The 49ers have seen core players sign to other teams for well-deserved paydays. General manager John Lynch and head coach Kyle Shanahan continue to try to strengthen the team with limited resources. It feels like there is a timer for the Jimmy Garoppolo trade, but the alarm won’t sound, crippling the potential of adding another impact player.
We look at four positions with voids because of the 2022 free agency below.
Defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans entered last season with a defensive tackle group rich in depth. D.J. Jones started to break out during the Niners’ Super Bowl run in 2019. In the following season, he continued to be a valuable nose guard with his sneaky quickness and stout ability to fan of offensive tackles against the run. Unfortunately, Jones leaves a huge void to fill as he’s now off to the Denver Broncos in the newly loaded AFC West. Oh, and I forgot to mention the Niners play that division this season.
San Francisco needs Javon Kinlaw to take the next step. A nagging knee injury ended Kinlaw’s second season last year. Kinlaw has had lingering knee injuries from college, and they also flared up his rookie year.
The 14th overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft had huge shoes to fill with the departure of a Hall of Fame-caliber player in Deforest Buckner, and injuries have kept him on the sideline. Kinlaw flashed his rookie year and has the qualities to be a good player, but he has to remain on the field to make an impact.
If you listen to press conferences, media members ask coaches, “is Nickel the new base defense?” The question is yes, and no. I say yes because the passing game continues to get harder to defend, and adding another defensive back on the field helps slow that down.
On the other hand, it’s pretty typical for teams to stay in their base defense to play to their strengths. In case you were wondering, the Nickel defense is when a third cornerback enters to send a linebacker off the field.
This nickel cornerback has many responsibilities in the defense—they have to be honest as the apex defender. They’re always in the run fit, forcing them to tackle, and they have to hold up in coverage when being isolated in man or zone.
K’Waun Williams has been an ace on the defense during his time with the Niners. However, Williams has lost a step and got beat too easily several times during the season. Ryans wants to call more aggressive blitzes, and the cornerbacks have to hold up in coverage for it to work. The nickel cornerback position will be one of the biggest position battles for San Francsico come training camp.
49er fans could potentially see Jaquiski Tartt return from flying under that radar during free agency again. Tartt is a versatile safety that can play post safety, line up in the box, and make a tackle for loss.
This 2022 NFL Draft class has a ton of defensive backs with potential starter value. Jalen Pitre impressed scouts on Day 4 at the NFL combine this month, and he continues to be a name I’m comfortable with Lynch selecting with their 61st overall pick.
Tyrann Mathieu is available but will require an overpay for a player who is regressing. The safety position is extremely important because both are nearly interchangeable in Ryans’ defense.
Trent Williams and Laken Tomlinson have been near the top of the list of guard-tackle duos for the last two seasons. Tomlinson joins former Niner offensive play-caller Mike LaFleur, who now holds the same title for the New York Jets. LaFleur brings in the eight-year veteran with a whopping 3-year deal worth up to $40 million.
Tomlinson is a quality starter, but I agree with Akash saying the Niners avoided an overpay. And I also agree with San Francisco having acceptable replacements.
“As for a Tomlinson replacement, I believe the 49ers have a couple of inexperienced options that they could slot in thereAaron Banks (who played left guard in college) and Jaylon Moore. They’ve also kept Colton McKivitz around and can always shuffle Dan Brunskill to the left side if need be.
The interior offensive line has had all these questions without the question of right tackle Mike McGlinchey’s health. Shanahan could run into a big problem if McGlinchey isn’t ready to go come fall.
You can point at several positions that have to step up because of departures. Quarterback, a backup tight end, free safety, right tackle, defensive end, and a receiving running back could all be positions that need to improve going into the Draft then Organized Team Activities.
I stressed that Lynch needs to surround QB Trey Lance with all the talent he can in the Niners’ quest for their sixth Super Bowl win.
Lynch somewhat addressed the DT position with the signing of Hassan Ridgeway. However, it’s uncertain if Ryans will keep Arik Armstead inside after all the success Armstead had playing there last season.
Safety may be the biggest need San Francisco needs right now. Tartt’s numbers do not reflect the impact he has on a game. But, it will be tough to replace a rangy safety that can still bring the boom like the old days.
Nickel cornerback is a need, but the Niners may bring back Dontae Johnson to be a jack of all trades and get some reps there. The Niners can also fish in the Draft for a willing tackler that is fluid in coverage. Man coverage abilities would be a plus to aid Ryans’ blitzes.
Left guard was something I initially worried about when looking at the possibility of losing Tomlinson. However, San Francisco has several options that can step in and have an impact on their offense.
What do the Niners need the most?
This poll is closed