HOUSTON, TEXAS – JANUARY 3: Deshaun Watson # 4 of the Houston Texans in action against Tennessee … [+]
With the dust settling on Super Bowl LV, teams now preparing to retool their rosters this off-season in hopes of competing for a Lombardi Trophy in 2021 have lessons from the Tampa City Buccaneers’ escape against them the Kansas City Chiefs pulled. There are two different ways the brass section of the San Francisco 49ers might have seen last week’s outbreak, and the mindset they represent could influence a possible pursuit of Deshaun Watson.
Head coach Kyle Shanahan may have watched in frustration as the Buccaneers smashed the Chiefs through the same fixture list that the Niners nearly won a year ago.
Had the 2019 49ers faced the same Kansas City offensive line that hit the Bucs, San Francisco would likely have prevailed.
Shanahan could have taken the Bucs’ win as confirmation that he didn’t need a massive quarterback upgrade to get the Niners back into the battle for a Super Bowl.
Prior to Tom Brady’s Super Bowl MVP appearance, 49ers general manager John Lynch said he was “haunted” for failing to select Mahomes in the first round of draft 2017 – according to Cam Inman of The San Jose Mercury News – after he did took part in his spectacular pro day as a “smoke screen”.
The Niners should learn their lesson from this mistake and take what they saw of the Bucs as confirmation of the need to improve Garoppolo this off-season.
If Garoppolo had carried out the Niners’ offensive in Super Bowl LIV with the same efficiency as Brady did last Sunday – especially in the first half – San Francisco might already have its sixth Super Bowl title. Although Brady’s performance wasn’t spectacular, it showed the difference between the two.
TAMPA, FL – FEBRUARY 7: Super Bowl MVP Tom Brady (12) of the Buccaneers holds the Lombardi Trophy … [+]
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With the game on the line, Garoppolo could not make the throws necessary to secure a championship for the 49ers. Brady was never placed in a position where the game was at stake, but he was determined and accurate in getting the throws necessary to put the Bucs in a dominant position at halftime.
The Niners got the chance to sign Brady last off-season and passed. That chance is gone, but there’s a clear window for the 49ers to take center stage on a significant upgrade this time around by adding a quarterback who performed at a level comparable to Mahomes and Brady in 2020 with a much worse cast.
A report by ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler on Friday showed the Niners are on the list of teams Watson is “intrigued” with when he tries to force an exit from the Houston Texans.
Watson led the league in both passing yards (4,823) and yards per attempt (8.9) in 2020, finishing fifth in Defense-Adjusted Yards Above Replacement by Football Outsiders, behind Mahomes in first and Brady in third .
He was also fifth on Ben Baldwin’s Composite Metric (EPA + CPOE) (Expected Points Added + Completion Percentage Over Expectation), placing Mahomes in fourth and Brady in sixth.
Watson has been fifth at EPA + CPOE since his 2017 rookie season. Mahomes is first with Brady seventh and Garoppolo eighth.
On the surface, there doesn’t seem to be much of a difference between Watson and Garoppolo.
The fact that Watson has consistently played at the level of a top 5 quarterback with a poor offensive line that allowed him to be sacked 62 league times in 2018 and a defense that has been in the EPA per game since 2017 29th place – His best season after losing DeAndre Hopkins in an explainable deal is an example of how high his cap could be on Shanahan’s quarterback-friendly offensive.
The 49ers may be reluctant to pay the exorbitant price it takes to reward Watson from a franchise that has made no secret of their desire not to trade it.
But for a team as well positioned as the Niners, that reluctance should give way to excitement about the potential returns on this huge investment in Watson’s services.
Quarterback was partly what held the 49ers back in Super Bowl LIV, and the Bucs’ triumph that year showed them what they can be with a superior quarterback over Garoppolo taking the offensive.
The price will be historically high. However, if the 49ers want to avoid being constantly constrained by their quarterback’s limitations, they should channel the aggressiveness that brought the Bucs’ long-awaited success and pay for what it takes to acquire a quarterback who will turn can make them a perennial contender.