49ers are still Super Bowl contenders despite NFL free agency departures

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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.

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