SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- After almost winning Super Bowl LIV, the San Francisco 49ers vowed to do all they could to keep as much of that team together as possible. They spent most of the 2020 offseason making the necessary moves to do just that.
On the heels of a disappointing 6-10 finish, the Niners have again used this offseason to try to keep their roster intact and prove that 2019 was the standard and 2020 was an aberration. Which one of those is true remains to be seen, but belief within the walls of Levi's Stadium remains.
"I do feel like we are ready to win," fullback Kyle Juszczyk said. "I feel like we are healthy, we have added players, we have kept players, we’ve gained experience over the last couple years, and I think all arrows are trending up for us. The difference from this year and two years ago, is two years ago we hadn't proved it. We all believed it, we had shown glimpses of it, but we hadn't really put it all together. And now, I feel like we've done it, we've been through it, we've won 13 games in a regular season, so we know how that feels, we know it's possible. The majority of those guys are going to be here to try and do it again."
Of course, the quest to return to NFC contender status has come with an eye-popping price tag. In the opening days of free agency, the Niners re-signed Juszczyk, left tackle Trent Williams, cornerbacks Jason Verrett, K'Waun Williams and Dontae Johnson, defensive tackle D.J. Jones and strong safety Jaquiski Tartt and added center Alex Mack, edge rusher Samson Ebukam, safety Tavon Wilson and receiver/special teamer Trent Sherfield from the outside.
The total fully guaranteed money for Trent Williams, Juszczyk, Verrett, Mack and Ebukam alone comes out to $64.25 million, according to OverTheCap.com. But those moves, especially the deal for Trent Williams, were of the utmost importance. As many as six of those players could start in 2021 and a seventh, Ebukam, figures to have a prominent role.
Despite all of that work, the 49ers still have their share of needs as we head toward April's NFL draft. Here's what still needs to be addressed.
After re-doing defensive end Dee Ford's contract, the Niners still have enough cap space to make moves in free agency. Among the needs they still have are at slot receiver, additional depth on the offensive and defensive line and more viable options at cornerback. With the market slowing considerably, there are still some good deals to be had.
Wide receiver might stand out as the sneakiest big need still on the roster following the departure of Kendrick Bourne to the New England Patriots. While Deebo Samuel and Brandon Aiyuk are the projected starters, proven, healthy depth isn’t abundant. Samuel’s recent injury history only bolsters the idea that the Niners should consider adding a legitimate receiver to the group. Free-agent options have mostly been picked over but the draft seems to have a lot of Day 1 and 2 options who could become contributors early.
Even with K’Waun Williams and Verrett back, cornerback is likely going to be an emphasis for the Niners. It's possible a veteran such as A.J. Bouye or Casey Hayward could fit the bill while adding a veteran presence.
Or the 49ers could turn to the draft.
The 49ers are well-positioned with the No. 12 pick to draft one of the top three corners: Virginia Tech's Caleb Farley, Alabama's Patrick Surtain or South Carolina's Jaycee Horn. But it's worth noting they haven't used a first-round choice on a corner since 2002, so it wouldn't be a surprise if Day 2 and 3 brought the needed secondary help.
The good news is, the Niners are free to do just about anything they want in the draft thanks to the moves they have made in free agency, which means they aren't pigeonholed into any one position and could trade up or down the board to get the player they want.
What's next at QB?
While Jimmy Garoppolo remains the odds-on favorite to open next season at quarterback, the Niners were expected to make a move or two to bolster the depth behind him, something that hasn't happened yet.
The market for veteran backups went fast and though the Niners were reportedly in on Andy Dalton, he opted to go to the Chicago Bears where he's expected to start. Others, such as Tyrod Taylor, Mitchell Trubisky, Jacoby Brissett and Ryan Fitzpatrick also signed elsewhere. Joe Flacco came to San Francisco for a visit but left without a contract and signed with the Philadelphia Eagles.
The choices are limited, though a trade for someone such as Jacksonville's Gardner Minshew remains an intriguing possibility if the price is reasonable.
A relatively early move for a quarterback could still happen in the draft -- whether that's sitting tight and picking one in the first few rounds or moving up in the first round for one of the top prospects. The Niners don't have a pressing enough need elsewhere that they have to draft another position first. If there’s a move to be made that could solidify the quarterback spot for the long term, it’s something they have to consider.
Wagoner reaction: Bold swing at finding a quarterback.
Extension for Warner
While the 49ers still have a decent amount of cap space -- some of which will be directed toward their draft class -- their next big piece of contract business still looms.
Middle linebacker Fred Warner is due a massive contract extension that will make him among the highest-paid inside linebackers in the game. Warner is a foundational piece for the Niners and keeping him is undoubtedly a priority.
There's no rush for such a deal to get done now but a timeline similar to last year with tight end George Kittle (who agreed to terms the day before pads came on for training camp) is a reasonable blueprint to follow.