pickup.

Height: 6-foot-5

Weight: 243 pounds

Projected 40 Time: 4.74

Projected Round: 1-2

Niner Noise Projected Round: 2

(Stats provided courtesy of Walter Football)

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Dec 4, 2016; San Diego, CA, USA; Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston (3) is pressured by San Diego Chargers outside linebacker Melvin Ingram (54) during the second quarter at Qualcomm Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

Free-Agent Acquisition

According to Spotrac.com, the red and gold are expected to have $82 million in cap space come this free-agency period. This is before the team starts making any free-agent cuts, and you can bet that new GM John Lynch will release plenty of players.

That is to say, that $82 million spending budget can grow well above $100 million.

This offseason, there will be some premier pass-rushers available unless their teams sign them prior to hitting the market. However, most have not signed with their respective teams, which usually means that players want to test the open market.

Players like Los Angeles Chargers Melvin Ingram and Arizona Cardinals Chandler Jones will headline the crop of star FA pass-rushers. These players will command top-dollar contracts. Niner Noise’ very own Logan Stanley writes that Jones will likely cost an estimated annual salary of $16.2 million.

Still, the 49ers’ budget can easily attract top-tier EDGE players like Jones and Ingram. To snatch up these players, the 49ers will need to convince these players that SF is the best place for them and their family.

This is where new GM John Lynch will really need to show us fans that he can actually attract top talent without having to overpay.

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Mandatory Credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

Roster Decisions

Will GM Lynch cut 60 percent of the roster in his first year, similar to what the Seahawks did in their first year under the helm of GM John Schneider? That massive turnover ended up with a star-studded roster to include plenty of depth at positions of value.

If so, the red and gold will probably look to let OLB Ahmad Brooks go this offseason.

Brooks will be entering the 2017 NFL season at the age of 32 with a cap hit of $8,648,750, per Spotrac. By cutting Brooks, the team would be saving $8.6 million towards the cap — money that could be used in free agency to lure in better, younger options. This is a fairly easy choice for our new GM to make.

By and large, the tougher decision will be deciding what to do with Aaron Lynch. Lynch, does not need to be cut, as he is under contract heading into the 2017 season. Yet, this is Lynch’s last season under his rookie deal. Lynch has shown plenty of promise, but for several different reasons, he has not been able to maximize his pass-rushing potential.

In fact, his sack numbers are not even pedestrian. At the same time, Lynch has been very productive when it comes to QB hurries. QB hurries matter as they cause a QB to throw on the move. Most QBs are not effective throwing on the move.

Equally important, QB hurries place pressure on the QB decreasing the amount of time they have to diagnose a play and make decisions. This reduced time can cause a QB to be too early on a throw or to misread the defensive alignment.

Ultimately, (fair or not) what determines if an EDGE is exceptional or not is their ability to sack the QB. In this department, Lynch has not put up the numbers to solidify his position on the team. Nonetheless, he could still develop into a quality backup and for that reason he should be stowed away.

Final Verdict: Cut Brooks, extend Lynch to a team friendly, prove-it-or-lose-it, two-year deal.

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Mandatory Credit: Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

2017 49ers Potential OLB Depth Chart

With a few calculated moves in free agency, and the 49ers allowing top-talent to fall to them, the 49ers outside linebackers depth chart can be completely revitalized one year removed from last year’s debacle.

Here are a few examples of what the 49ers could roll out in 2017:

LOLB: Myles Garrett       2nd String LOLB: Eli Harold
ROLB: Melvin Ingram     2nd String ROLB: Aaron Lynch 

or

LOLB: Chandler Jones       2nd String LOLB: Eli Harold
ROLB: T.J. Watt                   2nd String ROLB: Aaron Lynch

Both options above would drastically improve the 49ers OLB depth chart from what they had a year ago. However, the first option would place an immediate strain on opposing passing offenses while also increasing the effectiveness of the team’s secondary.

As shown above, in one year the red and gold could give fans a defense that finally gets after the QB.

For more 49ers commentary, follow me on Twitter at @EricGamboa01 or on Facebook at @EricGamboaNinerNoise.

We love to hear from fans, so please drop us a line in the comments section below.

And, of course, GO NINERS!!!

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