Here’s why it’s all about the Brock Purdy timeline for the 49ers now

SANTA CLARA, Calif. — All Kyle Shanahan and John Lynch need to do now is figure out how to win a Super Bowl after several excruciating near-misses while also refreshing the San Francisco 49ers’ roster and making sure their long-term payroll is as efficient as possible. Should be easy. No problem, right?

Well, actually … there are lots of tricky situations brewing at 49ers HQ and only so much Lynch and Shanahan can do about them. Mostly, this is just the natural order of building a roster full of very good players who deserve extremely rich salaries but also won’t always be as valuable as they are right now. Which makes things very complicated and a little awkward.

Yes, the 49ers are in a bit of transition phase right now.

There are already a lot of visible strains on the 49ers’ process these days — hello, Brandon Aiyuk and Deebo Samuel trade rumors. There are evident financial and competitive pressures. There are clear compromises and cuts being made, which started with the release of stalwart defensive lineman Arik Armstead in March when he wouldn’t take a drastic pay cut. And Lynch and Shanahan aren’t denying these things because they were working through all of this and conceding all of this in real-time during the last three days of the draft.

Basically, this offseason the 49ers are — sorry for phrasing it like this, but oh well — moving into some version of their own Two Timeline Era, when, like the Warriors tried a few years ago, they’re doing what they can to win a championship right now but also saving some resources for later years and later attempts.

Not easy. It can seem ruthless. It might hurt the 49ers’ chances this season, just to give them a few more dollars to work with in 2025 and beyond. But it’s also common sense … if handled correctly.

“You always try to get better, but you don’t want to get worse,” Shanahan said after the draft was completed on Saturday. “And when you do have players that have played a lot of good football over these last three to five years, it becomes a problem because you’ve got to pay guys, and it’s harder to keep carrying that. And that’s why we went in a free agency (like they did) … you have to make a lot of hard decisions.

“But we’re not ready to take two steps back so eventually we can take three steps forward or however that is; but you don’t know if that’s possible. So you try to make your free-agent decisions that way. You try to do the draft that way. And I feel we’re in a position that hopefully I don’t think we did get worse. I think we’ve tried to keep it to where we’re there.”

The 49ers still have a very talented roster core, of course. But they’ve dropped Armstead. They’re far apart on contract-extension talks with Aiyuk and definitely took trade calls on him during the first round of the draft. They’ve risked irritating Deebo by conceding that they were taking calls on him, too. And Shanahan and Lynch didn’t exactly declare that both wide receivers are off the trade market even now.

Could that blow up on the 49ers this season by alienating two of their best players? Sure. And other veteran players will have to presume that they could be on the chopping block in the future, from George Kittle to Talanoa Hufanga to Kyle Juszczyk.

But here’s the real-world result: Deebo now is essentially on a contract year; the last time that happened was going into the 2021 season and Deebo responded by turning in one of the best all-around offensive seasons in recent league history. And I don’t think anybody’s surprised by this — it was actually set up by the contract extension Deebo signed in August 2022.

So now, almost every veteran player knows he’s playing for his contract and his job. That’s always true in the NFL, but after this run of four trips to the NFC Championship Game in five years (and two Super Bowl losses), everything’s amplified for this 49ers roster.

Of course, if the 49ers had a bunch of players who had achieved far less, this wouldn’t feel so abrupt or disruptive. It wouldn’t matter. Who cares about a mediocre team’s roster cleanout? But, of course, if the 49ers had a lesser roster core, Shanahan and Lynch likely wouldn’t be going into their eighth seasons together running this team, anyway, and somebody else would be making these decisions. When you’re good for a half-decade, the bills come due. And everybody’s watching what you do when it happens.

But the 49ers also have a bit of a cheat code for this. Somebody who can bridge the timelines. Somebody who maybe already has started to do this. That’d be Brock Purdy, who made his first Pro Bowl last season at 24 and should be the central part of any 49ers core for years to come. In the NFL, if you’ve got a top-1o quarterback, you’ve always got a chance. If you’ve got a top-10 QB and are wise about putting talent around him, you might be able to chase Super Bowls for a decade.

In other words, even if the 49ers discard some very talented players along the way, they shouldn’t hit rock bottom if they’re right about Purdy and if they plan their finances wisely.

On Thursday, Shanahan said that one of the reasons the 49ers drafted Florida receiver Ricky Pearsall in the first round was to make sure that they’ve got a young receiver who will be on the team — and catching passes from Purdy — for many years. They’d like to think the same about Aiyuk, but it’s tricky.

Brandon Aiyuk and Brock Purdy

Brandon Aiyuk’s (left) future remains in question as the 49ers attempt their own Two Timeline Era around Brock Purdy (right). (Jane Tyska / Digital First Media / East Bay Times via Getty Images)

And you can see the draft-for-2025-or-beyond theme in many of the 49ers’ picks this year:

Pearsall is a potential future replacement for Deebo or Aiyuk.

Second-rounder Renardo Green is a potential future replacement for Charvarius Ward or Deommodore Lenoir.

Third-rounder Dominick Puni is a potential future replacement for Aaron Banks or Jon Feliciano.

Fourth-rounder Malik Mustapha is a potential future replacement for Hufanga.

Eventually, the 49ers will have to pay Purdy, too, and that’s putting its own kind of pressure on their decision-making this offseason. Purdy is the league’s best bargain now and can’t get an extension until after next season. Even when he gets the new deal, it’s likely that his cap hits will be fairly low until 2026 or later. But if Purdy gets a market-rate deal for a top young QB, he’s going to get a signing bonus in the range of $40 million and guarantees above $120 million. And that’s after Jed York shelled out more than a combined $100 million in bonuses and $225 million guaranteed to Nick Bosa, Trent Williams, George Kittle and Fred Warner over the last few years.

It’s not always about the cap for the 49ers at this point. It’s about how much cash the owner is willing to pay. It’s about holding on to as much as they can in 2024 but keeping an eye on 2025 and far beyond. Really, it isn’t about multiple timelines. It’s shifted and morphed into just one. It’s the Purdy Timeline, and I think Shanahan, Lynch, York and everybody else involved with the 49ers are embracing that now.



Kawakami: How Ricky Pearsall fits within the 49ers’ WR drama

(Top photo of Brock Purdy and Kyle Shanahan celebrating the 49ers’ NFC Championship Game win against the Detroit Lions: Ezra Shaw / Getty Images)

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