The San Francisco 49ers are one of the most successful and storied franchises in the NFL. They were the dominant force in the 80’s and early 90’s thanks to the combination of head coach Bill Walsh, quarterback Joe Montana and his successor Steve Young, and wide receiver Jerry Rice. They are among the best to ever perform their roles in the NFL, with Rice being perhaps the best player ever at any position. Walsh arrived in 1979 and drafted Montana that year. The two lifted San Francisco from the foot of the NFL to the very pinnacle of the sport as they claimed the 1981 Super Bowl and won a second in 1984. Jerry Rice arrived in 1985 and the team went on to win back-to-back Super Bowls in 1988 & 1989. After injuries sidelined Montana, Steve Young emerged as a quality quarterback in his own right and led the team to a fifth Super Bowl in 1994.
After that season the 49ers took a step back. In 1997 Steve Mariucci took over the reins and the 49ers soon Steve Young was gone and the franchise returned to being just another team. 1999 was their first season without Young or Montana in almost 20 years and they went 4-12. They’ve had just 5 winning seasons since Steve Young departed, with the bulk of those coming under Jim Harbaugh in the early 2010’s. In 2012 the 49ers returned to the Super Bowl but suffered their first ever defeat in the big game to Harbaugh’s brother and the Baltimore Ravens.
In 2017 Kyle Shanahan took over the team and restored some hope to the franchise after several years of struggle. With Shanahan came an exciting offense and a trade for quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo. The 49ers are not a favorite to win a Super Bowl any time soon, but every talking head worth his salt will label them a dark horse as long as Shanahan & Garoppolo are there.
In Madden 19’s Franchise Mode you have a chance to bring another golden era to San Francisco and win multiple Super Bowls, but you have a lot of work to do to get the roster up to scratch. They start Franchise Mode with an overall rating of 80. This is made up of a strong offense, rated 87, and a poorly rated 77 defense.
This breakdown shows you just how lopsided the team is and where you will need to invest your assets to make them competitive. What weapons do you have to create improvements though? Let’s start with the teams salary cap situation.
San Francisco 49ers Salary Cap
The 49ers start Franchise Mode with 65 players on the roster and a solid $43.3 million in cap space. This is a very nice position to be in, and the cap space will only increase as you cut the roster down to the regular season limit of 53 players.
There are 23 players you can cut without incurring any cap penalty. Players like Earl Mitchell and Mike Person will clear a good amount of extra cap space but you don’t have to cut anyone for financial reasons just yet so you should hold onto them and let worse players go.
San Francisco 49ers Impending Free Agents
There are 22 impending free agents on the 49ers roster. That’s a pretty good number compared to most teams and won’t leave you with too much work to do when it comes to filling your roster for 2019 as most can be replaced with little effort or impact to your teams performance.
Among those impending free agents are a couple of players you will want to focus on retaining though. Kicker Robbie Gould is the best player that has just one year left on his contract. Kickers are easy to find but good ones are tricky to replace, so retaining Gould is a wise move.
Elsewhere on the roster there aren’t any stars about to hit free agency, but a number of depth players will have to be re-signed or replaced. Running back Alfred Morris is one of four that will be a free agent after the first season of Franchise Mode. I don’t recommend paying Morris, but keeping hold of speedster Raheem Mostert isn’t a bad idea to complement Jerick McKinnon and Matt Breida.
Starting right guard Mike Person is in the final year of his contract, and while you would like to improve that spot it would be a wise move to retain him as a backup.
Defensively there are four outside linebackers that are about to hit free agency, and while none are worth retaining it is important to replenish the depth chart from somewhere. The most likely scenario is signing a solid rotational player in free agency and then finding a developmental player in the draft.
Starting cornerback Jimmie Ward is another player you may wish to keep but demote as you find superior players in the coming seasons.
Other key impending free agents: Bradley Pinion (P), Sheldon Day (DT), Antone Exum Jr (FS), Nick Mullens (QB)
San Francisco 49ers Roster Needs
The 49ers roster is set at a number of positions. Quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo has a fresh 5-year contract that means you don’t need to worry about the position at all, Jerick McKinnon is a good running back with 4 years left on his deal and tight end george Kittle has 3 years left.
Elsewhere on offense though things aren’t quite as rosy. The wide receiver position needs a lot of work to overhaul it while there are some bad contracts there too. 32-year-old Pierre garcon is nice for the actual 49ers but in Madden 19 his relative lack of speed is an issue. Rookie Dante Pettis could be a nice #2 behind speedster Marquise Goodwin but he’ll need developing and you should try to carry three quality receivers at all times, so finding more talent there should be on the agenda.
The offensive line also needs retooling. Left tackle Joe Staley is still very good but he is 34. The 49ers drafted his heir-apparent in Mike McGlinchey who is the starting right tackle, but finding another offensive tackle in the near future would be wise. The interior three positions are a real weak spot though, and an upgrade at guard or center would be a great help when it comes to running the ball and keeping your offense balanced.
However, you should be investing most of your season 1 assets into the defense. Along the defensive line the 49ers are pretty strong with Arik Armstead, DeForest Buckner, and Solomon Thomas, but they could still use an edge rusher. If Dee Ford or Trey Flowers are available in free agency investing there would be smart.
Where this unit really needs help though is at linebacker. All three starters are poor, but fortunately linebackers are pretty well stocked in most draft classes, allowing you to quickly accumulate talent at the position.
Where talent is less common is cornerback, which is another big need for the 49ers defense. If there is a choice between a quality cornerback prospect and linebacker in the first round you should go with the corner. The two safety spots could use an upgrade, but they are less pressing than linebacker and corner.
The 49ers offense is a very solid unit, especially the passing game thanks to Garoppolo, Kittle, & McKinnon. They can keep pace with most teams, but defensively the team are such a liability that you will find yourself scoring 30+ points and still losing. If you can find some stars in your first draft and sign a free agent or two then you can quickly compete toward the sharp end of the NFL and even make the playoffs in season 2. There will be bills to pay after season 2 though, as Armstead, Buckner and Joe Staley are all free agents after season 2, meaning you’ll have to create cap space to hold onto the two defensive linemen and probably find that extra tackle in the draft.
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