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SANTA CLARA, Calif. – Given the scale of the league – rattling move the San Francisco 49ers made to get their future quarterback, it’s hard to call an offseason more critical than what they did in 2021.
But in part because novice caller Trey Lance did not take over after the Niners switched up to No. 3 to draft him, this offseason is almost as important. Many of the decisions coach Kyle Shanahan, general manager John Lynch and their staffs make this offseason will be geared to help Lance in 2022, when he will likely take over as the long-term starter.
With that in mind, here’s a look at what the Niners need to do to become a Super Bowl challenger again.
Extensions to Bosa and Deebo
As in recent years with people like tight-end George Kittle and linebacker Fred Warner, the Niners have two franchise centerpieces due to massive contract extensions: defensive end Nick Bosa and wide back Deebo Samuel. Like Kittle and Warner, appointments for both are unlikely to happen before late summer.
Still, the Niners have planned for both.
“We fully understand that these guys are the cornerstones of what we’re trying to do here,” Lynch said. “We’ve been blessed to be aggressive because we’ve had a lot of players who we think are some of the best in the league for what they do. And these guys are no different … I” I am sure we will find a way to get it done.
Get quarterback clarity ASAP
The idea that the Niners will once again retain starter Jimmy Garoppolo is far outweighed by San Francisco’s efforts to publicly maintain that piece of leverage. Garoppolo, meanwhile, expects to be traded and would like to say where he lands.
“I have a long career ahead of me,” Garoppolo said. “I’m excited about the opportunities that are coming. I just want to go somewhere where they want to win.”
There does not appear to be a shortage of new playoff challengers in need of a quarterback. Pittsburgh, Washington, Denver, New Orleans, Tampa Bay and Indianapolis are just a handful of the teams that could be in the Garoppolo market.
Ideally, a trade would come together sooner rather than later, though it may not become official until the new league year opens on March 16th. This would give the Niners some assurance of how much cap space they have to negotiate with their free agents and earn outside. additions. It would also allow Garoppolo to help manage his destination before this year’s game of quarterback musical chairs stops.
It would also clear the pile for Lance to move on as the starter and give San Francisco a chance to find a skilled veteran backup – Tyrod Taylor, perhaps? – in free bureau.
Determine the salary cap
As it stands, the Niners expect to enter the new league year with about $ 10 million above the salary cap. They must be in line with their top 51 paid players by March 16th.
Resolving the Garoppolo situation is the most important part of the Niners’ off-season financial equation, as trading with him would instantly save $ 25.55 million.
Defensive Dee Ford is another expected departure, though his situation is more complicated. Ford had a $ 4.6 million roster bonus full warranty on Feb. 15 due to an injury, meaning Niners can only save $ 2.4 million by releasing him. That saving can only be realized by including a designation after June 1 and can not be used until after that date.
Which means the Niners, in addition to moving Garoppolo, will have to explore other avenues to create cap space. The most common way to do this would be with simple contract restructurings (converting basic salaries into signing bonuses that can be spread over the remaining years of a contract). Kittle, defensive lineman Arik Armstead and free safety Jimmie Ward are among the targets for such a move, where the Niners can save up to about $ 24 million by restructuring their contracts.
Doing all of these things could give the Niners about $ 40 million in ceiling for 2022.
hold their own
Once again, the 49ers have a long list – 33 players – ready to hit some form of free agency. Among the planned unlimited free agents are left-back Laken Tomlinson, cornerbacks Jason Verrett and K’Waun Williams, defensive tackle DJ Jones, safety Jaquiski Tartt, defensive end Arden Key and running back Raheem Mostert. Linebacker Azeez Al-Shaair leads the group of restricted free agents.
Last year, when the pandemic kept the wage ceiling down and pushed the market, Niners kept more free agents than expected. Similar factors may be at stake this year, but players like Tomlinson, Jones and Key should have plenty of suitors.
Retaining that trio should be top priority, but even retaining two of the three would be considered a win.
External help on the offensive and on the cornerback
Depending on how much cap flexibility Niners can create, what they budget for with Samuel and Bosa and what free agents they can keep, they should also seek help at the cornerback and on the inside of the offensive line. Maybe they will have to wait until the NFL draft for such a reinforcement, and with three picks on Day 2 (but none in the first round), they have the resources to continue adding in those places.
If they can figure out a way to make it work, the addition of a free agent cornerback in free agency could vault the Niners’ defense to one of the league’s best. That doesn’t mean they have to spend the type of money that would go to a top-free agent like New England’s JC Jackson or Tampa Bay’s Carlton Davis if any of them hit the open market. But a proven veteran who wants to be expensive but not bank-breaking on a shorter deal (think Carolina’s Stephon Gilmore) would make a lot of sense.