The meat of the San Francisco 49ers’ offseason is in the rear-view mirror. General manager John Lynch and Co. were extremely active, bringing in a whole host of free agents and making a blockbuster trade.
In no way does this mean San Francisco is done creating more depth following an injury-plagued 2020 season. It is also in on one big-name player currently on the trade block and has to deal with All-Pro linebacker Fred Warner’s contract situation.
Below, I look at five burning questions still facing the San Francisco 49ers at this late point in the NFL offseason.
Are the San Francisco 49ers Really In On A Julio Jones Trade?
It has been a lingering question around Santa Clara since the end of the 2021 NFL Draft in early May. Is there any way the 49ers can get in on the Julio Jones sweepstakes after trading two future first-round picks and a 2022 third-round selection to move up for quarterback Trey Lance?
A recent report, presumably linked from the Atlanta Falcons’ organization, notes that they have an offer on the table for the seven-time Pro Bowl receiver that includes a first-round pick. I am not buying this. Jones is entering his Age-33 season, missed seven games in 2020 due to a hamstring injury and will count roughly $15 million against the cap for an acquiring team.
If the Falcons do get a first-round pick offer for Jones, San Francisco will be out of the running. It just doesn’t have the draft assets to pull off a move of that ilk. The assumption here is that it will likely cost a second-round pick to pry Jones away from Atlanta after he made a trade request public record. As for the 49ers, there’s every reason to believe they are interested in the pass-catcher.
“I’m always interested in improving our team,” 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan said about Jones recently. “I would never say we’re just done.”
Remember, Shanahan and Jones teamed up with the Falcons from 2015-16. It was also a couple years back that the 49ers’ head coach made it clear going after someone like Jones shouldn’t even be a question. Whether this means San Francisco will end up acquiring Jones to team up with Brandon Aiyuk, Deebo Samuel, George Kittle and Raheem Mostert at the skill positions remains an open question. This situation will come to a head sooner rather than later.
San Francisco 49ers’ Starting Right Guard Competition
Four of the 49ers’ five starting offensive line positions are settled after they re-signed Pro Bowl left tackle Trent Williams and picked up center Alex Mack during free agency. The only question here is who will start at right guard next to Mack and right tackle Mike McGlinchey.
San Francisco surprised the masses by picking former Notre Dame All-American Aaron Banks in the second round of the 2021 NFL Draft. Given how high he was selected, it seems reasonable to believe Banks has the upper-hand over the likes of Daniel Brunskill, Justin Skule and Tom Compton for that role.
Will The San Francisco 49ers Re-sign Richard Sherman?
Early this offseason, it seemed as if a reunion between the future Hall of Fame cornerback and his team was out of the question. Sherman, 33, rightfully acknowledged that the 49ers had more-pressing concerns with north of 40 free agents.
Fast forward a few months, and a reunion could very well be in the cards. General manager John Lynch and Co. did a tremendous job retaining core free agents while keeping enough room under the cap to consider re-signing Sherman on a team-friendly deal. For his part, Sherman has recently indicated he’d love to return.
This will likely drag on until training camp late next month. Right now, fellow former Pro Bowler Jason Verrett and Emmanuel Moseley are slated to start on the outside with K’Waun Williams being the top slot guy. All three re-signed in free agency.
Sherman’s return will depend on how rookies Ambry Thomas and Deommodore Lenoir look during camp and the preseason. Meanwhile, veterans Mark Fields and Ken Webster will look to take advantage of the opportunities presented to them.
Will the San Francisco 49ers Extend All-Pro Linebacker Fred Warner?
“I want to get it done personally,” Shanahan told reporters late last month. “I kind of feel like I’d say the same about him as I did about (George) Kittle when we were talking about it [last year]. I just see that kind of as a matter of time.”
As a reference point, Kittle signed his record-breaking extension with the 49ers last August. Could the same timeline exist when it comes to the 24-year-old Warner? It’s more than possible.
San Francisco is facing somewhat of a time crunch when it comes to making Warner the highest-paid linebacker in the NFL. If the team is not able to extend him ahead of Week 1, the situation will likely continue into the 2022 offseason.
Why is that relevant? An impending free agent, Warner would then likely see the franchise tag placed on him. In turn, this would cost the 49ers roughly $18 million against the cap in 2022. That’s a worst-case scenario given that San Francisco is projected to be $24.6 million under the cap, not taking into account Jimmy Garoppolo’s cap hit ($27 million) likely coming off the books.
Basic market dynamics suggest that Warner will surpass Bobby Wagner as the highest-paid inside linebacker in NFL history. Wagner is currently earning $18 million annually on his contract with the division-rival Seattle Seahawks. It’s pure conjecture, but Warner’s deal could reach $20 million per season. By getting that done now, the 49ers would likely be looking at roughly a $10 million cap hit in 2022 depending on how vice president Paraag Marathe structures the extension.
What Other Free Agents Might The San Francisco 49ers Show Interest In?
I focused on the possibility of re-signing Sherman earlier. However, there’s every reason to believe that the 49ers’ brass will remain proactive in signing outside free agents. That’s especially true if a potential Julio Jones trade doesn’t happen.
San Francisco has already brought in 16 free agents this offseason. It has also moved on and off of multiple veteran wide receivers. Just recently, that included Marqise Lee. It would not be a surprise if the 49ers brought in a slot option at wide receiver. Someone like former Pro Bowler Golden Tate and fellow veteran Danny Amendola could make sense.
Defensively, the 49ers still need some depth at the edge pass rush position. Sure Dee Ford is seemingly progressing well. But relying on him to remain healthy seems foolish. Meanwhile, Nick Bosa is coming off a torn ACL. That’s where a Justin Houston, Everson Griffen, Trent Murphy or Vic Beasley could come into play.