The San Francisco 49ers made Fred Warner the highest-paid linebacker in the NFL yesterday. As a result, Warner won't have to worry about contract questions during training camp and can now focus on the pursuit of the Niner's sixth Lombardi trophy.
I talked about how the linebacker core can be tops in the league, but it is mainly because of All-Pro Fred. Warner’s ability to not only cover but be everywhere on the field shows as he's led the team in tackles for the last three seasons.
I know Robert Saleh is proud of Warner. Saleh spoke about Warner as a rookie saying:
Playing Mike linebacker comes with many responsibilities, and All-Pro Fred has stepped up to the plate on all of them. People saying Warner is replaceable just aren’t watching him play and are downplaying the amount of work he has put in to get this far.
We finally have all the details of Fred Warner's contract, thanks to OTC:— Akash Anavarathan (@akashanav) July 21, 2021
His salary doesn't really spike till 2023, when you'd expect the NFL salary cap to explode and the #49ers to still have a quarterback under rookie contract.
The use of the option bonus is a win-win too.. pic.twitter.com/umWgcZ9yUn
Having Fred Warner’s cap hit spike when the salary cap is supposed to expand is good news for other signees. The corner position is a direction fans can look as the 49ers have none locked up past 2023, excluding the two corners drafted this year. Nick Bosa is the other player on defense; barring injury, San Francisco has to sign to a lucrative deal.
Warner runs the route for Evan Engram above. You can’t coach the fluidity of Warner's movement in pass coverage. A limited number of linebackers can mirror a tight end or wide receiver like Warner does.
In Week 15 against the Arizona Cardinals Warner made an uncoachable play on 4th and 2 in the third quarter. It looks to be a Cover 1 Blitz with Warner covering the running back, but he stays to block. Warner quickly reads Kyler Murray's eyes and gets the pass deflection on the potential slant.
Saleh blitzed Warner a career-high 76 times and generated 16 pressures. He was likely asked to blitz more due to the low production pass rush last year. In comparison, Dre Greenlaw blitzed 50 times and only mustered two pressures. That's pressure around every five rushes for Warner and one pressure every 25 blitzes for Greenlaw.
It points out more of Greenlaw’s 2020 struggles along with the coverage issues. Focusing on Warner, though, adding pass-rush specialist to his repertoire would make him the complete jack of all trades.
Warner picked up the in route across the field while in Cover 3 and forced a fumble. His value to the Niners zone and man coverage show up game after game. Provided that the defensive back position stays healthy, San Francisco can see itself near the top of the best pass defenses again.
The tape speaks for itself when talking about how instinctive Warner is. Securing a pivotal player like Warner for the future is uplifting, but San Francisco still has questions at key positions. Corner depth could become a problem fast. Who will step up and take over the WR3 position? Edge is also a major concern if Dee Ford cannot contribute this season.