28 May Christmas in June?
Did I say this would be short? Look’s like I was wrong again!
While the 49ers did very well in phase 1 of free agency and the draft, I’m pretty sure that we will receive more gifts, on or after June 1st.
Wide Receivers Room:
The 49ers have Brandon Aiyuk as their WR1 & DeeBo Samuel as their WR2. Then, there are 9 other WRs who could be solid, but no sure thing for WR3. Jalen Hurd is officially injury-prone. Jauan Jennings & Austin Watkins are unproven. Sherfield is mostly special teams. Sanu & Benjamin are past their prime. Richie James is a solid receiver, but just can’t seem to block well. River Cracraft is uninspiring. Especially, after he massive TD drop vs the Green Bay Packers. Benny Fowler hasn’t had a TD since he had one, single, solitary TD, in 2018. the team could very well end up with several solid WRs out this group. I think Hurd, Sherfield, James, Watkins & maybe Jennings are the most likely to make it. The problem is that they could also end up with none, so we need to add proven WR3, who isn’t washed up.
Falcons WR Julio Jones is very expensive. Probably around a 2nd round pick + $15 million in 2021, $11 million in 2022 and $11 million in 2023. Julio had a pulled hamstring in 2020 that caused him to miss 8 games, but since 2014, he has only missed 4 other games. His injury issues have been overblown in my opinion. You can find a cheaper WR3, but if DeeBo or Aiyuk miss time, Julio can replace either with little to no loss of production. The risk is that he’s 32, which is when most mortal receivers begin to decline. I believe that Julio’s juice is worth the proverbial squeeze.
Former Jets WR Jamison Crowder is less expensive. I’m not sure what it would take to trade for him. Since the Jets would save $10 million in 2021 cap space, they might just cut him. Crowder is 4 years younger than Julio, but he’s never had a 900 yard receiving season and averages just under 700 yards and less than 5 TDs per season. Depending on how much he’s willing to come down from $ 11 Million, Crowder could be a very solid option for slot WR3. We probably shouldn’t hold his performance with the Jets, against him too much.
Former Jaguars WR Dede Westbrook is even less expensive, due to just coming off of rookie contract & being a free agent. Westbrook also has the lowest production. It’s concerning is that he tore his ACL in October of 2020 and hasn’t even practiced since then. Even more concerning, are the reports of domestic violence issues. Too many red flags for me.
Former Giants WR Golden Tate made about $4.7 million in 2020, He’d likely less with the 49ers, as he is still an unsigned free agent. Tate is tough receiver who would fit into Shanny’s system nicely, as long he still has some gas in the tank, After 11 seasons in the NFL., he might be my favorite value for WR.
Defensive Linemen Room:
In 2020, the defensive line sprung many leaks and was decimated. San Francisco traded away Deforest Buckner (DeFO) DT to the Colts. DE Dee Ford injured his back in week 1 and DE Nick Bosa / DT Solomon Thomas tore their ACLs in week 2. DT Javon Kinlaw showed some flashes with 4 batted balls & pick-6, but 1.5 sacks was disappointing, compared to many people’s unfair expectations of the rookie. DE/DT Arik Armstead (AA) also suffered with just 3.5 sacks, due to a lack of legitimate edge rush presence, which kept him from rushing as much from DT, where he is most effective, going 1 on 1 with guards. DE Kerry Hyder had 8.5 sacks, but he wasn’t as good as that stat might have you believe.
In 2021 the team appears to have plugged most of leaks. The defensive line lost DE Hyder, DT Solly and may lose DT Givens to an legal issues, but other than them, the team was able to keep: DT DJ Jones (run-stuffer extraordinaire) & DE Jordan Willis (showed promise in 2020) who were free agents. The team is welcoming back DE Nick Bosa (was DROY in 2019 and maybe top 5i DE) and maybe DE Dee Ford (one of the best speed rush DEs), as well. The team signed DE Samson Ebukam (aka Sosa) from the Los Angeles Rams, who has surprising power, for a speed rusher and should fit into the wide-9 system very well (Ford insurance). The 49ers also signed DT Zach Kerr from the Panthers, who led their defensive line with the highest PFF rating in 2020. Kerr is solid run-stopper, who can pressure the QB surprisingly well. DT Maurice “Mo” Hurst & DE Arden Key were solid additions from the Raiders. Mo is very solid & Key just needs to be unlocked by defensive lineman guru Chris Kocurek. The 49ers’ defensive line should be miles better than 2020, as Kinlaw, DJ Jones, Kerr, Mo & AA all benefit from better edge/DE pressure, but probably not quite to the level of the 2019 defensive line. With Bosa a slight question mark (more when, than if, he he will get back to 100%), Ford a much larger one and Willis still developing, the team will probably still need to add to add a veteran DE.
DE Free Agents:
Former Colts DE Justin Houston is probably the best and most consistent option. He has had 8 or more sacks, the last 4 seasons, but 2021 will be his 11th season and he will be 32. His last deal was 2 years for $24 million. The team should/would have to be able to get him for less.
Former Chargers DE Melvin Ingram is another solid DE option. He had 7 or more sacks from 2015 – 2019, but was injured in 2020. Like Houston, he will be 32 in 2021, but he has played less games overall, so perhaps less wear & tear His last deal was $16 milllion per year, so he would have to come down a lot. Hopefully, he’d like to go from playing across from Joey Bosa, to playing across from his younger, better, brother Nick!
Forner Browns DE Olivier Vernon is a very solid option. With the exception of 2019, when he only played 10 games, Vernon has had 6.5 or more sacks every year from 2013 – 2020 (9). He was on an $11 million deal, for 2020, so he might actually be the most affordable. I listed him 3rd, but he might actually be the best option for a free agent DE.
In 2020 the team signed Jordan Reed as their TE2 and drafted Charlie Woerner to go along with George Kittle and Ross Dwelley, Jordan Reed was great pick up, but he missed 6 games with a sprained MCL. Pair that with Kittle’s 8 weeks of absences (2 weeks MCL + 6 weeks broken foot) and they barely played together.
Sadly, in 2021 Jordan Reed retired after the 2020 season, due to concussion concerns. Woerner worked out all offseason, in the lab with Kittle. That, along with having a full offseason in 2021, should really help his development, but the team can’t count on him — yet. The 49ers also signed UDFA TE Josh Pederson, who flashed in 2019, but was not from a Power 5 conference, so he may need more time to adjust to the speed of the NFL. Ross Dwelley is a solid receiving TE (quick with great hands), but he’s slow & doesn’t block well. The roster could probably use a proven TE2.
Zach Ertz wants out of the Eagles, so he shouldn’t cost much trade capital, but he is on the decline, with only 335 yards (just 4.7 yards per target) and 1 TD in 2020. He would need to come down from $8.5 million per year, but could be a good veteran move TE2 option.
Former Jaguars tight end Tyler Eiffert had similar production to Ertz in 2020, with 349 yards & 2 TDs, but just under $5 million per year, on his last deal. He’s not a strong blocker, but better than Ertz, or Dwelley.
Former Lions tight end Jesse James had pretty good production with the Steelers, in 2017 & 2018, but playing behind TJ Hockenson in Detroit hurt his numbers in 2019 & 2020. He’s a pretty good blocker and probably very affordable as his last contract was $5.5 million per year. The 49ers can likely get him for a lot less.
In 2020, when healthy, CBs were the strength of the team. Jason Verrett was signed to a veteran minimum deal due to injury concerns and ended up as the team’s best defender. Emmanuel Moseley was solid, but many of us had hoped for more than that. K’waun Williams is still one the best Nickel CBs, but he missed 8 games with injury. Jamar Taylor filled in nicely for K’waun, which was quite a big surprise, due to 6 teams passing on him in 7 seasons prior to him joining the 49. Sadly Jamar’s stellar season was cut short playing against the Rams, when he tore his ACL.. Akhello Witherspoon played pretty well vs the Dolphins, but the game was already out of hand. He played lights out at the Cowboys, vs the Cardinals & vs the Seahawks. I was very sad to see Spoon go. I think he really turned the corner by learning to turn his head. He always maintained very good position, but rarely located the ball to make a play. That seemed to change in his final 3 games with with SF. Spoon joined the Seahawks for the 2021 season for just $4 million. Richard Sherman injured his calf week 1 and ended up missing 11 games. Sherm’s absence turned out to be addition by subtraction. When he was out, the team was able to play more man to man coverage, which allowed them to blitz more.
In 2021 the 49ers drafted Ambry Thomas CB/KR/PR Michigan with their 102nd overall pick & Deommodore Lenoir CB Oregon with their 172nd overall pick. Both CB prospects look very promising, but CB is one the toughest positions to adjust to in the NFL, so we can’t count on either of them for 2021, yet. Ambry could challenge Moseley for the CB2 & Lenoir might challenge K’waun for Nickel CB, but they also might not ever get there. Adding a proven, veteran, CB would be a smart move.
CB Free Agents
Former Steelers cornerback Stephen Nelson – I was shocked when they released him. Nelson is very solid, to great, man coverage CB, who was making just $8.5 million per year. Hopefully the 49ers can get him for around that price. It is hard to imagine him signing for less. I hope they can find a way to make it work.
Former 49ers cornerback Richard Sherman – Sherm is a great locker room leader, but his contributions on the field have declined, so I don’t know how he’s worth to SF. He is still a very solid zone CB, but he simply can’t play man to man. Maybe as a FS, but even though he’s very smart / savvy, I don’t believe he’s fast enough to play single-high safety formations. His last contract was $9 million per year, but he would need to take quite a bit less for it to make sense for SF to re-sign him. The team needs depth, but they can probably find a better fit for less.
Former Chiefs conerback Bashaud Breeland – Breeland is a pretty good corner (above average man to man), but he has had some off the field issues. His price is definitely right at $2.5 million, although some players take less to play for the Chiefs. His on field performance definitely merits more than that.
Former Raiders/Texans cornerback Gareon Conley – Conley (26) is young compared to most of the CB free agents, but that’s about the best thing I can say, other than 3 INTs in 2018 and better in man, than zone. Like Breeland, he’s about $2.5 million per year.
In 2020, Jimmie Ward was great. He played FS, then moved to SS when Tartt went down. Ward has been pretty durable in both 2019 & 2020 after a string of broken bones to start his career. SS Jaquiski Tartt is extremely smart and is a hard-hitter. His coverage skills are excellent too. He can play SS, but he’s more of SS. Tartt missed 11 games in 2020 and has averaged just 9 games per season recently. The defense suffers noticeably when he’s out. SS Marcell Harris is a big hitter for his size, but might be better suited to SAM LB, due to not being strong in coverage. FS Tarvarius Moore has elite speed & can deliver big hits. The problem is that he sometimes runs fast in the wrong direction, as he takes bad angles a little too often. I had high hopes for Alabama UDFA FS/DB Jared Mayden, but so far he hasn’t seen much action.
In 2021 we drafted USC S Talanoa Hufanga with their 180th overall pick. Hufanga is big hitter, a playmaker & effective at blitzing. The only concerns are size (around 200LBS), coverage & injuries. He could end up being a poor man’s Jamal Adams — and maybe not that poor! If so, he would be one of the biggest steals of the draft. That will probably take time. For now, the team needs depth behind Ward at FS. If Tartt continues to be fragile, they may need Ward to play SS again (I actually prefer him there).
FS Free Agents:
Former Saints FS DJ Swearinger – His production hasn’t been great in 2019 & 2020, but he was a ball hawk from 2016 – 2018. Hi last contract was just over $1 million, so the price is right.
Former Chiefs/Seahawks S Tedric Thompson – is young and has shown flashes. You know that I’m in favor of any Teds!
In 2020, the 49ers LBs were pretty darn solid. Fred Warner had a career year as the MIKE LB (QB of the D). Dre Greenlaw (WILL LB ) was also solid, but he regressed a little from his 2019 stellar rookie debut season. Like Arik Armsteas, it was probably due to less productive defensive line play and Dre also missed 5 games with a quad contusion . Azeez Al Shaair (SAM LB) improved his play, from 2019, but he still remains replaceable.
In 2021 San Francisco signed 2 UDFA LBs – Justin Hilliard from Ohio State & Eiljah Sullivan from Kansas. Hilliard is highly skilled, but he’s neither fast, nor big and has durability concerns. Sullivan is bigger & faster, but also has durability concerns to a lesser extent. One UDFA LB, from 2020 to keep an eye on is Jonas Griffith from Indiana State. Griffith is big & fast (very similar measurables to Fred Warner) and was an All-American. The 49ers almost lost Jonas when the Colts signed him to their PS, in 2020. I’m so happy that they got him back and I think that you will be as well. Marcell Harris played some SAM LB in 202o and Hufanga might be a good fit there in addition to SS, but if Fred or Dre miss time, the team might need more proven veteran LB depth.
LB Free Agents
KJ Wright LB Seahawks – Talk about your classic win – win scenario! We would bolster the middle our D greatly, while depleting our biggest, most hated, divisional rival’s squad. KJ is very talented, but also expensive at $7 million per year. KJ even said he would no problem joining us. Fingers crossed!
In 2020 the 0ffensive line was injured — especially at center. Weston Richburg never recovered from knee & shoulder surgery, he missed the entire season and will retire June 1st. Ben Garland missed 11 games. Daniel Brunskill filled in at C, but he was not starting-caliber. The team brought in Hronis Grasu off the street and his performance was poor, as you might expect. While Brunny played C, he played musical chairs at right guard. Rookie Colton McKiivitz, Justin Skule & Tom Compton all took turns, but none of them was even average. Laken Tomlinson & Mike McGlinchey were both very effective at run-blocking and pretty poor in pass-blocking, but at least they both stayed healthy. Trent Williams was the lone shining star of the O-line. He was top 5 (maybe even top 3) in both pass blocking and run blocking. Arguably the best LT in the NFL. The 40ers were the top rated run blocking O -line, but somewhere between 22nd & 25th for pass-protection.
In 2021 the 49ers signed Trent Williams to a blockbuster deal, making him the highest paid LT ever. 6 years for $138.006 million = $23.001 million per year and $55 million guaranteed. Shortly after signing Trent, they signed former Atlanta Falcons center Alex Mack, who should be a big boost to pass-blocking as an individual, but also by calling out O-line blocking assignments, which should help all 4 other positions (LT, LG, RG & RT) to play better as well. The team drafted G Aaron Banks from Notre Dame at 48th overall & T/G Jaylon Moore from Western Michigan at 155th overall. Banks looks to be a week 1 starter, allowing Brunny to be the ideal 6th O-lineman, who can play all 5 positions. Moore should challenge Laken by 2022 or sooner. Perhaps Brunny will be groomed as the heir apparent at center, but until he has improved, the team might need a better backup for Alex Mack, who will 36 this season. They have McKivitz & Skule as possible swing Tackles, but Skule struggled at LT vs the Packers in both 2019 & 2020. Shon Coleman is another option for swing T, but he missed 2019, with a broken ankle & opted out of 2020, due to Covid concerns. Adding a veteran Tackle &/or a veteran Center might make sense.
Free Agent Centers
Ben Garland Niners – makes sense, since he already knows the system and should be cheap. Injuries are a concern, though.
Joe Looney Cowboys/Niners – Looney is more expensive than Garland, about $2.5 millionm, but he’s probably worth it.
Daniel Kilgore Chiefs/Niners – not as athletic as we usually prefer, but played pretty well for the Chiefs recently.
Free Agent Tackles:
Mitchel Scwhartz RT Chiefs – he was their best O-lineman, but he had back surgery in February of 2021. He was making $8 mllion per year, but might be available for less. Back injuries are very risky though (See Dee Ford).
Morgan Moses RT WFT – Very solid performer & very dependable (played 16 games every year, since 2015). Was making $7.7 million per season & might be worth more than that. Moses is my favorite option, to be our O-line’s 10th commandment!
Russell Okung LT Panthers/Chargers – Very skilled, but also very expensive, at $13 million most recently. Maybe SF could get him for a little bit less?
Jason Peters Eagles – He tried to retire in 2020, but the Eagles brought him back. He could be a good swing T, if he would take less than $4 million.
Dennis Kelly Titans – Could be a solid run blocking option, especially if he will come down some, from nearly $6 million per year on his last deal.
Running Backs room:
In 2020 SF’s RBs were devastated by injuries. Raheem Mostert, JaMycal Hasty & Tevin “TeCo” Coleman all missed 8 games each. Jeff Wilson Jr “JWJ” missed 4 games. Jerick “Jet” McKinnon had “tired legs” for a couple of games, as well. Only Kyle “Juice” Juszczyk avoided injury. The team didn’t re-sign Jet and the Jets signed TeCo. In 2021, the 49ers signed Wayne Gallman (well rounded), who filled in well for the NY Giants when Saquon Barkley tore his ACL in 2020. The 49ers also drafted Trey Sermon (bruiser) from Ohio State at 48th overall and Elijah Mitchell (burner) from Louisiana at 194th overall. Now they have 6 RBs for just 4, or less likely 5, roster spots. As of Monday 5/24, they appeared to have a log jam at RB. On Tuesday 5/25 news broke that JWJ had recently undergone knee surgery, to repair a torn meniscus. The good news is that repairing the meniscus should add more durability. The bad news is that the recovery time (4-6 months) is longer, than if you shave the meniscus down. The silver lining is that JWJ should be back, with fresh legs, just in time for the stretch run &/or the playoffs. Luckily, the 49ers still have 5 RBs for 4, or 5, spots, so they should be set, but in case of more injuries, let’s take a look at some options.
RB Free Agents:
Todd Gurley Falcons/Rams – still a tough runner, even if just a rotational RB. Good for short yardage & goal line, which could be a need, if Sermon goes down. Would need to be less than $5 million, that he got in 2020.
Adrian Peterson -not much left in the tank, but also not much cost. Only $1ish million in 2020.
Le’Veon Bell – Has declined, but still a solid dual threat RB. Was under $1 million, with the Chiefs, in 2020. Hopefully wouldn’t need much more to play with SF.
Duke Johnson Texans – Younger (27) dual threat RB. Very dangerous receiver, but would need to take less than $5 million per year, that he got on his last contract.
Frank Gore Jets – We definitely need to bring him back, for at least a day, once he’s ready to retire, as a Niner. If he has enough left in the tank, then that seems like a good enough reason for the 49ers should sign Frank the Tank for the whole season!
In 2020 the 49ers QBs were ravaged by injuries. Jimmy G suffered a high ankle sprain week 2 at the Jets. He played heroically on it for almost the entire 1st half, while scoring 21 points, which was more than enough to win the game. Mullens replaced Jimmy and played well in week 3, at the Giants. Week 4 vs the Eagles Mullens was awful. He had a pick, a lost fumble & a pick-six, which cost SF the game. Jimmy was allowed to start week 5 vs the Dolphins, before his ankle had healed properly and it was no bueno. Week 6 vs the Rams #1 defense, Jimmy went 23/33 69% (nice) completion rate, for 268 yards, 3 TDs & 0 INTs, with a 124 passer rating, a very impressive performance. Week 7 vs the Patriots Jimmy went 20/25 80% completion rate and handed Bill Belichick his worst home loss as the Patriots head coach. Week 8 at Seahawks Grasu & SF’s IOL folded against Bobby Wagner’s blitzes, leading to Jimmy spraining his ankle again . Mullens also cost SF the WFT game, where he had a pick-six and a fumble-six. Week 15 at Cowboys, Mullens had a lost fumble & and an INT before getting injured. CJ Beathard actually did OK — throwing 3 TDs to beat Kyler Murray and the Cardinals in week 16, then losing narrowly to the Seahawks in week 17, mostly due to us not having K’waun Williams to lockdown Lockett who scored TDs against Warner & Spoon, who lack the speed and quickness to cover him.
In 2021, the 49ers traded their #12 overall pick in 2021 + our 2022 1st round pick + a 2022 compensatory 3rd round pick + a 2023 1st round pick, for the Dolphins 2021 #3 overall pick. With that pick they selected Trey Lance, QB from North Dakota State University. They also added Josh Rosen & Nate Sudfeld to compete for the QB3 role. Now they have a proven winner in Jimmy G, if he can just stay healthy + a hot, young, mobile, QB prospect with a big arm, to challenge Jimmy, even if he does stay healthy. Probably no need for more QB moves, unless Aaron Rodgers or DeShaun Watson become available.
The 49ers obviously can’t sign all the most expensive “gifts”. Julio alone would require them to re-structure some deals, but they could add some important depth, at several positions, if they are smart about our post June 1st spending. There will likely be additional low price options that I didn’t list by then, for many of their wants and/or needs.