Editor's note: This week we conclude a series in which we will examine the 49ers’ top 10 scheduled free agents. For each player, we will provide reasons why the 49ers should bring him back and reasons why they should not, followed by a final determination.
Ronald Blair, DE
Defensive end Ronald Blair saw his season cut short in 2019 after sustaining a torn ACL in his right knee in a November loss to the Seattle Seahawks.
Blair was in a role through the first half of the season that fits him well. He was a rotational player at defensive end and a backup edge rusher in nickel situations behind Nick Bosa and Dee Ford.
Blair registered three sacks as a part-time player after coming up with 5.5 sacks for the entire 2018 season while being a primary nickel pass-rusher. As a four-year veteran, Blair is scheduled for unrestricted free agency.
Reasons to bring him back
Losing Blair at the mid-point of the season was an underrated setback for the 49ers’ defense. Bosa seemed to wear down a little later in the season because he, DeForest Buckner and Arik Armstead rarely came off the field as the 49ers’ depth dwindled.
Teams never can have too many good players on their defensive line, as the 49ers found out last season. Blair would be a much better option in 2020 than the unknowns that come with a mid-round draft pick.
Assuming Blair makes a full recovery, the injury he sustained last season could work to the 49ers’ benefit in the sense that it will keep his price down on the open market.
Reasons he does not return
Blair is a very good player in the right role. Defensive linemen, in general, and edge rushers, in particular, are valuable commodities. There could be a team that sees good value in Blair.
That team could be the Cleveland Browns, where former 49ers defensive backs coach Joe Woods is the new defensive coordinator and former assistant Chris Kiffin is the D-line coach.
If Blair does not return to the 49ers, it will not be because the 49ers do not want him. It would be because another team offers more than the 49ers have budgeted for his spot.
The 49ers have a high opinion of Blair as a player and a person. We’ll let defensive coordinator Robert Saleh take it from here:
“If you like winning, you like Ronnie. If you don’t, you don’t. He’s just a model of consistency, man. I love Ronnie.”
Those were words Saleh spoke in late-September. Undoubtedly, he still feels that way.
It makes sense for both sides to have Blair, 27, return to the 49ers on a one-year contract. That way, the 49ers benefit from having a proven rotational player on their club for another season and Blair is able to remain in a familiar setting before giving free agency another try a year from now.