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49ers free agency: Can the Niners afford to lose K’Waun Williams?

It’ll be difficult to replace one of the top slot cornerbacks in the NFL

San Francisco 49ers v Arizona Cardinals Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images

Football is a team sport where you need all 11 players on the field to do their job for a play to be successful. On occasion, plays work as one player goes above and beyond what he was asked to do. Execution separated the San Francisco 49ers defense from most teams in 2020. The talent drop-off from the season prior was noticeable, but the execution was not.

Robert Saleh is off to coach the New York Jets, and the likelihood of him taking a few Niners with him is high. One of those could be New Jersey native K’Waun Williams, who missed eight games this past season.

Williams isn’t going to impress a casual football watcher as he’s rarely in the interception column. Outside of a sack on a ‘shark’ blitz, you may never notice Williams unless you’re watching him every play.

For what the 49ers ask their slot cornerback to do, it’d be tough to find someone who could do a better job than Williams. He was targeted this past season 14 times, allowing 3.8 yards per target, and broke up four of those passes. Williams had one more tackle behind the line of scrimmage than Javon Kinlaw and one fewer TFL than Arik Armstead.

You’d have no idea Williams was 185 pounds by the way he plays the run. His average depth of tackle was at 2.6 yards, and Williams only missed one tackle all season. Then we get into how proficient a pass rusher Williams was during his career, and man, who replaces him? I’m not sure there’s an upgrade available this offseason.

What would Williams cost?

Williams missed eight games this year, one in 2019 and two games in the previous two seasons with the 49ers. He hasn’t played 16 games in his five-year career. That’s notable, as teams have to factor in health when it comes to contract discussions. Williams will also turn 30 this year.

The last contract Williams signed was a three-year, $8.5 million deal. He’ll make more this time around, but I’m not sure how much more. It’s difficult to project a market for Williams with his age and injury history, which is why many believe it’ll come down to the 49ers and the Jets, where Robert Saleh came up with a blitz named after K’Waun.

It doesn’t help that the salary cap is expected to be lower than usual this offseason, which could hurt veteran players looking to cash in on their final deals. Would that be enough to bring Williams back, or will he demand more on the market?

San Francisco doesn’t have the cap room as some other teams have, but they have familiarity, culture and have helped Williams develop as a player. We’ll find out if that’ll be enough to bring back one of the top slot cornerbacks in the NFL.