Have the 49ers become better or worse this offseason?
This question has been a topic of discussion throughout the first three weeks of free agency.
Let’s look at the changes made to the roster and the impact of those moves. We’ll do offense first.
Losses on offense
LG Laken Tomlinson, RB Raheem Mostert, RB Trenton Cannon, WR Trent Sherfield, WR Richie James
Additions on offense
WR Ray-Ray McCloud
Re-signings on offense
OL Daniel Brunskill, OL Colton McKivitz, OL Jake Brendel, RB JaMycal Hasty, RB Jeff Wilson Jr, QB Nate Sudfeld, TE Ross Dwelley
The returning skill position players accounted for 6,258 of the 49ers’ 6,553 yards in 2021. More importantly, the players lost had one touchdown last season.
Trey Lance is expected to take over at quarterback. Lance will provide an upgrade based on the improvement he showed from his first start early in the season to his next start in week 17. His movement skills and his ability and willingness to take shots down the field will provide an explosive element that has been missing from the passing game.
The offensive line is the question mark for the San Francisco offense. The loss of Laken Tomlinson has more to due with his availability than his ability. A solid run blocker, Tomlinson often struggled in pass protection. His missed block against New York led to Jimmy Garoppolo’s injury in 2020, and his missed block against Dallas in the NFC Wildcard game led to Garoppolo’s shoulder injury.
All signs point toward Aaron Banks moving into the starting lineup. Kyle Shanahan told reporters during the NFL Owners meetings that he believes Banks is ready.
San Francisco has solid depth along the offensive line. Jaylon Moore started at both tackle positions in 2021, while Justin Skule and Colton McKivitz have both started during big games for the 49ers since 2019.
Losses on defense
DT D.J. Jones, DL Kentavius Street, DL Arden Key, CB K’Waun Williams,
Additions on defense
CB Charvarius Ward, S George Odum, LB Oren Burks, DL Hassan Ridgeway, DL Kerry Hyder
Re-signings on defense
LB Azeez Al-Shaair, LB Demetrius Flanigan-Fowles, DL Kevin Givens, DL Maurice Hurst, DL Jordan Willis, CB Dontae Johnson
The 49ers’ big signing in free agency was cornerback Charvarius Ward. Ward is coming off one of the best seasons of his career. This past season he allowed opposing quarterbacks to complete only 51% of their passes into his coverage and a passer rating of 79.4.
This signing provides a significant upgrade to the 49ers secondary. Ward’s ability to play tight coverage means defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans will not need to rely so much on the soft coverages we saw over the second half of 2021.
San Francisco will look to Javon Kinlaw to fill the loss of Jones. The 14th player selected in 2020, Kinlaw has struggled with knee issues throughout his first two seasons; Kinlaw underwent surgery to repair the problem, and his rehab is progressing nicely.
It will be up to Kris Kocurek to make sure Kinlaw and the rest of the defensive line don’t take a step back.
Kocurek has a way of getting the most out of his players.
Before joining the 49ers as a free agent in 2021, Arden Key had recorded three sacks in three seasons with the Raiders. He tallied 6.5 sacks last season, and San Francisco will likely look to Charles Omenihu to fill Key’s role.
The 49ers acquired Omenihu in a mid-season trade with the Houston Texans. During his first two years in Houston, Omenihu recorded seven sacks, and most of those came while rushing from inside. He did not record any sacks during the 2021 regular season but did come up with 1.5 against Dallas in the NFC Wild Card round.
San Francisco also brought back Kerry Hyder. The move reunites Hyder with defensive line coach Kris Kocurek, and Hyder’s best seasons have come while working with Kocurek. While together in Detroit and San Francisco, Hyder recorded 17.5 of his 20 career sacks.
At safety, Jaquiski Tartt started 14 games last season but is still unsigned for 2022. If he does not return, San Francisco will look to Talanoa Hufanga or George Odum to fill the role. Another route the team could take would be to add another safety through the draft.
Hufanga made three starts during the middle of the season, victories against Chicago and Los Angeles, and an embarrassing loss to Arizona. Meanwhile, Odum started seven games a year ago for Indianapolis.
The 49ers lost nickel corner K’Waun Williams, to Denver in free agency.
Options currently on the roster to fill that hole include second-year cornerback Deommodore Lenoir, veteran Dontae Johnson, and Darqueze Dennard. Lenoir is a strong tackler, a prerequisite to playing in the slot for the 49ers. Johnson and Dennard shared duties in the slot for San Francisco in their week 18 victory over Los Angeles.
Another option here could be moving Emmanuel Moseley inside from time to time, with Ambry Thomas replacing Moseley outside.
One last piece that needs mentioning is San Francisco’s moves to improve on special teams.
The return units struggled last season, playing a prominent role in the offense having the fourth worst average starting field position in the NFL. The coverage units weren’t much better as the defense had the tenth worst average starting field position.
The additions of George Odum, Oren Burks, and Ray-Ray McCloud were made to improve this area.
With a young quarterback taking over and a few changes coming to the defense, better field position could add a couple of wins in 2022.