The San Francisco 49ers are set to have 26 unrestricted free agents after the 2020 season. From prominent players like Richard Sherman and Trent Williams to players not in the spotlight that serve a critical role like K’Waun Williams and D.J. Jones. Let’s take a look at the nine-most important unrestricted free agents heading into next season. We won’t list George Kittle as the assumption is he’ll be extended before the end of the 2020 regular season.
10) WR Kendrick Bourne
Bourne is a fan favorite that earned the trust of his coaches down the stretch during the 2019 regular season. He’s lower on the list as I believe the 49ers will be able to bring Bourne back on a team-friendly deal. He’s valuable to the Niners. That doesn’t mean other teams feel the same.
9) WR Trent Taylor
Taylor being eighth has the potential to blow up in my face if we look back on this a year from now. Trent could stay healthy, be one of the most productive slot receivers in the NFL, and prove to be Jimmy Garoppolo’s security blanket. While Taylor has done that in bunches, he has to prove he can hold up for an entire season.
8) Edge Ronald Blair
Blair is a perfect backup, spot starter. As an edge rusher, he proved that he could get after the passer in 2019. Is Blair a player you want to start for an extended period? Probably not. That doesn’t mean he’s not serviceable, though. Blair is a pass-rusher that every team can use off the bench.
7) CB K’Waun Williams
Williams is a player I struggle with. For San Francisco, his value is undeniable. Robert Saleh doesn’t put Williams in positions where he can’t succeed. Williams is a fantastic blitzer, tackler, and in underneath coverage. In man coverage, Williams is fine, but you can get the best of him. That’s why he’s not higher on the list.
6) CB Ahello Witherspoon
From a talent perspective, Witherspoon would be top-3 on this list. Talent only gets you so far in the NFL. If you can’t be consistent, you’re not going to last. With that said, talent also buys you more time than others. Because Witherspoon has shown he can play at an extremely high level at one of the most important football positions, he gets the nod over Williams. I wouldn’t be surprised if another team would offer Witherspoon a surprising contract if he’s unable to beat Emmanuel Moseley.
5) DT D.J. Jones
How Jones progresses in 2020 will tell us a lot about him as a player. First and foremost, can he stay healthy? If not, he doesn’t give the 49ers much of a choice to re-sign him. If so, we’re looking at, potentially, one of the better one-techniques in the NFL. Jones showed enough as a pass rusher and is excellent against the run. To be higher than No. 5, we’ll need to see Jones develop into a more consistent pass rusher. With more opportunities, that’ll help. If the 49ers didn’t draft, Javon Kinlaw Jones would be facing more pressure and would be higher on the list.
4) S Jaquiski Tartt
December was ugly on defense, and it wasn’t just because one person was missing. Take the Falcons game, for example. Three of the four starters in the secondary didn’t play. The consistent theme throughout the month was Tartt wasn’t on the field. While he may not have the stats and takeaways, some other defensive backs have Tartt’s value showed up the most when he wasn’t on the field. The 49ers found out the hard way how much Tartt means to their defense.
3) FB Kyle Juszczyk
If we’re talking about any other team, we’re not including a fullback in the top-10. This is San Francisco, and Kyle Shanahan is calling the plays. Shanahan’s offense revolves around dictating what the defense can do with a fullback on the field. Juice isn’t just any fullback, though. He makes the run game go, and equally important, defenses have to respect Juszczyk as a receiver. I don’t think he’s going anywhere.
2) LT Trent Williams
Williams has all of the leverage. If he stays healthy, whether it’s the 49ers or another team, he’s going to cash in next off. If he’s banged up early on in the season but stays healthy throughout the 49ers playoff run, do they ignore the first few games and reward Williams with a lofty contract? There are so many different ways his season can play out.
1) Richard Sherman
Sherman is tops on the list for a few reasons. One, he’s an All-Pro and, despite his age, he’s going to be the most difficult player to replace. Behind Sherman, you have question marks and projections. What the 49ers do with Sherman next year will depend on how he looks this season. Sherman turned 32 in March. He’s a player that has never relied on elite athleticism, so I don’t think the “move Sherm to safety” holds much water. He’s going to be a cornerback. Will it be for the 49ers after this season, though?