The San Francisco 49ers were at the wrong end of the dreaded Super Bowl hangover. After being one quarter away in the 2019 season from hoisting the Vince Lombardi trophy for a 6th time, the Red and Gold blew a 10-point lead to the Kansas City Chiefs and lost 31-10.
During the regular season, San Francisco had a roster decimated by injuries to key players Jimmy Garoppolo, Nick Bosa, George Kittle, Richard Sherman, Deebo Samuel and many more. The front office faces a challenging season and must decide on which players to retain. Some of the notable unrestricted free agents (UFA) are Trent Williams, Richard Sherman, Thomas, Jaquiski Tartt and Tevin Coleman.
The elephant in the room is quarterback Garoppolo and his $26,205,882 cap hit. The fact that he has not received a contract extension at this point means the Niners most likely do not see him as a part of their future. The Niners can cut ties with the signal caller and pursue veteran quarterbacks such as Matthew Stafford, Matt Ryan or even free agent Dak Prescott. Each of those options is an upgrade over Garoppolo, but would require serious financial commitment and comes with their own risks.
The wiser step may be to retain their current quarterback and find a replacement in this year's draft. With the 12th pick in the first round, San Francisco can select North Dakota State's Trey Lance. He can spend a year learning head coach Kyle Shanahan's offense on the sidelines, while Garoppolo plays out his farewell tour.
San Francisco has $9,386,294 in cap space. It can increase this amount substantially by making cuts to defensive end Dee Ford and center Weston Richburg. There are no issues with these players on the field. It's just that they don't see the field that often, because of their injuries. The two have cap numbers of $20,784,996 and $11,862,791, respectively.
Here are three agents that could be brought to the Bay Area in the quest for Super Bowl title No. 6 for the 49ers.
3. Corey Linsley
Center is one of the more unglamorous positions in football. The 49ers know this. Aside from the usual offensive linemen task of run blocking and pass protecting, centers are the “brain” of the unit. They call out necessary changes depending on how the defense lines up.
The 49ers are a run first team. This was their formula to success in their recent Super Bowl run. Thus, it is of utmost importance that their linemen have the mobility to execute Shanahan's schemes and power to clear a path for their runners. The first-team All-Pro center is best known for his work is pass protecting Aaron Rodgers, but he is also a solid run-blocker. He's been relatively healthy in his 7 years with the Green Bay Packers. Also, it would be useful having an All-Pro interior lineman when matching up against the Los Angeles Rams and Aaron Donald twice a year.
Linsley's cap hit for one year with the 49ers would be similar to Richburg's.
2. Shaquill Griffin
The 49ers have 5 cornerbacks who are UFAs. The biggest and most important name in that group is Sherman. It is imperative to find quality corners, as San Francisco has to face the likes physical wideouts, DK Metcalf, DeAndre Hopkins and Cooper Kupp each twice in the regular season as NFC West rivals. The 49ers should also attempt to get younger in that position group.
This is where Griffin comes in. The 2019 Pro Bowler had 12 passes defensed and 3 interceptions in the 2020 season. With 62 total tackles, he shows a willingness to be involved in the run game. He may not be a lockdown corner yet and be contain the aforementioned receivers. However, he is just 25 years old and he has much room for improvement. Further, he fits the timeline of the 49ers' defense.
In his four years with the Seattle Seahawks, he has had some injuries. These are not enough to scare away potential suitors. Signing Griffin is also a way of weakening a division rival. He has always been in the same football team as his twin brother, Shaquem who plays linebacker. This may be a challenge in getting the up-and-coming cornerback as linebacker is not a pressing need for the 49ers.
Griffin's contract should be in the range of $9,000,000 per year.
1. Trey Hendrickson
This selection is based on the assumption that the 49ers do not draft another defensive lineman in the first round just like they did in five of the last six years. While San Francisco does have Bosa, Arik Armstead and Javon Kinlaw shows potential, their defensive line is in need of depth.
It was in the 2019 season when Bosa, Ford, Armstead and now Indianapolis Colt DeForest Buckner terrorized opposing quarterbacks. Those four were able to generate so much pressure on their own, which in turn was a big help in coverage. The 49ers need a complementary pass rusher for Bosa.
Hendrickson was tied second with Donald in total number of sacks during the regular season. They had 13.5 a piece. He is a good, fast athlete and has a relentless motor. With Bosa commanding so much attention and double teams for the 49ers, Hendrickson might sustain his production.
This is the 26-year old's breakout season. He had a total of 6.5 sacks in his first three years with New Orleans Saints. There certainly is a risk of regression. The Saints have the worst salary cap situation in the league, so there is a chance he leaves New Orleans.
Hendrickson can be signed by the 49ers to a contract that pays him $9,500,000 per year.