The first day of free agency is over, and the 49ers have made all of their expected big moves to fill holes at positions of need.
Cornerback Richard Sherman takes over at the position where the 49ers did not have a second starter. Weston Richburg was signed to strengthen the interior of the offensive line. And the 49ers signed versatile and explosive running back Jerick McKinnon, whom coach Kyle Shanahan deemed as a better fit for his system than Cleveland-bound Carlos Hyde.
Now what? The 49ers are set at this position for the next three seasons. But that should not prevent them from looking at the rookie class every year to determine if there’s a late-round draft pick or priority free agent worth adding to the mix.
RUNNING BACK (7)
Kyle Juszczyk (FB)
Malcolm Johnson (FB)
Now what? Hyde is out, and McKinnon is in. The 49ers identified McKinnon as the player they want in their system, and then they went out and got him. McKinnon is the 49ers’ version of Devonta Freeman, who accounted for 1,500 yards from scrimmage (1,079 rushing; 462 receiving) in Shanahan’s offense in 2016 with the Atlanta Falcons. Breida showed a lot of promise during his rookie season and, right now, figures to get mixed into the action regularly. Mostert has a role on special teams. Williams is immensely talented, but unless he shows he’s ready to put in the work to be a pro, he is on the outside looking in. The 49ers should invest a mid-round draft pick on one of the many talented running backs in the draft, too.
WIDE RECEIVER (9)
Now what? The 49ers feel good with this collection of receivers and were never even tempted to enter the bidding for the top free agents, such as Allen Robinson and Sammy Watkins. As much as they might have liked Robinson, who is coming off a season lost to an ACL tear, they did not believe he was worth the money he received. Perhaps, the 49ers sign a veteran role player, but there is no urgency to get that done. If the 49ers add a player who sticks, it would likely come during the draft. That way, the team could fully develop a young player -- probably a big-bodied guy -- without feeling the need to rush him onto the field to be a first-year contributor.
TIGHT END (4)
Now what? The tandem of Kittle and Celek played well last season, especially toward the end of the season. Both Shanahan and Lynch mentioned recently the need for Kittle to remain healthy. The 49ers could use some help here, especially when it comes to a big tight end who can be deployed in situations where they need another blocker.
OFFENSIVE LINE (12)
Now what? The 49ers have not tipped their hand, yet, about where they envision Richburg playing. He is currently listed as a center/guard. He has not played guard since his rookie season, so it would figure that center would be the spot for him. The 49ers reached a contract extension with Kilgore in the offseason. He started every game last season at center. (UPDATE: The 49ers tipped their hand, all right. Richburg is the center, and Kilgore was traded to the Miami Dolphins.) The 49ers are likely back in the free-agent market at guard. Staley and Brown are at the tackle spots. Tomlinson enters the offseason as the favorite at left guard. Brandon Fusco, the 16-game starter at right guard, signed with Atlanta on Wednesday. The 49ers are not counting on Garnett, but he will be given a chance to compete. The 49ers should use a draft pick to strengthen the guard position, too.
DEFENSIVE LINE (8)
Now what? The 49ers have the makings of a strong unit, but they could certainly use more players in the competition – maybe a veteran or two, as well as multiple first-year players. Tank Carradine remains available on the open market. Carradine believes he can produce a lot of sacks, if given the opportunity. He is on the free-agent market to look for a team that sees things the way he does. Armstead enters the final year of his contract. The 49ers must make a decision by May 3 whether to pick up the non-guaranteed fifth-year option. It is still not obvious where and how he fits into this defense.
Now what? The next big development with the linebacking corps will rest with the Santa Clara County District Attorney’s office, which is still mulling its decision whether to pursue criminal charges against Foster. He was arrested last month for alleged domestic violence, threats and possession of an assault weapon. The 49ers re-signed Coyle, who started 10 games last season and is also a core special-teams player. Smith will be healthy after missing last season with a torn pectoral. His loss was a devastating blow for the team after the 49ers made him their big free-agent pickup on defense. The 49ers will give Harold and Taumoepenu auditions to see if they can be third-down pass-rushers, too. The 49ers can be expected to add to this position group in the draft. At No. 9 overall, the 49ers could strongly consider Roquan Smith (Georgia) or Tremaine Edmunds (Virginia Tech). There are few options to help at edge rusher, but Harold Landry (Boston College) is an intriguing possibility in the first round.
Now what? If the 49ers add a veteran cornerback at this point, he would likely be a back-end-of-the-roster type. After all, Sherman and Witherspoon are set as the starters. The 49ers will unquestionably draft a cornerback. But where? It could come as early as No. 9 with either Denzel Ward (Ohio State) or Josh Jackson (Iowa) as the main options. One legitimate possibility is for the 49ers to use a mid-round selection on a tall cornerback, such as Quenton Meeks (Stanford), and have him learn from Sherman, the prototype cornerback for this defense.
Now what? There is a lot to like from the group of safeties that includes starter-caliber players Ward, Tartt and Colbert. However, they all got injured last season and must prove they can remain healthy. The 49ers have not pursued bringing back Eric Reid as a free agent because they do not consider him a starter among this group. It is possible if Reid remains available deep into the offseason that he could be brought back on a one-year, prove-it contract.
Robbie Gould (K)
Bradley Pinion (P)
Kyle Nelson (LS)
Jeff Locke (P)
Now what? The 49ers are set with their three specialists. The team also added left-footed punter Locke for the offseason. The 49ers like the idea of having a lefty around the team to get the return men acclimated to the unique look of the ball coming off and spinning in a different direction.