Set It and Forget It: Do the 49ers Have Any Positions They Don't Need to Address?
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Going into the 2021 offseason, the San Francisco 49ers faced major questions at important positions on the roster. Chief among them: Would left tackle Trent Williams be returning? How would the front office address the secondary? And, would the team be successful in finding a pass rusher opposite Nick Bosa?
In a surprising flurry of moves, cornerbacks Emmanuel Moseley, Jason Verrett, and K’Waun Williams were all retained, the latter two on one-year deals. Strong safety Jaquiski Tartt was also brought back on a one-year deal, successfully retaining one of the NFL's best cover groups.
The front office was equally aggressive at pass rusher. The 49ers renegotiated defensive end Dee Ford's contract, reducing his salary from $16 million to a fully guaranteed $7 million, a move that cleared $11 million in salary cap space. While the 49ers believe Ford will be available for the 2021 season, they still pursued a reliable option opposite Nick Bosa in Samson Ebukam, formerly of the Los Angeles Rams. In limited duty with the Rams, Ebukam has been one of the most efficient pass rushers in the NFL, so he should provide a stable, consistent pass rush opposite Bosa for the 2021 season.
After missing the entire 2020 season following knee and shoulder surgeries, center Weston Richburg also had his contract renegotiated with the 49ers. While full details of the deal haven't been made public, the restructure cleared $6.875 million in cap space. Richburg is expected to retire following an injury-plagued stint with the 49ers, so to address the hole at center the Niners signed former Falcons center Alex Mack, who has experience playing under Shanahan in both Cleveland and Atlanta.
The biggest move of the offseason, though, is the re-signing of left tackle Trent Williams. Following the trade from Washington, Williams picked up where he left off, playing atan All-Pro level in his first year in San Francisco. Looking at the 2020 offense, it would be easy to say Williams was the best and most consistent player to take the field for San Francisco. While Williams had interest from other teams, notably from Kansas City, the 49ers were able to retain him on a six-year $138 million contract, making him the highest paid left tackle in NFL history. If Williams had left via free agency, then left tackle would have been the biggest question the 49ers would have faced heading into the draft. By retaining Williams, they have given themselves flexibility to pursue the best player available.
While the 49ers have done an admirable job retaining their own free agents and bringing in players to fill holes on the roster there are still a few question marks that remain, specifically right guard. The expectation is that the jack-of-all-trades Daniel Brunskill will be the starter there. The former swing tackle filled in at right guard and at center during the 2020 season, and while he showed signs of growth he still struggled at times at the unfamiliar positions. Another option at right guard is second-year player Colton McKivitz; the former West Virginia lineman lacks the preferred length to play tackle in the NFL but could slot in at guard and may be the team’s long-term plan at that position. Questions still surround Brunskill and McKivitz, so expect the 49ers to draft an interior offensive lineman at some point in the upcoming draft.
Another area of concern on the roster is the depth at the cornerback position. Behind Moseley and Verrett the cupboard is thin, as the Niners currently have Adonis Alexander, Briean Boddy- Calhoun, Tim Harris, and Dontae Johnson. To say that group is inexperienced is being kind; Johnson and Boddy-Calhoun are the only two who have played meaningful snaps in the NFL. Harris has been a practice squad mainstay for the 49ers, and Alexander has bounced around the NFL since being selected by Washington in the 2018 supplemental draft.
While the 49ers have given themselves the flexibility to pursue any position in the draft, I would fully expect the team to target interior offensive lineman and cornerbacks with either their remaining cap space or draft capital.
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