San Francisco 49ers Offseason Preview

jimmy garoppolo 49ers

Coming off a Super Bowl appearance, the San Francisco 49ers struggled with injuries in 2020. Between all the injuries and inconsistent play at quarterback, the 49ers finished the year 6-10. Entering the offseason, the 49ers have more free agents than any team in the NFL. The biggest transaction for the 49ers so far this offseason has been the loss of defensive coordinator Robert Saleh and passing game coordinator Mike LaFleur. Saleh was hired as the New York Jets’ new head coach, while LaFleur joined him as the offensive coordinator.

Pending Free Agents

The 49ers have a league-high 34 upcoming free agents. The number would be higher except the 49ers already re-signed eight players, including Josh Rosen and Jeff Wilson. According to Over the Cap, the 49ers project to have $13.4 million in cap space. With limited cap space and 34 free agents, the 49ers will have to get creative if they want to keep the core of their roster together.

Trent Williams, Offensive Tackle

When Joe Staley retired last offseason, the 49ers quickly traded for the former Washington franchise left tackle. Williams missed the entire 2019 season but started 14 games in 2020. However, he did have eight penalties for the second season in a row. Despite turning 33 years old this July, Williams is the 49ers’ top priority this offseason. Expect Williams back with the 49ers next season, no matter the cost.

Richard Sherman, Cornerback

Unlike Williams, it’s a guarantee that Sherman has played his final game as a 49er. He struggled with injuries last season and missed 11 games. Even when on the field, Sherman struggled this season. He gave up a 72.4 completion rate when targeted and four touchdowns in five games. By comparison, Sherman gave up two touchdowns in his first 29 games as a 49er. Sherman will be playing elsewhere in 2021.

Kyle Juszczyk, Fullback

Most teams don’t have a traditional fullback on the roster anymore, but the 49ers are an exception. Juszczyk is a critical part of Shanahan’s offense and was a top target of the 49ers shortly after they hired Shanahan. While he will turn 30 years old in April, the 49ers have publicly expressed their desire to re-sign Juszczyk. Unless the price gets out of hand, Juszczyk should be back next season.

Jaquiski Tartt, Safety

Tartt missed a career-high nine games last season. That wasn’t a surprise as Tartt hasn’t played a full 16 games once in his career. Furthermore, he has played in nine or fewer games in three of the last four years. Marcell Harris and Tarvarius Moore filled in nicely last season for Tartt, so expect them to battle it out for the starting role next season as Tartt will be playing elsewhere.

Nick Mullens, Quarterback (RFA)

While Jimmy Garoppolo is the 49ers’ starting quarterback, Mullens is a favorite of Shanahan’s. As a restricted free agent, the 49ers can match any contract he is offered or receive draft compensation in return. However, despite the quarterback merry-go-round that is happening this offseason, expect Mullens back in San Francisco next season and potentially as the starter.

Jason Verrett, Cornerback

After playing in only six of 64 possible games over the past four seasons, Verrett stayed mostly healthy in 2020, starting 13 games and had a career-high 60 tackles. With Sherman missing most of the season, Verrett stepped up as the 49ers’ top cornerback. Despite being targeted almost six times a game, Verrett only gave up 6.1 yards per target and one touchdown all season. While he’s coming off his best season as a pro, the 49ers have to be concerned about offering Verrett a new deal with his injury history.

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Potential Cap Casualties

While the 49ers are in a tight spot salary cap-wise, the team doesn’t have many potential cap casualties. Given the lack of options, fans shouldn’t expect many cap casualties this year. However, don’t be surprised if the team restructures or extends several players to create cap space.

Jimmy Garoppolo, QB ($23.6 Million Saved)

Moving on from Garoppolo is the easiest way to open up cap space for the 49ers. However, teams don’t typically move on from their starting quarterback without a replacement in mind. The 49ers could turn to Mullens (after re-signing him), but reports are the 49ers won’t move on from Jimmy G without upgrading at quarterback. Given that, expect Garoppolo to remain in San Francisco but potentially on a restructured deal.

Raheem Mostert, RB ($3.2 Million Saved)

A year ago at this time, Mostert appeared like the featured running back in San Francisco. However, after a year full of injuries, the future isn’t clear for Mostert, as the 49ers had success with several running backs this season. Between his injury-plagued season and the cap situation, Mostert might have to take a pay cut to be back with the 49ers next season.

Dee Ford, DE ($5.7 Million Saved)

If the 49ers release Ford before free agency starts, they will open up $5.7 million in cap space. However, if they release him with a post-June 1 designation, the 49ers can open up $12.3 million in cap space. Like several other 49ers, Ford dealt with injuries in 2020, missing 15 games with a back injury. After paying Arik Armstead last offseason, keeping Ford on the roster is a luxury the team can’t afford. Expect him to be released before free agency begins.

Open Market Free Agent Targets

Given the cap situation, the 49ers won’t be very active in free agency. Instead of targeting big-name players, fans can expect them to target cheaper veterans in the second and third waves of free agency. The two spots the 49ers need to target the most are the defensive line and secondary, as they have a combined 13 players hitting free agency at those positions.

Nick Easton, C, New Orleans Saints

Easton was a cap casualty by the Saints earlier this month but still has plenty of gas left in the tank. He has starting experience at both guard and center. While all three of the 49ers’ starting interior offensive linemen are under contract for next season, four of their backups are free agents. Adding Easton would give the 49ers depth at all three interior spots.

Vinny Curry, DE, Philadelphia Eagles

Even if the 49ers don’t release Ford, they have five defensive ends heading towards free agency. While Nick Bosa and Armstead are locked in as starters, the depth behind them is very thin. Despite playing only 28 percent of the snaps in Philadelphia last season, Curry had three sacks and 10 quarterback hits. His veteran presence would also be an added bonus to a mostly young defensive line unit.

A.J. Bouye, CB, Denver Broncos

Much like Easton, Bouye was a cap casualty by the Broncos earlier this month. In his only season as a Bronco, Bouye struggled, totaling only six passes defended while giving up two touchdowns in seven games. To make matters worse, he was suspended for a P.E.D violation to end the season and won’t be allowed to play in Week 1 of the 2021 season. However, the veteran could have a bounce-back season in San Francisco, much like Verrett did in 2020.

Josh Norman, CB, Buffalo Bills

Another veteran cornerback the 49ers could target is Norman, as he has experience in their defensive system. After four years in Washington, Norman signed a one-year deal with the Bills last offseason. In his only season in Buffalo, Norman played well as a role player. He gave only one touchdown all season long and scored a touchdown on his only interception of the year. Much like Bouye, Norman could be looking for an ideal spot to improve his value heading into the 2022 offseason.

Karl Joseph, SAF, Cleveland Browns

While Harris and Moore played well in Tartt’s place last season, both will be free agents after the 2021 season. Furthermore, the depth behind them and Jimmie Ward is thin at best. Joseph played well as a part-time starter for the Browns in 2020, totaling 67 tackles and two fumble recoveries while playing less than 60 percent of the snaps. However, the Browns have two good young starting safeties in Ronnie Harrison and Grant Delpit, making Joseph a luxury they can’t afford. Joseph will be looking for a starting role next season, and the 49ers can offer him an opportunity to start Week 1.

Previewing the Draft

During the 2020 NFL Draft, the 49ers acquired Williams from Washington for a fifth-round pick last year and their third-round pick this year. Without a third-round selection, the 49ers will likely look to move back and add picks during the draft. Much like free agency, expect the team to focus on the secondary and defensive line early in the draft. Most mock drafts have the 49ers taking a cornerback in the first round.

Round 1, Pick 12: Cornerback

There is a reason why everyone has the 49ers projected to take a cornerback in the first round. That is because they currently have two cornerbacks under contract for next season. To make matters worse, four of their top five cornerbacks are free agents, and none are a guarantee to be back in 2021. Fans are hopeful either Alabama’s Patrick Surtain II or Virginia Tech’s Caleb Farley make it to pick 12. However, if neither does, don’t be surprised to see the 49ers trade back and add more draft picks.

Round 2, Pick 43: Defensive Line

It shouldn’t surprise anyone if the 49ers take a cornerback with their second-round pick after selecting one in the first round; however, another critical need is the defensive line. When the 49ers went to the Superbowl in 2019, they have several excellent defensive linemen. However, since then, they traded DeForest Buckner to the Indianapolis Colts and will likely move on from Ford this offseason. While the draft lacks an elite defensive line prospect, like Chase Young from a year ago, it has plenty of depth. Thanks to the depth along the defensive line, the 49ers can wait till round two and still get a day one impact player.

Early 2021 Expectations

Early expectations for the 49ers are split. Some think the team would have been in the playoffs this year if not for all the injuries, while others believe their Super Bowl run two years ago was a fluke. The truth is somewhere in the middle. Hopefully, the 49ers will avoid the injury bug in 2021; however, if the defense regresses and the offense can’t pick up the slack, the 49ers will struggle to make the postseason. Fans shouldn’t expect the 49ers to win the NFC West as they have the worst quarterback in the division. However, if the defense returns to its 2019 form, they could make the playoffs as a Wild Card team.

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