Can the San Francisco 49ers Avoid the Super Bowl Hangover?

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We talk about it every year after the Super Bowl is complete. The team that just lost has historically struggled the following year. Only eight times in history has a Super Bowl loser returned to the big game. Only three times did they go back and win it – the 1971 Dallas Cowboys, the 1972 Miami Dolphins, and the 2018 New England Patriots.

That’s one time in the last 51 years that a Super Bowl loser won the next year. And you have to go back 31 years for the last team to return to the Super Bowl after losing. That was the 1993 Buffalo Bills.

NFL online sportsbooks have kicked off the off-season by naming the San Francisco 49ers the favorite to win Super Bowl LIX in New Orleans. That is not what NFL history says will happen, or even 49ers history.

The year following San Francisco’s loss to the Ravens in Super Bowl XLVII, the 49ers were good and made the playoffs. But they lost in the NFC Championship Game to the Seattle Seahawks. After losing to the Kansas City Chiefs the first time in Super Bowl LIV, the 49ers were not good the following year, finishing 6-10.

It is worth pointing out that in every year since that 6-10 season in 2020, the 49ers have made it to at least the NFC Championship Game.

Salary Cap Challenges for 2024

The 49ers have a big advantage with Brock Purdy as their starting quarterback. Having a quarterback on a rookie contract gives the team more flexibility in roster construction.

Last year, Patrick Mahomes took up 17% of the Chiefs salary cap, and that was the highest percentage for a Super Bowl-winning quarterback. This year, he became the first Super Bowl-winning quarterback to lead the NFL in salary cap hit.

If you don’t have Mahomes, Purdy might be the next best option. Not only is he on a rookie contract, but he’s on a seventh-round rookie contract. The first quarterback taken in 2022 was Kenny Pickett of the Pittsburgh Steelers. He will carry a cap hit of $3.8 million in 2024. The last quarterback taken was Purdy, and he will have a cap hit of $985,000.

Following the Super Bowl, Nevada online sportsbooks made Purdy one of the top MVP favorites for next season, paying +1200. That ties him for fifth behind Mahomes, Josh Allen, Joe Burrow, and Lamar Jackson.

The 49ers have a top quarterback on an incredibly cheap deal, but there are salary issues elsewhere. They have nine players that take up $212 million in cap space in 2024. That means that for the other 44 spots on the roster, they will have, at most, $33 million.

The 49ers will have 10 players making at least $14.1 million, and five players who will be more than $20 million in 2024 – Trent Williams, Deebo Samuel, Arik Armstead, Fred Warner, and George Kittle.

An extension for Brandon Aiyuk is also looming as he enters his fifth-year option season. Based on his season in 2023, has his market value at $22.9 million per season.

Some contracts can be reworked to make some space. But other contracts will have to be taken off the books completely. 

Competition in the NFC West

The 49ers have been the class of the NFC West the last two years. But things look bright for the Los Angeles Rams and Seattle Seahawks.

The Rams had one of the most impactful rookie classes in 2023, with Rookie of the Year finalists on both sides of the ball. Puka Nacua had the best rookie season for a wide receiver in NFL history, and in early betting for Offensive Player of the Year, he’s favored over players like Davante Adams, A.J. Brown, and Deebo Samuel.

Nose tackle Kobie Turner finished third in Defensive Rookie of the Year voting, and he is expected to continue to be a dominant force inside next to three-time Defensive Player of the Year Aaron Donald.

L.A. also has second-year running back Kyren Williams, who came out of nowhere last season to finish third in the NFL in rushing. He’s paying +2000 to win Offensive Player of the Year.

In Seattle, they have former Baltimore Ravens defensive coordinator Mike Macdonald as a new head coach, and a number of good players on rookie contracts. They also still have some draft capital remaining from the Russell Wilson trade, so there are multiple opportunities for Seattle to be better in 2024. Washington online sportsbooks have the Seahawks as the +300 favorite to draft Washington Huskies quarterback Michael Penix Jr.

San Francisco is the rightful favorite in the division, but along with two games against the Rams and Seahawks, they play seven other games against playoff teams. Those games include the Chiefs, Dallas Cowboys, and Detroit Lions at home, and the Green Bay Packers, Miami Dolphins, Buffalo Bills, and Tampa Bay Buccaneers on the road.

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