49ers enter free agency with Dante Pettis as starting wide receiver, and who else?


49ers enter free agency with Dante Pettis as starting wide receiver, and who else?

The free-agent signing period begins Wednesday at 1 p.m. This is Part One of a series that examines the 49ers’ biggest offseason needs and their options in free agency.

Let’s get one thing straight: The 49ers do not need a No. 1 wide receiver.

Would they like to get one? Of course. Do they need one? No. After all, championship teams of late rarely are headlined by a All-Pro caliber wide receiver.

But what the 49ers want to accomplish this offseason is to add a starting wide receiver to strengthen the overall depth chart. Dante Pettis, a second-round pick last season, is projected as a starter.

The other starting position is up for grabs between Kendrick Bourne, Marquise Goodwin and a player or two not yet on the team’s 90-man roster.

"I have big expectations for Dante," 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan said at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis. "We did before we drafted him. We had it throughout this year, and we expect him to continue to get better. I think he went through the normal rookie-type ups and downs that a lot of them do as receivers.

"I expect him to come in (this) year and be even better. He's a guy who can play all three of the positions. He's also a good returner, and we're very excited that we have Dante."

Due to Pettis' versatility, the 49ers have the flexibility acquire a big, possession-style receiver or a speed-burner to match with Pettis on the outside.

On the roster: Dante Pettis, Kendrick Bourne, Marquise Goodwin, Trent Taylor, Richie James, Max McCaffrey, Steven Dunbar, Jordan Smallwood.

On the market: The wide receivers scheduled for free agency include Golden Tate (Philadelphia), Tyrell Williams (L.A. Chargers), John Brown (Baltimore) and Donte Moncrief (Jacksonville). Tate is the most-productive of the group, but he is 30 and figures to receive a sizable contract as an unrestricted free agent. Williams (6-foot-4, 205 pounds) is coming off a 41-catch season that totaled 653 yards and five touchdowns. He started 10 of the Chargers’ 16 games. Brown and Moncrief may not be improvements over Bourne, who caught 42 passes for 487 yards and four TDs as a second-year player.

Offseason approach: The 49ers showed no interest in adding Antonio Brown in a trade. However, Odell Beckham might be a different story. If he were to become available in a trade with the New York Giants, the 49ers would almost certainly be interested. Then, all of a sudden, there’s a No. 1 receiver. Otherwise, it is difficult to see the 49ers spending big money to lure one of the free agents currently on the market. The team's most likely approach would be to invest their second-round pick, No. 36 overall, on the top available rookie wide receiver on their draft board.

49ers' Kyle Juszczyk explains why Jimmy Garoppolo can 'turn it loose'

49ers' Kyle Juszczyk explains why Jimmy Garoppolo can 'turn it loose'

Four-time Pro Bowl fullback Kyle Juszczyk cannot say for sure how much differently Jimmy Garoppolo feels. But he knows the 49ers’ quarterback looks different from a year ago.

Last summer, Garoppolo was returning to the field after missing the final 13 games of the 2018 season due to a torn left ACL.

Garoppolo overcame all the mental hurdles to start 19 games and be one of the key figures in leading the 49ers to the Super Bowl. Juszczyk was asked on Tuesday if Garoppolo appears more comfortable as training camp gets going.

“It’s hard to say from an outsider’s perspective, other than he’s not wearing a brace,” Juszczyk said on a video call with Bay Area reporters. “That’s the biggest thing that stands out to me.”

[49ERS INSIDER PODCAST: Listen to the latest episode]

In his first season as a full-time NFL starter -- and coming off major knee surgery -- Garoppolo had one of the top seasons in 49ers history. He completed 69.1 percent of his pass attempts for 3,978 yards with 27 touchdowns and 13 interceptions in the regular season.

[RELATEDSteve Young believes 49ers must prove lasting power]

Juszczyk believes the fact Garoppolo is another year removed from the ACL injury will provide a major benefit to the 49ers' offense.

“When you don’t have to think about something, when something is not in the back of your mind, and it’s not weighing on you, it relieves so much stress, so much pressure, and you’re able to play so much more freely,” Juszczyk said.

“So if he’s not thinking about that knee and it’s not even in his head, that’s going to be a huge advantage for him and something that I know, just as an athlete, would make me play better. And I think you’re going to see it from him.

"When you don’t have to think about that stuff, you can just go and turn it loose.”

49ers safety Jimmie Ward could fill expanded role on defense this year

49ers safety Jimmie Ward could fill expanded role on defense this year

Jimmie Ward’s versatility and the whims of his many defensive coaching staffs with the 49ers -- along with a string of injuries -- never allowed him to get comfortable through his first five NFL seasons.

He somehow fought through years of adversity to remain as the team's longest-tenured player.

Ward’s position no longer is a question. He is entrenched at free safety. But Ward created a bit of a mystery when addressing the subject of where he might line up on a snap-to-snap basis this season. However, he certainly believes his days at cornerback are over.

“Last time I checked, I signed a contract to play safety, but if anything happens, I have to be open-minded and do whatever’s best for the team,” Ward said Tuesday on a video call with Bay Area reporters.

Ward was the 49ers’ starter at nickelback, cornerback and safety during his time with the 49ers. Last year, he proved to be one of the more effective free safeties in the league.

In the offseason, the 49ers signed Ward to a three-year, $28.5 million contract.

[49ERS INSIDER PODCAST: Listen to the latest episode]

Under defensive coordinator Robert Saleh, the 49ers have played primarily a cover-three defense. But the 49ers have the ability to be a lot less predictable this season with all of their starters in the defensive backfield returning for the second year in a row.

“It helps out a lot,” Ward said. “Since we’ve been back, I just feel like we’ve just been working on the chemistry and all our defensive checks. I feel like it’s going to play a big role in this upcoming season.”

Ward is capable of playing spots all over the field. He suggested earlier this offseason the 49ers might rely on him to become more of a game-changer.

[RELATEDSteve Young believes 49ers must prove lasting power]

But what, exactly, does that mean?

He could be featured in man or zone coverages. He could also be used on more blitzes. Ward said everyone will have to wait to see the answers when the 49ers open the regular season on Sept. 13 against the Arizona Cardinals at Levi’s Stadium.

“I feel like if I tell you more details about that I’m kind of giving away the game plan,” he said. “I don’t know other teams to hear how they’re going to use me.

“I don’t know, but it’s going to be interesting. Just make sure you watch that first game, because I could be anywhere.”