Assessing the 49ers' biggest needs, options in free agency


Assessing the 49ers' biggest needs, options in free agency

The free-agent signing period is a week away, and the 49ers expect to be active in strengthening their roster at several positions.

Here’s a look at how they might prioritize filling their needs:


The 49ers have just one starting-caliber cornerback (Ahkello Witherspoon), so they will have to fill the need on the other side. They have already looked hard at Vontae Davis and Marcus Peters this offseason before deciding to not pursue those options. Trumaine Johnson (Rams) will get big money. Is he really worth it? Aaron Colvin is younger, and defensive coordinator Robert Saleh knows him well. He excelled at nickel back last season, as he was behind two of the best corners in the business. He’ll be a starter next season – somewhere – on the outside. Rashaan Melvin (Colts) is also a good system fit.

Wide receiver
There should be plenty of options in free agency in a lot of different price ranges. Interestingly, the 49ers’ wideouts looked a lot better late in the season – after Jimmy Garoppolo took over as the starter. And Pierre Garçon will be added to the mix, as he is expected to return to full strength for the beginning of the offseason program. The 49ers could use a bigger-bodied receiver. Allen Robinson (Jaguars) and Sammy Watkins (Rams) are likely to attract the most attention. Jordan Matthews (Bills) and Donte Moncrief (Colts) are less expensive but it’s questionable whether they would add much to the group already assembled.

Running backs
The 49ers say they want to bring back Carlos Hyde, who is scheduled for free agency. But there are going to be a lot of options in free agency and the draft. Isaiah Crowell (Browns) is probably the best fit – and he broke into the NFL with Kyle Shanahan as his offensive coordinator. Six-year veteran Alfred Morris (Cowboys) played his first two seasons for Shanahan in Washington. He started five games last season in place of Ezekiel Elliott and averaged 4.8 yards a carry as a two-down back. Dion Lewis (Patriots) is another solid option. But if the asking prices on the veteran market are too high, the 49ers could easily turn to the draft without losing any sleep.


Inside linebacker
Reuben Foster’s off-field concerns this offseason have placed an emphasis on this position. Regardless, the 49ers need to add an inside linebacker who can also contribute on special teams. The best fit could be Brock Coyle, who underwent shoulder surgery early in the offseason and is a free agent.

Tight end
The 49ers could look for a blocking tight end in the role that Logan Paulsen held last season. There are concerns about George Kittle’s ability to remain healthy, but it seems doubtful the 49ers would throw starter’s money to land a veteran tight end.


Edge rusher
Forget about Ziggy Ansah (Lions) and DeMarcus Lawrence (Cowboys). Both players are off the market after being tagged as franchise players. There simply are not many legitimate options available, which is the reason the 49ers have talked a lot about focusing on developing their own players, such as Eli Harold, Cassius Marsh and Pita Taumoepenu.

Offensive guard
The top player on the market is Andrew Norwell (Panthers), who will become the highest-paid guard in the NFL. Shanahan’s offense places a lot of emphasis on the guard positions. But Shanahan wants lineman who can really move. Norwell is not known as a great athlete. Brandon Fusco, who started all 16 games last season, is a free agent. He could be re-signed, and the 49ers can be expected to also look to add competition in the draft.


Will 49ers look to trade backup QBs C.J. Beathard or Nick Mullens?

Will 49ers look to trade backup QBs C.J. Beathard or Nick Mullens?

One of the major competitions being waged on the 49ers’ practice field is for a spot the club hopes will never be asked to play a significant role this season.

The 49ers’ hopes for the season hinge in large part on quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo playing at a high level for 16 games. Behind him, in a too-close-to-call competition are C.J. Beathard and Nick Mullens.

Once training camp opens in late-July, the competition for the backup role will heat up. Mullens outplayed Beathard last year, but all that did was create a level playing field for the competition that will ensue this summer.

This week marked the conclusion of the team’s official offseason program. Here are some questions submitted via Facebook:

What's the likelihood we trade one of our backup QBs to a team that loses a QB to injury? ( David Cummings)
The 49ers have three options:
1. Cut C.J. Beathard or Nick Mullens.
2. Keep three QBs on their 53-man roster.
3. Trade Beathard or Mullens.

Of those three options, there is no question the 49ers would rather trade one of their reserve quarterbacks.

I’m of the opinion right now that they are fine with either Beathard or Mullens as the backup to Jimmy Garoppolo. If another team feels a need to add a backup, I believe the 49ers would be open to trading either one – whichever player the other team wants more and will attract the better compensation.

Will Robbie be the starting kicker come the start of the regular season? (Richard Burley)
Robbie Gould has not publicly stated his intention, other than he has demanded a trade. (The 49ers said, in essence, “No, thanks. We want you to be our kicker.”)

It is difficult to imagine that Gould would forfeit more than $290,000 per game. The 49ers expect him to be on the field in Week 1 of the regular season. Jonathan Brown was the only kicker to participate in the offseason program. Right now, he’s their insurance policy.

Is there a possibility after the cutdowns start the 49ers will possibly pick up a savvy veteran guard or center considering the uncertainty and shakiness of our interior offensive line? (John Mayfield)
Based on their approach this offseason, the 49ers do not agree with your description of “uncertainty” and “shakiness” as it pertains to the interior of their offensive line.

There’s always a possibility of picking up someone for depth, but the addition of Ben Garland, who can play both guard and center, likely took care of that.

From what you've seen Matt, which WR has impressed you and the coaching staff the most? (Paul Martinez)
The 49ers’ top-two receivers during the offseason program were Dante Pettis and Trent Taylor. If Taylor remains healthy, he should benefit greatly from the tutelage of new receivers coach Wes Welker.

Considering the size of the front seven on defense are there concerns about our potential to defend against the run with the new Wide 9 scheme? (R.L. Stephens)
That is precisely why the 49ers’ defense now has three smaller, quicker stack linebackers. The Wide 9 is designed for the defensive ends to set the edge quicker to force running backs to cut inside earlier.

It also puts far more pressure on the linebackers to step up and cover more ground to prevent big plays on those plays.

Who is a name that might be a surprise cut before the 53-man roster is made? (Michael Tavares)
If I write the name here, he won’t be a surprise cut, right?

I’ll give you three players to watch. At first, I thought Marquise Goodwin might have a difficult time making the team. But he looked really good during the offseason program, and he does give the 49ers they don’t have anywhere else with his speed.

Veteran linebacker Malcolm Smith will have to earn his way. Elijah Lee and Dre Greenlaw look good, and they have special-teams value, too. Tight end Garrett Celek will be trying to come back from back surgery. I think he faces some pretty big odds at this stage of his career to remain on the team.

[RELATED: Kyle Shanahan believes 49ers can overcome injuries this season]

Who are the starting safeties at the beginning of the season? (Nick Gillo)
Jimmie Ward and Jaquiski Tartt. (Insert the obligatory, “If healthy.”)

With Shanahan talking about having great depth, predict the biggest 2020 offseason needs. (Jeff Bratton)
I predict the biggest needs for next season will be determined by what happens this season.

49ers linebacker Fred Warner looks to improve after solid rookie year

49ers linebacker Fred Warner looks to improve after solid rookie year

SANTA CLARA — Linebacker Fred Warner had a lot put on his plate as a rookie. Going into his second season as a pro, he's leaning on a wild first year.

“I’m expecting [my game] to grow a lot,” Warner said. “Having that experience from Year 1, obviously playing a lot of snaps, I think all parts of my game can improve. 

“Specifically I’m looking forward to working on tracking the ball, making sure that I’m improving on tackling, just communication, having clean eyes, and being able to anticipate things a lot quicker.”  

Warner explained that while he had a lot of responsibilities, he never felt like it was too much for him to handle. He added that linebackers coach DeMeco Ryans increased his workload as his experience grew. 

“I think they knew that they could rely on me, they never gave me too much,” Warner said. “DeMeco was always checking in with me to make sure that I wasn’t too overwhelmed and whatever they told me to do, I did it.

“They gave me more and more as I got more confident throughout the season, so leading into that last game against the Rams, we had a lot of stuff going on, but that’s when I was the most confident, in the last game of the year.” 

Warner’s experience is helping him look at last season’s game film with a new set of eyes, figuratively. He already sees ways he could have improved his performance. 

“No doubt,” Warner said. “I’m watching film right now and I’m looking at different things and I’m like, ‘Dang I would have called that’ or ‘I wish I was out there so we could do this,’ but I feel our defense is doing a great job right now. 

“Guys who maybe have not gotten as many reps are stepping up during this OTAs doing an outstanding job and I’m looking forward to getting back out there with them.” 

The defense has gotten notably faster after several key additions during the offseason and Warner believes it gives the group “swagger.”

“I think every year that we get more of that chemistry together as a group, I feel like that’s where it comes out, our confidence,” Warner said. “The more we can play with that, the more we can instill fear into our opponents on game day. They should be able to turn on the film and be like 'Oh, man. We got the Niners this week.’

“I think that with coach Kocurek, they are being taught to come off the ball hard and fast so they are going to create a lot of penetration which should create a lot of edges and so it’s our job to make them right, as linebackers. We are behind the ball for a reason so we can see everything and play off of them.” 

[RELATED: Jason Verrett feeling confident about his return]

Warner, like many players sitting out of team drills during OTAs and minicamp, is itching to get back on the field. But he knows that being patient is what’s best for him in the long run. 

“A lot of that you don’t have much control over,” Warner said. “You just have to listen to what the trainers tell you, and that’s what I’ve been doing. They have a plan for me and I’m just going to follow that, but yeah, just taking one day at a time.”