Reviewing 49ers free agency after three weeks

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.

This article has 10 Comments

  1. Jack
    Nice summary!
    * Thankfully, the 9ers replaced Hightower and signed the players to fix ST!!!! * I would add that IMO, the advantage JG has over Lance is his ability to get rid of the ball in ~2.5 s. And my biggest concern with the 2022 O-Line is the ability to develop the continuity that give s Lance 3 seconds to deliver the ball to his receivers running KS’s full route tree. Hopefully, Forester and the O-Line will get that worked out In pre season.
    * In addition to addressing the O-Line in the 2022 draft, I’d like to see the 9ers add a WR capable of taking the top off the D, and open up the middle of the field. Also, a RB with Mostert’s speed outside to make the Defensive LB’s pay, when they stack the box.

  2. Lance will provide an upgrade based on the improvement he showed

    Speculation warrants optimism, not a axiom!
    Unless you’re trying to say that Lance is an upgrade over himself…
    The proof will be in the pudding.
    Let’s hope it is not tart!

    1. True optimism I believe, is warranted. With a good draft we could kick a$$ this year!
      Good point though, Lances release time could use an improvement. As he learns to trust his eyes (and instincts) he’ll learn to let it go.

  3. Trey Lance should, and almost certainly will provide an upgrade over Garoppolo, based on his ability to unlock Kyle’s offense through the air and in the running game. Garoppolo has done some good things in the passing game for the 49ers over the last few seasons, but challenging opposing defenses at all levels of the field, is not one of those things!

    Dalton Johnson – NBC Sports Bay Area: “Kyle Shanahan’s game plan at the start of the 49ers’ Sunday game against the Houston Texans didn’t come as much of a surprise: The coach was conservative, leaned on the run game and didn’t ask much from a 21-year-old rookie quarterback making his second NFL career start. As the game went on, you could see Trey Lance grow just as Shanahan’s playbook did. It doesn’t take Shanahan, 49ers defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans or anyone on Houston’s coaching staff to conclude what a difference Lance made for the 49ers compared to veteran QB Jimmy Garoppolo. That’s especially true when it comes to the Texans having to game plan for an even-more-dynamic Shanahan offense.”

    “The numbers back that up, too.”

    “Lance averaged the most air yards per attempt (11.5) and threw for the most yards on 10-plus air yards passes (205) by any 49ers quarterback in a game over THE LAST THREE SEASONS, according to Next Gen Stats. Garoppolo entered Week 17 leading the NFL in yards gained per pass completion. Much of his yardage comes from quick throws in the flats or even passes behind the line of scrimmage. Want to see how much Lance changes both the 49ers and opposing defenses compared to Garoppolo ….. just look at their passing charts from their last starts. The differences are both glaring and jarring.”

    “Take a good look at the dots from the above passing charts. Not only is Lance airing it out, which also led to a key defensive pass-interference penalty later against the Texans when he took a deep shot, he’s attempting and completing passes all over the place. He’s challenging the defense on the sidelines and making them move. Garoppolo is letting them wait in the middle, knowing he can’t hit on passes outside the hash marks.”

    Passing Charts below –

    1. 49Reasons
      “Garoppolo is letting them wait in the middle, knowing he can’t hit on passes outside the hash marks.”

      JUST TO BE FAIR, Garoppolo CAN hit on passes outside the hash marks! The problem is, NOT VERY OFTEN! And when he does try, he throws too many int’s because his arm strength is lacking and his accuracy leaves something to be desired. So lets KEEP IT REAL……More facts, less hyperbole.

      With respect to Lance: He’ll go thru a learning curve, as all young QB’s do. How he progresses in OTA’s and Pre Season, will determine who the starting QB is against Washington, assuming JG has not been traded yet. That decision will be made by KS and we both know how you feel about him.

      Personally, like you, I’m looking forward to seeing Lance becoming the QB the 9ers thought he was when they drafted him! I CAN’T WAIT, LETS PLAY SOME FOOTBALL!

    1. The 9ers could use an 6’0″ X 212 “ENFORCER!” With his size and a 4.34s 40, he’d replace Tart at SS.
      The only question is, after his Combine performance, what round will he be drafted? Pre Combine he was
      listed as a late 4th Rd draft pick. Now, post Combine, IMO he’ll likely go early to mid 3rd Rd.

  4. Tartt might be a decent signing if we can get a bargain. Hufanga is ok on special teams but as a starter at safety? I did not see that based on his play next year. He was a decent low-round draft choice. And, we will miss Jones as a run stuffer. We need a great draft to be a playoff team.

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