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.


Rookie LB Fred Warner is setting the tone for 49ers, but he might be a little too loud


Rookie LB Fred Warner is setting the tone for 49ers, but he might be a little too loud

When the 49ers selected inside linebacker Fred Warner of BYU in the third round of the draft, it was easy to see how he fit into the team's plan with the degree of uncertainty surrounding Reuben Foster.

While Foster remained away from the team’s offseason program for five weeks, Warner felt a need to get up to speed quickly if he was needed to be a starter for Week 1 of the regular season. Warner said he was determined to learn as quickly as possible at whatever position he lined up.

“They want consistency over a guy who can make a play here and there,” Warner said on The 49ers insider Podcast. “Because if you’re a liability and you’re out there missing assignments, stuff like that, that’s going to get you cut. You have to be able to retain this information very quickly and be able to produce on the field and put a good product out there. That’s the biggest thing.”

The 49ers consider the middle linebacker (mike) and weakside linebacker (will) positions as nearly interchangeable. The major difference is the mike position is the player who communicates in the huddle. Malcolm Smith is lining up with the first team at mike, while Foster is at will. Warner is leading the second team at mike.

Foster joined the 49ers’ offseason for the final four weeks after a judge dismissed two felony charges of domestic violence. Warner knew all about Foster, the player, before meeting him as a teammate.

“He’s a very physical player, and something I didn’t know about him that I know now, he’s probably the smartest guy in the room,” Warner said. “This dude has the memory of an elephant. He doesn’t have to write notes down. He just retains things very quickly. And I think that’s what allowed him to play at such a high level as a rookie last year, aside from his physical talent.”

Warner has also learned a lot from Smith, who played six NFL seasons before sitting out last year with a torn pectoral.

“We’ve worked after practice on man coverage on tight ends and running backs.,” Warner said. “Even though that might not be something we touch on in practice or a meeting, he just wants to touch on that with me because he said, ‘If you can do this, you can play on any team in the NFL.’ “

One of the few critiques of the rookie during the offseason program is that Warner, who said he was a quiet kid as a youngster, has been a little too loud.

“He’s very smart and he plays like it on the field,” 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan said during the first week of OTAs. “He doesn’t hesitate. He’s a rookie out there, but he’s calling the plays maybe even too loud because I can hear him from the offensive side. But, he doesn’t mind speaking up. He’s confident in what he’s doing.”

Warner said he wanted to win the confidence of his teammates, so that might have contributed to his increased decibel level.

“I want to make sure that when I get in that huddle and I’m talking to these guys, that they know that I know what I’m doing and I’m ready to go,” Warner said. “I’m the one who’s going to set the tone in the huddle before the play even happens.”

Former 49ers lineman Keith Fahnhorst, 66, passes away


Former 49ers lineman Keith Fahnhorst, 66, passes away

Keith Fahnhorst, who played 14 seasons with the San Francisco 49ers and started on two Super Bowl-winning teams, died on Tuesday. He was 66.

Fahnhorst was among a large group of players from the 49ers’ first Super Bowl championship team that gathered at Levi’s Stadium in October in a celebration of Dwight Clark. Fahnhorst and Clark were teammates for the 49ers’ Super Bowl-titlle teams of 1981 and 1984. Clark passed away on June 6 from ALS.

Fahnhorst, who was in a wheelchair during his trip to the Bay Area last season, battled many physical ailments since his career ended in 1987. He was diagnosed with polycystic kidney disease and underwent a kidney transplant in 2002. Fahnhorst was also later diagnosed with primary progressive multiple sclerosis.

A second-round draft pick of the 49ers in 1974 from the University of Minnesota, Fahnhorst was a mainstay at right tackle as the organization struggled in the mid-to-late 1970s, then found success in the 1980s under coach Bill Walsh.

“Everybody knew they could count on Keith,” Walsh said in the 2005 book, “San Francisco 49ers: Where Have Gone?”

Fahnhorst appeared in 193 regular-season games, ranking behind only Len Rohde among offensive linemen in 49ers history. He started 170 games, including all 10 postseason games in which he appeared. He was named to the NFC Pro Bowl team and was selected as a first-team All-Pro after the 1984 season. He was a two-time winner of the Bobb McKittrick Award for best representing the courage, intensity and sacrifice displayed by the longtime 49ers offensive line coach.

Keith Fahnhorst and his younger brother, Jim, were 49ers teammates for the final four years of Keith’s career. Jim Fahnhorst, a linebacker, played for the 49ers from 1984 to 1990. Neither Keith nor Jim Fahnhorst played for any NFL team other than the 49ers.