There are roster changes throughout the NFL every season. The San Francisco 49ers may experience quite a bit of it this upcoming season.
San Francisco currently has 44 players under contract for 2022. They will eventually get to 90 by the time training camp starts and will need to have their top 51 contracts below the $208.2 million salary cap by March 16.
There are 33 players from the 49ers 2021 roster who are set to be free agents, 24 of which can sign with any team. The remaining nine are either exclusive rights free agents or restricted free agents.
San Francisco has five players who are designated as exclusive rights free agents (EFRA) including, Jauan Jennings, Kevin Givens, Demetrius Flannigan-Fowles, JaMycal Hasty and Colton McKivitz. An exclusive rights free agent (ERFA) is limited to either signing the contract tendered to him by his current team, or not playing in the NFL that season. If a team chooses not to tender a contract to an ERFA, he becomes an unrestricted free agent.
All five had roles with the team in 2021 and should be back with the 49ers. The tender for each is only $895,000, a bargain considering their production.
Azeez Al-Shaair, Daniel Brunskill, Kentavius Street and Jake Brendel make up San Francisco’s four restricted free agents.
An RFA is eligible to sign with another franchise, but his current franchise is given Right of First Refusal on any contract the player may receive on the open market. Additionally, the player’s current team may receive Draft Choice Compensation – which depends on the level of contract they tendered to the player – if they choose not to match the player’s free agent contract.
Draft Choice Compensation is dependent on the tendered contract offer from the player’s current team. The possible tenders include first round ($5.562 million), second round ($3.986 million), original round ($2.54 million), and Right of First Refusal only ($2.433 million).
Although Al-Shaair and Brunskill each played over 67% of snaps in 2021, it is unlikely the 49ers will use any of the tender offers to keep them in the fold. Expect San Francisco to offer contracts in the range of $1.6 million to retain the two along with lesser deals for Street and Brendel.
Among the 24 unrestricted free agents here are the five the 49ers should prioritize:
1. D.J. Jones – Jones was a stalwart along the 49ers defensive line in 2021 especially against the run, finishing sixth with 56 tackles and second in tackles for loss with 10, all career highs.
Jones finally made it through a full season healthy, playing 550 defensive snaps in 2021, also a career high.
Based on the contract valuation at overthecap.com, Jones should be looking at a new contract close to $5.4 million for 2022. That would represent an increase of roughly $2 million from what Jones made this season, a total the team should be able to absorb to keep a player they selected in the sixth round of the 2017 draft.
2. Laken Tomlinson – Tomlinson has led the 49ers offense in snaps played each of the last three seasons providing stability along the offensive line.
The projected contract valuation for Tomlinson from overthecap.com is just over $8.9 million for 2022. This increase would be similar to that of Jones, $2.3 million over the $6.6 million Tomlinson counted against the 49ers cap in 2021.
San Francisco drafted to offensive linemen last year, guard Aaron Banks and Jaylon Moore who can play either guard or tackle. This may result in moving on from Tomlinson despite his ability to be on the field consistently.
3. Jaquiski Tartt – The 49ers secondary is better with Tartt on the field, however that’s the big question surrounding the free safety. Tartt’s injury history is reminiscent of Jimmy Garoppolo, making him a bit of a risk to sign long term.
Tartt played 727 snaps in 2021, recording 66 tackles including 5 for loss, all career highs.
The seven-year veteran signed a one-year deal worth $987,500 to stay with San Francisco last season. His 2022 contract valuation is approximated at only $2.7 million, a drop in the bucket for the value he provides on the back end of the 49ers defense.
San Francisco may see Talanoa Hufanga as the long-term replacement.
4. Arden Key and Jordan Willis – Key and Willis were key depth pieces along San Francisco’s defensive line this season.
Key signed with San Francisco as a free agent from the Las Vegas Raiders, taking a contract worth only $1.045 million.
After registering only three sacks and 26 quarterback hits over three seasons with the silver and black, Key exploded for the 49ers. In 2021, the former LSU standout recorded 6.5 sacks and 17 hits on the quarterback.
His expected contract valuation of $3.67 is in the ballpark of what Kerry Hyder received from Seattle in free agency last offseason. Key is five years younger than Hyder and could be worth holding on to.
San Francisco sent a 2022 sixth round pick to the New York Jets in exchange for Jordan Willis and a 2021 seventh round pick on October 27,2020.
Since joining the 49ers, Willis has recorded 5.5 sacks over 17 games. Willis also blocked a punt against Green Bay which helped San Francisco reach the NFC Championship game.
According to overthecap.com, Willis has a contract valuation of only $1 million for 2022. A small price to pay for a key piece along the defensive line.
5. Raheem Mostert – If the 49ers could find a way to keep Mostert on a cheap deal worth less than his 2021 cap hit of $3.6 million they should bring the veteran back.
Elijah Mitchell proved himself to be the bell cow for San Francisco’s running game this season, however the lack of explosiveness with Mostert on the sideline forced Kyle Shanahan to extensively use Deebo Samuel in the backfield throughout the second half of the season.
A backfield consisting of Mitchell, Mostert, Trey Sermon and JaMycal Hasty would provide a good balance of speed and power, while allowing Samuel to get back to being a wide receiver.