SANTA CLARA, Calif. – The San Francisco 49ers face a crucial off-season for the future of the franchise and face numerous challenges when it comes to their roster.
The new league year kicks off on Wednesday and the legal negotiating window opens on Monday as the Niners attempt to regroup and prove that last year’s 6-10 record was an injury-related coincidence.
To that end, here are the four boxes that the Niners will need to tick in the coming weeks.
Again you sign Trent Williams and at least two from Jason Verrett, K’Waun Williams and Kyle Juszczyk
The 49ers got the ball rolling in this department on Sunday evening when they agreed on a five-year contract with Juszczyk. The team see him as a unique player they can use in ways most defenders don’t.
What happens to Trent Williams – ranked # 1 free agent in this year’s market by ESPN – will play an important role in shaping the off-season. The Niners remain confident that Williams will be back, and he recently expressed similar confidence in a return. It doesn’t get cheap, but it’s a necessity with other competitors like the Indianapolis Colts and the Kansas City Chiefs lurking.
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The markets for cornerbacks Verrett and K’Wuan Williams should vary a bit, but don’t be surprised if Williams gets a deal from someone like the New York Jets that pays him out among the best nickel corners in the league. That makes Verrett a better choice to stay, although his long injury history makes it difficult to forecast his market.
Even if the Juszczyk deal is closed, it seems unlikely to keep all four. If the Niners can re-sign Trent Williams and at least one of the other two outside Juszczyk, they should still have plenty of headroom to seek help elsewhere and prepare to draft a value in April.
Strengthen the quarterback depth map
Much has been said about what the Niners are up to at the most important position in the game, but so far they seem determined to keep reigning starter Jimmy Garoppolo behind. Backups Nick Mullens (limited) and CJ Beathard are set to free agency and there’s a good chance neither of them will return.
While we cannot rule out the possibility of Garoppolo’s Niners moving on, for now it is more pressing to see how they improve behind him. So if he stays and struggles with injuries again, the Niners won’t have another losing season.
The Niners currently have Garoppolo, Josh Rosen and Josh Johnson under contract. If Garoppolo stayed, it would be no surprise if the Niners added a veteran in the free agency or in commerce and drafted a development perspective.
Several reports have shown the Niners to be interested in New York Jets quarterback Sam Darnold. A deal for Darnold would probably not be to replace Garoppolo, but to bring in a backup of the starting caliber that could push him. Still, this would only be a match if the price wasn’t too exorbitant for Darnold because he can be a free agent after the next season.
Alternatively, the Niners could hit the base with some of the many seasoned quarterbacks that are slated to hit the market. Jacoby Brissett, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Andy Dalton, and Tyrod Taylor are among the options that would be another fascinating opportunity to benefit in the free agency with Mitchell Trubisky if the price is right. Gardner Minshew might be a cheaper alternative to trade.
Stay in the mix with more of their own free agents
While Trent Williams, K’Waun Williams and Verrett, as well as the already planned Juszczyk, are the main free hand targets, the Niners have plenty of others that they would love to keep if the price is right.
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After this quartet, people like Kerry Hyder Jr., DJ Jones, receiver Kendrick Bourne and Jaquiski Tartt will be interested.
The 49ers don’t have the cap to commit all of these people to true market value, but the market will likely be lukewarm than usual for the middle class of gamers, which means there might be a chance to keep some of these players at bargain prices One-year transactions.
Find free agent bargains
Of course, the potential bargains that might be available aren’t limited to ex-Niners hitting the market. With so many teams struggling to hit an 8% lower salary cap, good players are flooding the market and not all of them will be able to get the kind of contracts they would get in a normal off-season. One-year contracts may be more common than ever.
Two names to watch out for for the released Niners are Nickel cornerback Justin Coleman and wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders.
Coleman became one of the highest-paying slot corners in the league just two years ago, but the Detroit Lions parted ways with him to save costs. He played for the new 49er second coach Cory Undlin in Motor City and would be a logical possible fallback plan if K’Waun Williams leaves.
Sanders spent part of the 2019 season with the 49ers and it proved mutually beneficial before Sanders left as a free agent. It is available again a year later after the New Orleans Saints released it to make way for caps. Should Bourne leave and Sanders’ price is anywhere in the $ 3-4 million range, seeing the Niners again would make sense and allow him to work out of the slot alongside outsiders Deebo Samuel and Brandon Aiyuk.
Others who might not break the bank but could fit in well: center Alex Mack, defensive end Markus Golden, cornerback Casey Hayward and guard Kyle Long, who is reportedly retiring.
Bargains don’t have to be cheap either. It could be players who just aren’t getting the price they expected at the top of the market. This is why you’ve heard the Niners have been associated with names like Le’Veon Bell and Austin Hooper for the past several years, and they almost landed them.
Among those who fit this description and could fit in San Francisco: Defensive end Romeo Okwara, Bud Dupree and Carl Lawson, close end Jonnu Smith, center Corey Linsley and cornerback Mike Hilton.