Welcome to the best NFL offseason series you'll ever read -- that is, if you're like me, and you want nothing more than the blissful lie that your team will be good in 2019. How Your Team Won Super Bowl 54 will take you through each NFL franchise with one goal in mind: convincing you that there's at least one universe in which Your Team wins it all. I'm Doctor Strange, you're Tony Stark, the Avengers are Your Team, Thanos is...Bill Belichick? I've lost the metaphor.
One thing's for sure:
You'll die in the end. Your Team is going to win Super Bowl 54.
San Francisco 49ers
How we keep Jimmy Garoppolo healthy
Alright kids, gather around. Do you want to hear a fun story? What if I told you that you could make $74 million dollars -- yes, Timmy, 74 million dollars! Do you want to know how? All I need you to do is play this game...oh, seven times. Does that sound like something you can do?
Folks, Jimmy Garoppolo might be the new Sam Bradford of the NFL. When the Niners win Super Bowl 54, he certainly won't be, but at this juncture in his career, Garoppolo has earned around $45M to this point in his career, with another $17.2M locked in for 2019, and a healthy portion ($15.7M) of his 2020 number guaranteed for injury as well -- which matters, given that Garoppolo has lost two of five NFL seasons to injury despite only playing in 20 games thus far.
The Garoppolo contract certainly won't look like a finesse on the part of Jimmy's camp, after the Niners win Super Bowl 54, but at this juncture, it's worth wondering. One more injury could make Garoppolo as big of a cash drain for the Niners as Sam Bradford became for the Los Angeles Rams.
Unlike Bradford, the Niners got to see Garoppolo play some NFL games before they backed up the truck for him -- and he only cost San Fran a second-rounder. But this wagon is hitched to his shoulder and his ACL: the Niners have as exciting a group of pass-catchers in the league in George Kittle, Marqise Goodwin, Dante Pettis, and Deebo Samuel; the additions of Weston Richburg and Mike McGlinchey have shored up the offensive line; the backfield has more NFL-caliber runners than any other team in the league; and Kyle Shanahan mans the controls.
The only thing this team is missing is a quarterback, and I know this, because Nicholas H. Mullens was able to quarterback them effectively for a hot second there. This offense just wants to be tops in the league, and it isn't hard to talk yourself into it happening -- if Garoppolo stays on the field for 16 games.
To sufficiently bubble-wrap Garoppolo -- at least until the playoffs -- something's got to give. It can't be Shanahan's hard play-action concepts -- they're too integral to his offensive design, despite the danger they put Garoppolo in. I'm unwilling to leave George Kittle in to block, given his elite status as a receiving tight end in the NFL.
That leaves us with Kyle Juszczyzsyzyszys-chik. The last fullback standing. (Anthony Sherman and James Develin don't exist for the purposes of this blurb.)
With a name like an Eastern European bodyguard and hair like a porcupine, nobody is better equipped to float in Garoppolo's wake and plaster free blitzers and winning rushers. Sure, we all enjoy the yearly 35-yard reception on Spider 2 Y Banana, or the occasional "Fake-WR-Screen-Fake-RB-Screen-FB-Tunnel-Screen on three, ready break!" but Juszzxxzs-chik* serves a much nobler purpose as Garoppolo's personal bouncer. Because, as we all well understand by this point, running backs don't matter -- but fullbacks do, when their sole job is making sure the players who matter (i.e. quarterbacks) stay upright.
*Note: I know how to spell Juzcs--Kyle's last name. I just don't feel like it right now.
How one free agent addition changed the whole defense
A lot of emphasis was put on improving the Niners' pass-rush -- and rightfully so. The Niners were a respectable but uninspiring 13th in pressure rate last season, but were tied 22nd with 37 sacks, and only had one player notch over 6 sacks: DeForest Buckner, with 12.5. Rotational players Cassius Marsh (since departed to Seattle) and Ronald Blair had better production than starters Solomon Thomas and Arik Armstead. Thomas, namely, has lost his starting job to first-round selection Nick Bosa and trade acquisition Dee Ford, who now has a big fat contract in San Francisco.
But the issue isn't so much the pressure, from what I can tell -- it's the turnovers. The Niners were dead-last in the NFL last season with a -25 (MINUS 25) turnover rate, which is a number that you should go read again, because the first time you read it you thought "Woah, that's pretty bad," but what you didn't realize is that it's abysmal. It's bloody horrendous. It's noxious, foul, and noisome. It's offensive in the eyes of man and God.
MINUS 25. There are only 16 games in a season, team! Let's say, in every two games, you only generated one turnover -- but you gave the ball away FOUR TIMES. So one game with no turnovers, two giveaways; next game, one turnover, two more giveaways. That would put you at MINUS 24. They were MINUS 25, which is objectively worse than MINUS 24.
Do you know how hard you have to try to only have two interceptions? The 2018 San Francisco 49ers do, and, interestingly enough -- fun fact here -- just in case you were wondering -- not that it matters but -- NO OTHER TEAM IN THE HISTORY OF THE NFL DOES. The 1982 Houston Oilers know what it's like to get three interceptions in a season shortened by strike, but not two in 16 games. Not an average of .125 interceptions a game. An eighth of an interception. Just the nose of the football.
Winning the turnover battle is critical to winning games, but -- good news for the Niners here -- turnover differential tends to vary randomly season-to-season. And it would be unnatural and inhumane for the Niners' differential to get worse, so it must get better.
"But how, Ben? Will Bosa and Ford be enough? The secondary is unchanged! How will they get more interceptions with the same starters at corner and safety? How could this be?!"
I'll tell you, dear and wondering reader. By adding Michael Crabtree.
Let's not mince words: Richard Sherman struggled last season. Outside of Seattle and recovering from injury, he seems to have lost some of his explosiveness, and was beat deep more frequently than we're accustomed to seeing from him, even in a more tentative defense captained by Robert Saleh. Now, while Sherman was not himself, he was still heads and shoulders above Ahkello Witherspoon, who seems much like a project pick thrust too early into a red and gold fire.
But if the Niners were looking for prime Sherman, they need to light a fire in his belly. They need the Sherman who couldn't get enough microphones and screen time during the 2013 season; the masked-up Sherman pushing Patrick Peterson for the top dog designation among NFL corners.
And as such, they need to go back to the rivalry that started it all: their very own WR in Michael Crabtree.
If you can watch this without smiling, you just don't love football. Or you're a Niners fan, which, considering the topic of this post, I should have anticipated.
Crabtree brought out the best in Sherman because he brought out the dog in Sherman (and the chain-snatcher in Aqib Talib), and if you want to generate some more turnovers on defense, you need Sherman to return to his former competitive, smack-talking, sorry-receiver-like-Crabtree glory. So sign the free agent Crabtree on a one-year deal and line him up opposite Sherman for all of camp; then trade him to your Week 1 opponent for a future seventh or some nonsense. Get these two against each other for as long as possible in the beginning of the year*, and hopefully jumpstart Sherman's engine.
*Note: I am not just saying this because I want to watch it.
How The Niners Won Super Bowl 54
Garoppolo throws three touchdowns (one to Michael Crabtree in the exact same corner of the endzone as the Sherman deflection, just so we can make cool comparison GIFs) en route to a 29-10 drubbing of the New England Patriots. Garoppolo throws Brady off his game during Super Bowl media week by accidentally leaking that he once saw Brady eating a Big Mac and adding flavored sugar packets to his Fiji water. Brady later announces his retirement amid scandal. Kyle Juszczyk (told you) gets MVP for his 14 pancake blocks, henceforth called the "Use-chik."
How many universes does this happen in?
25 out of 1000.
How does it all go wrong?
Sherman/Crabtree leads to an all-out brawl in training camp. Garoppolo's nose is broken in the fray, and with it his confident smirk and roguish good looks. Nick Bosa tweets about it, then deletes it. George Kittle retires to a quiet life on his farm, where he sits in a rocking chair with a straw of wheat between his teeth, wondering how much YAC he could have accumulated over a 10-year NFL career.