With the San Francisco 49ers receiving news that yet another one of their inside linebackers has retired from the NFL, the 49ers must now find a replacement. A position that was once considered a strength on the team, the inside linebacker position is now in shambles as ILB Chris Borland told the team last Friday that he will be hanging up his cleats.
Borland, who had an exceptional rookie season as he recorded a team-high 107 tackles in 14 games, cited his health (head trauma) as the reason for retiring. Now, the 49ers will have to find his heir apparent and the draft is the first place they will look.
There’s only a handful of players worthy of being drafted as this is a very weak middle linebacker draft class. So should the 49ers reach for need rather than selecting the best player available at No. 15? Absolutely not.
The 49ers still have other glaring weaknesses especially at the wide receiver position. And while I would agree that this position is not the top need, it’s nonetheless a need the 49ers will have to address again next season if the team opts not to bring back WR Anquan Boldin.
When you reach for need you’re doing your team a disservice. Not only are you selecting an inferior player but the impact they would otherwise have compared to the best player on the board greatly devalues the pick. If I were GM Trent Baalke, he should do what he normally does anyway and let the board talk to him.
The 49ers have four inside linebackers with ILB NaVorro Bowman, ILB Michael Wilhoite, ILB Shayne Skov, and ILB Nick Moody currently on the roster. And while it’s unknown if Bowman will be ready to start the season, it wouldn’t surprise me if Skov or Moody got their opportunity to shine in what appears to be a rebuilding situation.
Instead I propose that the 49ers move all-in for 2013 NFL Defensive Player of the Year MLB Luke Kuechly next year as he’s scheduled to become an unrestricted free-agent.
Since being drafted in the first-round (No. 9) of the 2012 NFL draft by the Carolina Panthers, Kuechly has been an absolute monster since.
In 48 regular season-games, Kuechly has been a tackling machine as he amassed 473 tackles, six sacks, four fumble recoveries, one forced fumble, seven interceptions and 26 pass break-ups.
A player that has a rare combination of strength, instincts and sideline-to-sideline quickness–makes Kuechly the best linebacker in the game today. No disrespect to Bowman as I felt he should have won Defensive Player of the Year honors last year–it’s uncertain how he will bounce back as he recovers from a torn ACL and MCL injuries.
However, the question remains will Kuechly consider a change of scenery? If the price is right I believe he will.
The highest paid linebacker in the NFL is currently Green Bay Packers OLB Clay Matthews as he signed a five-year deal worth $66 million. The top inside linebacker is Houston Texans ILB Brian Cushing as he signed a six-year, $59 million deal. The 49ers will have to at least match that if they hope to land Kuechly.
Something the 49ers could do especially if QB Colin Kaepernick is not retained after this season, the 49ers could very well use that money toward other assets.
One snag in this scenario is the franchise tag or if Kuechly is given a fifth-year option by the team. If the Panthers decide to slap the franchise tag on Kuechly, should the 49ers give up two first-round picks? I believe they should as the inside linebacker group again is a weak draft class in 2016.
Just imagine how the defense would look with Bowman and Kuechly running the show? It would give offenses nightmares while softening the blow of losing two of their best defensive players in Willis and Borland. Not to mention, it would give the Forever Faithful hope for the future–all is not lost if Kuechly came to San Francisco.
With the 49ers looking to rebuild/reload their roster it would be wise to bring in a player like Kuechly as I believe he’ll be worth every penny while giving the team a much needed leader in the locker room.