The San Francisco 49ers know they will have to save some cap space for arguably three of their dest defensive players.
The Niners will have to pay Fred Warner, Dre Greenlaw and Nick Bosa over the next couple of years. Greenlaw and Bosa will be eligible for a new deal after next season. General manager John Lynch and head coach Kyle Shanahan have said they are already working on an extension with Warner, who is eligible now that he has accrued more than three NFL seasons.
It’s going to be expensive to retain Warner. The 24-year-old named an AP first-team All-Pro for his efforts during the 2020 campaign. It was a breakout season for Warner. He finished with 125 tackles (five for a loss), seven QB hits, two interceptions, and a sack. Warner’s coverage skills are on another level. Pro Football Focus gave him a 91.1 grade in coverage, tops of any linebacker in the league.
PFF released the top 32 linebackers in the NFL heading into next season and placed Warner No. 2 on its list.
Fred Warner is the latest contender for Wagner’s crown as the best linebacker in the game, and he represents the new pathway for the position. At BYU, Warner played the overhang, slot/linebacker hybrid role that exists in several college systems because of the wide hash marks, but it doesn’t really have an NFL equivalent. That has allowed him to post a 90.0-plus PFF coverage grade over the past two seasons.
The only linebacker ranked ahead of Warner is Bobby Wagner of the Seattle Seahawks. The 49ers will likely use Wagner’s current contract as a measuring stick for a new deal with Warner. Wagner is the game’s highest-paid linebacker at $18 million per season, and it’s Warner’s AAV will certainly be in that range.
PFF also had Greenlaw ranked among its best 32 linebackers in the NFL. The football analytics site listed Greenlaw at No. 30.
The 49ers are another team with more than one player making this list. While Fred Warner is in contention to be the best linebacker in football right now, Dre Greenlaw is a solid foil within the same defense. Greenlaw missed just 4.7% of his tackle attempts over the past two seasons of play for the 49ers and allowed only 7.4 yards per reception in coverage.
Greenlaw was selected in the fifth round of the 2019 NFL Draft. He has played in 29 games over the past two seasons and racked up 178 tackles (10 for a loss), four QB hits, a sack and one interception. Greenlaw is under contract for two more seasons. Since he was a Day 3 selection, he’ll cost next to nothing against the cap in 2021 and 2022. His base salary for each season doesn’t exceed $1.1 million.
The middle of San Francisco’s defense is in good shape, with Warner and Greenlaw holding down the fort. Both players complement each other’s game nicely, and that impacts the rest of the defense.
If Bosa — and hopefully Dee Ford — are both healthy for the bulk of next season, it’s reasonable to expect Warner and Greenlaw to be even better in 2021.
Where do you rank the 49ers’ linebacking group among all NFL teams?