49ers' Offseason Guide Entering 2021 NFL Season
The 2020 NFL season didn't quite go as the San Francisco 49ers had hoped. After reaching Super Bowl LIV the previous year, the 49ers were ravaged by injuries, struggled with consistency and eventually stumbled to a 6-10 record.
The good news is that a quick turnaround is definitely possible. Having players like Nick Bosa and George Kittle healthy for Week 1 will be a huge asset, and the 49ers have few coaching needs with Kyle Shanahan running the show.
San Francisco will have some difficult personnel decisions to make, though, and less than $15 million in projected cap space to work with. Here, we'll examine where the 49ers stand with the start of free agency roughly two months away.
The 49ers are expected to be armed with just under $15 million in cap space. That's not a ton of cash, obviously, but it does rank 14th in the NFL. San Francisco could be in a much worse situation than it is.
The 49ers also possess the 12th overall pick in the 2021 NFL draft.
In terms of pending free agents, the 49ers have several of note. Left tackle Trent Williams tops the list, but cornerback Richard Sherman, cornerback Jason Verrett, cornerback K'Waun Williams, defensive end Solomon Thomas, fullback Kyle Juszczyk, safety Jaquiski Tartt and running back Tevin Coleman are all significant contributors who are scheduled to hit the open market.
Because of the team's cap situation, some of these pending free agents will likely be replaced in the draft. This is the approach San Francisco took last offseason when it drafted Javon Kinlaw to replace the traded DeForest Buckner and Brandon Aiyuk to replace Emmanuel Sanders.
There's one pending free agent, though, who absolutely must be retained.
Free-Agent Priority: Trent Williams
The 49ers have a relatively deep roster, and they can likely survive a few big free-agent departures. However, they could struggle to replace Williams, who was nothing short of impressive in his first season with San Francisco.
According to Pro Football Focus, Williams was responsible for 10 penalties but only allowed four sacks all season.
Keeping the anchor of the offensive line has to be a clear priority for the 49ers. According to ESPN's Jeremy Fowler, San Francisco has already begun working on an extension.
"49ers and Pro Bowl LT Trent Williams had extensive discussions last week on a contract extension, per sources. Doing something before Week 17 would have helped SF's salary cap. It didn't happen, and an elite tackle could hit free agency, but SF is clearly prioritizing Williams," Fowler tweeted.
It would behoove the 49ers to get a deal done before the start of free agency. If Williams is allowed to reach the open market, San Francisco may not have the available cap room to outbid other interested parties.
Biggest Question Mark: Jimmy Garoppolo
While quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo has played well at times during his 49ers tenure, you're not going to find many who consider him an upper-echelon signal-caller. This leaves the 49ers with a tough decision to make in 2021, as Garoppolo could theoretically be released without much financial consequence.
Garoppolo is set to carry a cap hit of $26.2 million in 2021, but only $2.8 million of that is in dead money. If the 49ers decided to move on from Jimmy G, they could save more than $23 million in cap space. That could be huge for the efforts to re-sign Williams and other pending free agents.
San Francisco's quarterback situation is one to keep an eye on. Other options will be available, and the possibilities potentially include Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson.
According to CBS Sports' Jason La Canfora, some league executives could see Houston dealing Watson to the 49ers for Garoppolo and a handful of high draft picks.
Ultimately, Garoppolo may be back for another run in 2021, but fully expect the 49ers to weigh the possibilities here.