The 49ers’ top coach on defense might not be back with the club for the 2021 season.
And if that’s the case, the 49ers could have a difficult time holding onto some of their sought-after defensive free agents, too.
On the latest 49ers Talk podcast, the topic was addressed of which free agents the 49ers are most likely and least likely to retain this offseason.
The players most likely to re-sign with the 49ers seem to be those on offense, while the bigger losses could come on defense.
Left tackle Trent Williams, far-and-away the team’s most prized scheduled free agent, and fullback Kyle Juszczyk both declared their preference to remain with the organization.
The 49ers should be able to strike agreements with both players — even if the market dictates a contract that averages in the neighborhood of $20 million annually for Williams.
Williams and Juszczyk are irreplaceable in coach Kyle Shanahan's offense. On defense, the 49ers’ top priorities are likely cornerback Jason Verrett and nickel back K’Waun Williams.
Verrett had an eye-opening season as he remained healthy and played at a consistently high level. Williams is one of the best in the game at his specialized skill of covering the slot receiver.
But if Saleh is hired for a head-coaching job with a team that has ample salary-cap space, he would push his general manager to get both of those players to join him and help implement his system.
Three players scheduled for unrestricted free agency who appear most likely not to return are also in the defensive backfield: cornerbacks Richard Sherman and Ahkello Witherspoon, and safety Jaquiski Tartt.
The 49ers could look to get younger and cut costs. Sherman told NBC Sports Bay Area in December his return to the 49ers is not likely.
The 49ers appear to already have younger, cheaper and under-contract players to take Tartt’s starting role. Tarvarius Moore and Marcell Harris have both started games for the 49ers in place of Tartt.
And Witherspoon’s four seasons with the 49ers have been a series of ups and downs. Shanahan repeatedly lost patience with Witherspoon, who is likely to find a fresh start next season with another franchise.