As fans fretted over the lack of movement with Jimmy Garoppolo, the 49ers worked to build their roster back into a contender in the NFC.
During the first week of free agency, San Francisco made moves to retain Azeez Al-Shaair, Daniel Brunskill, Demetrius Flanigan-Fowles, Kevin Givens, JaMycal Hasty, announced it reached an agreement with cornerback Charvarius Ward, re-signed Maurice Hurst, and signed four additional free agents without overspending. Ward was signed to a three-year deal with the 49ers and will have a cap hit of only $3.8 million in 2022.
Pairing Ward, 26, with Emmanuel Moseley, 26, makes their cornerback room better. During the second half of last season, the 49ers had to play more off coverage in the secondary to protect rookie Ambry Thomas. That is where this acquisition comes in. Ward was among the top man-coverage corners in the NFL last season, finishing near the top in several key metrics.
The other new guys the 49ers signed may not be big names, however, they fill key roles. They signed safety George Odum, linebacker Oren Burks, and Ray Ray McCloud, and all are expected to provide depth while improving a special teams unit that has ranked near the bottom of the NFL over the last two seasons.
Hassan Ridgeway joins the 49ers after spending the last three years in Philadelphia. This move bolsters a 49ers defensive line which lost D.J. Jones and Kentavius Street earlier in the week to free agency. Ridgeway has participated in 65 games with 12 starts, reaching more than 300 snaps in a season only twice.
Ridgeway was productive as a pass rusher in 2021 as a rotational player for Philadelphia. He recorded eight total pressures: two sacks, three knockdowns, and three hurries.
Tendering Al-Shaair, who will receive $3.99 million, means San Francisco will have one of the top linebacker pairings in the league for a second season. Lining up next to Fred Warner, he should only get better. Al-Shaair burst onto the scene in 2021, finishing second on the 49ers with 102 tackles, two fumble recoveries, and one interception.
The 49ers are coming off a 10-win season in 2021, which saw them reach the NFC Championship Game. They have 18 of the 22 starters from that game. In addition, the 49ers are one of the deepest teams in the league with several young players looking for their chance.
San Francisco has lost left guard Laken Tomlinson, defensive tackle D.J. Jones, and right tackle Tom Compton to free agency. Jaquiski Tartt is a free agent who may not return to the team.
At left guard, there are a few options already on the roster. The 49ers added Aaron Banks with a second-round pick in last year’s draft. A move back to the position he played throughout his career at Notre Dame could help his transition. Other options already on the roster include Colton McKivitz and Justin Skule. Another draft pick from last year, Jaylon Moore, is an option to start at right tackle if Mike McGlinchey is not ready to return from a torn ligament in his quad.
The 49ers are in a similar position with replacing Jones. Javon Kinlaw, a first-round selection in 2020 is set to return from knee surgery. He has been working out in Los Angeles with the same trainers who helped Nick Bosa return after a serious knee injury sustained in the second week of the 2020 season.
San Francisco has not put all its eggs in the Kinlaw basked. They have re-signed Kevin Givens and Maurice Hurst along with the Hassan Ridgeway signing mentioned earlier.
To this point in free agency, the 49ers have improved their roster without needing to address the situation with Jimmy Garoppolo.
The team restructured the contracts of Arik Armstead and George Kittle to create the salary cap room for the signings of the last week. There are additional moves the team could make to free additional money if necessary.
Pushing cap hits into the future can be risky business, however, if done correctly it can be a good tool to keep a team in contention. Don’t forget the salary cap will explode with an increase of $70 million over the previous year in 2024.
Is there a time by which the 49ers absolutely need to move on from Garoppolo?
No. With many of its most pressing needs filled, the team can remain patient while looking for a team willing to make a trade for Garoppolo.
Throughout last offseason, Kyle Shanahan and John Lynch continually brought up the need to have a solid backup quarterback. The 2018 and 2020 seasons were both a lost cause once the starting quarterback went down.
Is it crazy to think Jimmy Garoppolo and Trey Lance may be together in a training camp battle? Absolutely, but it could make great theater, and the team showed they could make it work in 2021.