SANTA CLARA — At first glance, the NFL’s free agency weeded out the high caliber 49ers that hit the market.
Nine players have pledged to become ex-Niners by the end of Tuesday’s unofficial trades, before today’s signing period begins.
That steady procession through the first 36 hours of contract negotiations, however, doesn’t hurt the 49ers’ starting units. Not even a little.
It serves as a reminder that more depth is needed for a potential 24-game march over the NFC’s hump and into the Super Bowl.
Even though they scored the biggest hit in free agency by signing defensive tackle Javon Hargrave out of Philadelphia, they will need reinforcements, both on the defensive front and elsewhere.
They will also need new leaders to join the still strong remnant.
Among those leaving are former captains at one time or another in their 49ers tenure: quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo (Raiders), Jimmie Ward (Texans), Mike McGlinchey (Broncos) and possibly kicker Robbie Gould (out of contract). .
The remaining roster should be favored to repeat as NFC West champions, make a third straight NFC Championship Game, and thus play in the Super Bowl, assuming the quarterback situation is milder than the NFC’s injury carousel. last season. That’s a heavy assumption.
Why did so many of these departing 49ers land elsewhere? Opportunity. Money. Perhaps other reasons. But they’ve all used their time with the 49ers to prove they can produce winning football.
That should carry over to the next wave of bookings – or holders on hold. The 49ers remain full of proven stars and young talent, plus 11 picks in next month’s draft, so reinforcements are on the way.
Free agency didn’t force the 49ers to rush out and spend on several veterans to fill starting roles, plus the inside of their defensive line with a big-ticket item in Hargrave (four years, $84 million).
Where are the holes in the 49ers’ roster? Right tackle, defensive end and nickel back. There are in-house candidates at every location, so there should be no panic when ex-49ers cash in on Silicon Valley’s banking realm.
The 49ers haven’t been cheap with their payroll, mind you. They’ve shelled out a load of Brinks in recent years, with All-Pro and Pro Bowl honors bestowed on industry-defining stars like Trent Williams, George Kittle and Fred Warner. Nick Bosa is next in line this summer.
Offensively, the biggest doubt remains the quarterback.
With 2022 rookie sensation Brock Purdy recovering over the next six months from last Friday’s elbow repair, the 49ers will turn to Trey Lance as their No. 1 QB during the offseason and training camp, but he will also be pressured by Sam Darnold, who is only 25 but is in his third NFL life, so to speak, after stints on the woeful rosters of the New York Jets and Carolina Panthers.
Coach Kyle Shanahan recovers most of the offensive team that produced the fifth-most yards and sixth-most points in the NFL last season, while struggling with a quarterback version of Three-Card Monte.
Week 1’s projected offensive lineup: Lance, Christian McCaffrey, Kyle Juszczyk, Kittle, Deebo Samuel, Brandon Aiyuk, and a lineup that features (left to right) Williams, Aaron Banks, Jake Brendel, Spencer Burford, and Colton McKivitz.
Week 1’s projected defensive lineup: Bosa, Arik Armstead, Hargrave, Drake Jackson (or another defensive end), Warner, Dre Greenlaw, Charvarius Ward, Deommodore Lenoir, Sam Womack III (or another nickel back), Talanoa Hufanga, and Tashaun Gipson Mr. .
That’s an All-22 capable of dethroning the Eagles in the NFC – and perhaps Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs at the top of the NFL.
It’s the other 31 openings that General Manager John Lynch and his people team are expected to supplement with early caliber prospects. The most important of that group may be the kicker, if Robbie Gould breaks into free agency after six seasons and an impeccable playoff record.
Meanwhile, this team must emotionally and logistically overcome the exodus that was anticipated with each of these departures: Garoppolo (Raiders), McGlinchey (Broncos), Ward (Texans), Samson Ebukam (Colts), Emmanuel Moseley (Lions), Charles Omenihu (Chiefs), Azeez Al-Shaair (Titans), Daniel Brunskill (Titans) and Hassan Ridgeway (Texans).
These players earned their tickets elsewhere for more playing time, lucrative contracts and a chance to advance their careers.
The remaining 49ers still have a strong shot at Super Bowl LVIII. They just need a roster big enough to keep playing until February 11th in Las Vegas.
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