Why the 49ers’ Super Bowl window isn’t closing anytime soon

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The San Francisco 49ers are understandably frustrated after failing to bring home a Super Bowl victory for the second time in four seasons. 

No other NFL franchise has reached the NFC Championship Game four times in the past five years, and yet a sixth Lombardi trophy continues to elude the 49ers.

“The only way to win a Super Bowl is you have to get there first,” team owner Jed York told reporters at the NFL owners meetings last week. “And we’ve obviously been very close several times. And you have to keep building off it. … It’s almost worse to lose a Super Bowl than to not make the playoffs. And I don’t think that’s how teams should feel. 

“As much as I would give just about anything to have won this game or four years ago to Kansas City, you can’t leave and say the whole season was a disgrace. It’s not. It’s a disappointment to not win. But you can’t destroy yourself and everything you built because you didn’t finish and hit your ultimate goal.” 

While some NFL observers may have cooled on San Francisco’s chances to seal the deal in the big game after a couple of near misses, head coach Kyle Shanahan can take solace in the fact that he still has one of the best quarterbacks in the business in Brock Purdy. The former “Mr. Irrelevant” was in the MVP race for much of the season, and he finished it healthy after being injured in the 2022 playoffs.

“I’m just pumped that Brock gets an offseason,” Shanahan told reporters at the owners meeting. “His first year he didn’t get much of one just because he was the third quarterback. Last year, he couldn’t throw with us until training camp. This year, he just got married. He’s fully healthy. He’s going to come back here in a few weeks and get going.

“I’m just pumped to be able to go through the film with him and be on the field with him, which he hasn’t had a chance to do yet in his career.”

The 49ers start offseason work on April 15, and Shanahan said he’ll go through last year’s film with Purdy at that point. And then Purdy will take that learning onto the field with quarterbacks coach Brian Griese, working through San Francisco’s schematics like the quick game, five- and seven-step drops and the play-action game as the start of the building process to the 2024 season. 

“It’s just getting more consistent,” Shanahan said when asked what he wants to see Purdy improve this offseason. “[In 2022] he only had seven games. But when you have a whole season to view yourself, that takes a long time to get through. You always want to be perfect, and no one ever will be. But when you’ve had the reps that he’s had, now he can review that stuff and take it to the field.”

The 49ers also benefit from Purdy still being on his rookie deal. The Iowa State product made $870,000 in base salary in 2023 and almost doubled his salary in performance-pay bonuses ($739,795).

Purdy is entering the third season of a four-year rookie deal, and according to the league’s collective bargaining agreement, San Francisco can’t start negotiating with him until 2025. York understands that the Niners will eventually have to ante up for Purdy. 

“I think it’s a good problem when your quarterback is one of the highest-paid players on your team and in the league,” York said. “To me, the quarterback position is the most important position, not just in football but in all of sports. And those guys should be paid a lot of money.” 

How 49ers could resemble Cowboys with Brock Purdy extension

For now, the 49ers can continue to focus on building the team around Purdy. They signed 10 outside free agents to new deals last month. San Francisco lost a foundational presence inside when veteran defensive tackle Arik Armstead declined to take a pay cut and they released him. Armstead didn’t take long to find a new home, signing with the Jacksonville Jaguars in free agency.

To replace Armstead’s production in the interior of their defense, the 49ers traded a seventh-round pick to the Houston Texans for defensive lineman Maliek Collins and signed Cleveland Browns free agent defensive tackle Jordan Elliott. To replace defensive end Chase Young, who left for the New Orleans Saints as a free agent after the Niners traded for him midseason, San Francisco signed veteran pass rusher Leonard Floyd to a two-year, $20 million deal. 

The 49ers will continue to build through the draft, with 10 picks overall and three in the top 100. The franchise has a first-round pick (No. 31) for the first time since moving up to take quarterback Trey Lance at No. 3 overall in the 2021 draft. 

San Francisco remains in negotiations with No. 1 receiver Brandon Aiyuk on a long-term deal, and York said he is hopeful to get something done. Aiyuk, a favorite target of Purdy’s, is entering the final year of his rookie contract. The 49ers would be wise to keep him in the fold, but they also have good depth at receiver in Deebo Samuel, Jauan Jennings, Chris Conley and Ronnie Bell.

Specifically, Bell flashed playmaking ability in training camp as a guy who can create explosive plays and make an impact in the return game. Shanahan, who played receiver at Texas in his college days, has shown a penchant for identifying and developing talent at the position. That will come in handy should the 49ers fail to get something done long-term with Aiyuk.

Why Brandon Aiyuk’s situation is a pivotal moment for 49ers

Whatever the outside noise, the cupboard is far from bare for San Francisco. The 49ers have a franchise quarterback on a rookie contract in Purdy. They have the best running back in the NFL in Christian McCaffrey, and at age 27 he’s still got juice. San Francisco has difference-makers on defense in Fred Warner, Nick Bosa, Javon Hargrave, Charvarius Ward and Talanoa Hufanga

The 49ers still have one of the best offensive minds in the game in Shanahan. And the team closest to challenging the 49ers in the NFC West, the Los Angeles Rams, just lost their best player in Aaron Donald

It’s a little too soon to predict San Francisco’s demise. 

“I think with our group, we can get over the hump,” York said. “And I think Brock has a chance to be one of those guys, but he’s only played two years. He has a chance to be at that level of truly, truly great at the position. 

“But he’s still learning and growing. And we have to make sure we continue to support him as much as we can as an organization.” 

Eric D. Williams has reported on the NFL for more than a decade, covering the Los Angeles Rams for Sports Illustrated, the Los Angeles Chargers for ESPN and the Seattle Seahawks for the Tacoma News Tribune. Follow him on Twitter at @eric_d_williams.

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