The San Francisco 49ers’ list could look very different in 2022 – NFL Nation

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SANTA CLARA, California – After their run for Super Bowl LIFE in 2019, the San Francisco 49ers promised to keep as many of their players as possible. When injuries ruined the following season and COVID-19 led to the bottom falling out of the salary cap, the Niners were once again able to bring back many of their own free agents, even those they suspected would be gone.

Now that the cape is jumping back closer to normal, and several former Niners coaches are running their own teams, the chances of that happening again seem low. That’s why after the San Francisco relegation to the Los Angeles Rams in the NFC Championship Game, there was a clear sense from general manager John Lynch and coach Kyle Shanahan that the 2022 list will look very different with 33 players put to some sort of fri. agency.

“I thought about it at the beginning of the year,” said free safety Jimmie Ward. “It’s the business side. Every year the team will change. There will be someone who either goes to another team and it’s always a heartbreaker.”

As it stands, the 49ers are expected to be above the $ 208 million salary cap, but they can – and will – take steps to come under before the new league year opens on March 16th.

While what happens to quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo will help shape how the offseason plays out, there are plenty of other things for the 49ers to deal with. There are important free agents they would like to bring back (guard Laken Tomlinson, defensive tackle DJ Jones and defensive lineman Arden Key are three) and positions (cornerback, offensive line and edge rusher) that could use a jolt.

It’s unlikely that Niners will be able to do all that in free agency, which means there are some tough decisions on the way. What is not done in the next few weeks can be addressed in the NFL draft, where the Niners do not have a pick in the first round but have three on day 2.

“It’s a blessing and a curse that we have a lot of really talented players, but the reality is that the whole league is really close,” Lynch said. “We’re still getting away from the economic realities of the pandemic and what it did to the cap. And I think we’re also equipped to hold on to people. So it’s starting with our people who’s on our list. It’s prioritizing who is most important to this team. “

There is little doubt that among Niner’s free agents, Tomlinson’s top priority. Quietly, Tomlinson has been one of the best acquisitions of the Lynch and Shanahan era. After a disappointing start to his career in Detroit, the No. 28 pick arrived in the 2015 draft via trade before the start of the 2017 season and almost instantly became the team’s most reliable player. Tomlinson started his first game in Week 2 of 2017 and has not missed a page, earning his first Pro Bowl spot in 2021.

“I love this,” Tomlinson said. “I’ve seen myself evolve into the man, the player, the man, the father, the character I am today. And it all started with being traded here to the 49ers … I would love to stay, but I know it. “It’s a business and we have to see what happens.”

The business side expects to take Tomlinson’s award far beyond the $ 5.5 million annual salary he has earned over the past three years. Something closer to $ 9-10 million a year is probably on the way with lots of teams expected to be in the market for a productive and reliable lineman.

“When you talk about consistency and durability, he’s a bit like the poster kid for it,” Lynch said. “We will make an effort to try to keep him.”

Like Tomlinson, Jones has been one of the Niners’ impeccable heroes. The 2017 pick in the sixth round was finally healthy for an entire season in 2021, posting career highs in snaps, pressure and tackles for losses, while proving to be one of the best run-stuffing-nose tackles in the league. He was also a free agent last year, but a competitive market never really developed for his services, and he returned on a one-year deal.

Like Tomlinson, Jones would like to return, but if the Niners resurrect Tomlinson, it’s hard to see how they can get Jones back in the puzzle unless his market stalls again.

“If his goal was to stay here, he made it really hard,” Lynch told reporters at the NFL Scouting Combine. “I think it’s going to be challenging. We’ll see where it leads. We’ll definitely appreciate him.”

Key, cornerbacks K’Waun Williams and Jason Verrett, safety Jaquiski Tartt, running backs Raheem Mostert and Jeff Wilson Jr. and offensive lineman Tom Compton is just a handful of other 49ers who played major roles in 2021 who were to become unlimited free agents.

Outside of their own, Niners are not expected to be significant players in the market for free agents in terms of volume. That does not mean they will at least not kick the tires in some need.

With Garoppolo almost certainly on his way out, a veteran quarterback like Tyrod Taylor or Marcus Mariota would make lots of sense.

And while Ambry Thomas showed promise at the end of last season, the Niners could be in the market for an upgrade or at least a new nickel corner capable of playing outside. New England’s JC Jackson will be the available top corner, but will likely be out of the Niners’ financial reach. Veterans like Carolina’s Stephon Gilmore and Kansas City’s Charvarius Ward are a few possible fits, depending on the cost.

No matter how it all plays out, the 49ers expect to look a whole lot different in 2022 than they have done the past three seasons.

“I trust John and Kyle and I feel like they’re likely to offer some of the guys they want that they feel can help us win a ring in the 2022-2023 season,” Ward said.

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