The 49ers entered the offseason with roster continuity among their main objectives. They even traded defensive tackle DeForest Buckner to free up cap space to re-sign other key players like free safety Jimmie Ward and defensive lineman Arik Armstead. The result of San Francisco’s offseason moves leaves them with only three open starting jobs going into camp. They’ll also have a new left tackle, Trent Williams, after Joe Staley announced his retirement on Day 3 of the draft.
Continuity is always a strength for teams coming off deep playoff runs, but the COVID-19 pandemic has truncated the offseason in such a way that less roster turnover will be a significant advantage for teams early in the year.
This bodes well for the 49ers moving into a year where their offseason practice time is limited. Most of their lost snaps came from Joe Staley and DeForest Buckner. They replaced Staley with seven-time Pro Bowler Trent Williams who knows Kyle Shanahan’s offense well, and they replaced Buckner with No. 14 overall pick Javon Kinlaw. While the questions remain about whether they’ll play well in San Francisco, adding premium talent to fill their two biggest holes could mitigate even more of the adversity teams face while replacing key starters.
The AFC still matters for an NFC team with Super Bowl aspirations, but the positive impact of continuity typically wears away as the season moves forward and teams catch up to the curve. This is the case every season with good teams playing their best football late. A shortened offseason may amplify the usual curve though.
Teams with better continuity should see their biggest advantages early in the year. That’s when San Francisco’s lead in this area could give them a shot to the the ground running and get a leg up in the race for the NFC’s top seed.