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49ers offseason outlook: What will free agency, NFL draft hold for Super Bowl contender?

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LAS VEGAS – Despite a stellar effort, the San Francisco 49ers dug deeply into another empty shaft Sunday night – a vein of Lombardi sterling silver failing to materialize. Their overtime loss to the Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl 58 was another bitterly disappointing result for a team that’s succumbed twice in the Super Bowl and twice more in the NFC championship game over the past five seasons.

“Obviously, we’re hurting – our team’s hurting – but that’s how it goes when you put yourself out there,” head coach Kyle Shanahan said Sunday night, his decade of postseason misery extending to the Super Bowl 51 collapse of the 2016 Atlanta Falcons, for whom he was the offensive coordinator.

“I’m real proud of our guys, no regrets with our team. I thought our guys played so hard today. Not everything was perfect by any means. But if I’m going to lose with a group of guys, I’d do it with those guys any time, and we’ll get over this and come back next year ready to go.”

And, assuming their newly sustained scars sufficiently fade, these Niners could well find themselves once again on the cusp of striking it rich a year from now. Here’s where things stand with San Francisco seven months ahead of the 2024 NFL season:

Quarterback situation

As efficient as he is and as much as he contributes to a winning culture, Brock Purdy is relentlessly picked apart as a “game manager” – his biggest sins apparently that he’s not Patrick Mahomes or Lamar Jackson. But is Purdy that far from, say, Joe Burrow if he’s a bit less vertically challenged?

He wasn’t perfect Sunday night – and Kansas City’s elite defense had something to do with that – but Purdy’s performance (255 yards and a TD passing, no turnovers) is a winning formula most times given the array of talent around him … and that could certainly be true in Super Bowl 59.

“We have the team obviously to do it, to win the whole thing,” Purdy said Sunday. “The way things have been the last couple of years here, everyone wanted it so bad.

“But everyone in that locker room loves each other, I’ll tell you that.”

And, almost to a man, it seems everyone in that locker room has fallen for Purdy not two years after he was the final pick of the 2022 draft.

He finished fourth in MVP voting this season, his first as the Niners’ full-time starter, leading the league with a 113.0 passer rating while throwing for 31 touchdowns and a franchise-record 4,280 yards. No team will enjoy better value at the position in 2024, when Purdy is owed a $985,000 base salary. He is ineligible for the extension commensurate with his performance until 2025 – unfortunate for “Mr. Irrelevant” but a boon to San Francisco, which can invest heavily throughout the rest of the depth chart for one more season.

Roster

The 49ers will go into next season once again armed with a core as good as anyone’s, including Purdy, WR Brandon Aiyuk, DE Nick Bosa, FB Kyle Juszczyk, TE George Kittle, RB Christian McCaffrey, WR Deebo Samuel, CB Charvarius Ward, LB Fred Warner and LT Trent Williams. S Talanoa Hufanga, an All-Pro in 2022, should be back after suffering a torn ACL last November. Among San Francisco’s pending free agents are QBs Brandon Allen and Sam Darnold – meaning Purdy might need a new backup in 2024 – G Jon Feliciano, S Tashaun Gipson Sr. and DE Chase Young, who did a very nice job opposite Bosa after being acquired at the trade deadline.

Salary cap

San Francisco is currently slightly overbudget entering the offseason. Though it would certainly be nice to retain starters like Feliciano, Gipson and/or Young, GM John Lynch can probably backfill those losses at a reduced rate. One way to potentially free up cap room and keep the core intact might be to extend Aiyuk, who is entering the final year of his rookie contract and is currently owed more than $14 million on next season’s fifth-year option. Slot CB Deommodore Lenoir could be another player worthy of a new deal before he’s scheduled to hit the open market next year.

2024 draft

Lynch and HC Kyle Shanahan are used to drafting at the bottom of every year round, the price perennial powerhouses pay, and this year will be no different. The Niners currently have 11 selections – including 31st and 63rd overall and two in the third round – but the bulk will be made on the draft’s final day.

Outlook

Little reason to believe the 49ers won’t remain at or near the top of the NFC given the success they’ve enjoyed since Shanahan and Lynch took the reins in 2017. They’re unlikely to have any glaring weaknesses going into next season, but the trenches might warrant some attention. An upgrade or two to the right of Williams and replenished depth for the defensive line, given some likely defections, seem like logical areas to address. But even if Lynch doesn’t retain any of his free agents and offloads all of his picks or invests them in players who won’t contribute next season, San Francisco is already commanding very short odds to be on the field in New Orleans next February. Rightfully so.

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Follow USA TODAY Sports’ Nate Davis on X, formerly Twitter @ByNateDavis.

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