The 49ers’ offseason is among us, and they have over 30+ free agents to decide on. However, head coach Kyle Shanahan saw players execute their best when their backs were against the wall after a 2-4 start.
But the pass rush and weapons on offense woke up to turn the season around — a season where San Francisco was a quarter away from another Super Bowl appearance.
Having the perfect mesh of veterans and young talent is vital for a Super Bowl roster. San Francisco has the opportunity to return with no holes on the roster if Shanahan and general manager John Lynch retains essential players. Here are three free agents the 49ers must re-sign this offseason.
1.) Jason Verrett
Cornerback was a position I worried about all season, but they improved and showed up in crucial moments late in the season, playoffs included. However, retaining the best cornerback on the team is mandatory. Re-signing Verrett should be a no-brainer; he’s fluid out of his break, sticky in coverage, and can mirror top-talent in man-to-man coverage.
Defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans mirrored what New York Jets head coach Robert Saleh accomplished last year with San Francisco.
Saleh had to work around a hobbled defensive line while Ryans overcame little to no depth at cornerback. Bringing Verrett back helps a cornerback room that was likely the worst group on San Francisco’s defense last season.
Verrett’s durability is a concern, he has missed four out of the last five seasons with lower-body injuries, and a Hamstring Sprain sidelined him for the first two weeks of 2020. On the other hand, Verrett provides a safety blanket for the defense when healthy. In 2020, he allowed fewer than 500 passing yards when he was the nearest defender and gave up one touchdown on 75 targets.
Rookie cornerbacks Ambry Thomas and Deommodore Lenoir both had ups and downs throughout the season. Lynch will be able to bring Verrett back at a reasonable price, and that should let Lenoir and Thomas continue to develop.
2.) Raheem Mostert
Rookie running back Elijah Mitchell had a solid season, but it felt like something was missing from the run game. That key element was explosiveness. Mostert is one of the most explosive running back in the NFL. I mentioned that he might follow new Miami Dolphins head coach Mike McDaniel on my podcast, but Lynch should have Mostert at the top of his list.
He's the best RB on the roster. That's no shade towards Mitchell. Mostert is that good, and he'll only be better with Lance under center. https://t.co/CN4AsdryHI— Niners Nation (@NinersNation) February 15, 2022
Mostert’s vision and speed complete Shanahan’s wide zone rushing attack. Having Mostert allows Shanahan to give defenses the same looks, which strengthen play-action shots to Brandon Aiyuk, George Kittle, or Deebo Samuel.
During zone-read play calls, Trey Lance will benefit from having Mostert by his side. Mostert’s big-play ability is needed to keep the Niner's offense explosive. My only gripe with Mostert is his hands— they aren't wholly stone, but they do need improvement.
Raheem Mostert should've had 2 60+ yard TDS in the 1st qtr pic.twitter.com/TC4t70FgOO— Xavier Dixon (@GOOBVILLE) March 14, 2021
3.) Arden Key
I wasn’t the biggest fan of the Key signing, but he started to blossom during the middle to end of the season. Re-signing Key can be great for two reasons; it gives San Francisco depth at edge rusher and retains a vital interior pass-rusher. Key saw most of his pass-rushing production from a three-technique. Nevertheless, he helped the defense reach 48 sacks which tied for fifth in the NFL.
Arden Key is having the best year of his career under 49ers superstar DL coach Kris Kocurek, primarily lining up inside as a 3T using a silky smooth swipe move for 4 of his 5 HQ sacks this season. Another example of elite coaching unlocking disregarded talent. pic.twitter.com/QjlrLGdGEC— Brandon Thorn (@BrandonThornNFL) December 30, 2021
San Francisco’s defensive success has been anchored from their front seven over the years. With that being said, San Francisco will draft an edge with their 61st overall draft pick.
Ryans need another bendy defensive end who can hold up against the run. Keeping that front seven strong is key for the Niners to get their sixth Lombardi trophy.
These players are critical for the Niners to stay true to their identity. Shanahan and Lynch are lucky to have several restricted and exclusive rights free agents. These players can be brought back at an affordable rate and provide good depth.
With several of them potentially earning decent second-year contracts. Both Azeez Al-Shaair and Jauan Jennings made monumental leaps to become key contributors this season, and they were rewarded at San Francisco's team award ceremony.
Al-Shaair won the Hazeltine Iron Man Award, which is given to the most courageous and inspirational defensive player as voted upon by the defensive coaches. Jennings won the Thomas Herrion Memorial Award for taking advantage of every opportunity, turning it into a positive situation, and making their dream turn into a reality.
Other players San Francisco should retain include Daniel Brunskill, Kevin Givens, Demetrius Flannigan-Fowles, and JaMycal Hasty. All of these guys have been good depth pieces and can be brought back at an affordable price.
Sean McVay and the Los Angeles Rams proved that buying in pays off. Lynch will get a good bargain for all of these players may be outside of Mostert. However, it’s time for Lynch to land a major free agent or trade for another key piece to strengthen this roster. Preferably, I would prefer Lynch to go after a free agent cornerback to strengthen the defense.