49ers' Top Players to Prioritize in 2021 NFL Free Agency

Kristopher Knox@@kris_knoxFeatured ColumnistMarch 8, 2021

49ers' Top Players to Prioritize in 2021 NFL Free Agency

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    Rick Scuteri/Associated Press

    March 17 is right around the corner. That date marks the start of 2021 NFL free agency, and the first opportunity of the offseason for the San Francisco 49ers to begin improving their roster. While successful teams are often built through the draft, San Francisco isn't exactly starting from scratch.

    The 49ers are just two years removed from a Super Bowl appearance, and their 2020 campaign was largely derailed by injuries. With just a few key additions, they could be right back in the championship mix. Armed with a projected $24 million in cap space, the 49ers can afford to make some significant moves.

    That includes retaining some key contributors, but San Francisco should have the cap space to also add a new piece or two to the proverbial puzzle.

    Where should the Niners spend there money? We will examine three pending free agents they should prioritize in the coming free-agency period.

OT Trent Williams

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    Jennifer Stewart/Associated Press

    One of the biggest issues facing the 49ers is that they need to bring back left tackle Trent Williams. It's problematic because the eight-time Pro Bowler is likely to eat up a large chunk of San Francisco's available cap space.

    Williams has a projected market value of $18.2 million per year, and he may be looking to earn even more than that.

    "I have yet to see a franchise left tackle go to the open market," Williams said, per Kyle Posey of Niners Nation. "I think it would be interesting to kind of see what the value holds."

    However, losing Williams would create a massive hole along Jimmy Garoppolo's blind side. While Williams did commit 10 penalties in 2020, according to Pro Football Focus, he also allowed just four sacks. If the 49ers can figure out how to retain Williams without blowing their entire offseason budget, they need to get a deal done.

    Without question, Williams should be San Francisco's top free-agent priority.

CB Jason Verrett

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    Jed Jacobsohn/Associated Press

    Along with Williams, the 49ers should be pushing to retain cornerback Jason Verrett. San Francisco is facing a potential exodus in the secondary, with players like Verrett, Richard Sherman, K'Waun Williams and Jaquiski Tartt all scheduled to hit the market.

    Verrett should be the biggest priority out of this group. He was finally healthy in 2020 and put together a tremendous season as a cover man. He started 13 games and allowed an opposing passer rating of just 76.2 on the season.

    The cornerback should also have several prime playing years still ahead of him, as he won't turn 30 until June. He could lock down a starting spot on the perimeter for several seasons.

    This isn't to say that players like Williams and Tartt cannot be valuable contributors. However, Williams is a starting-caliber player who must be retained.

CB Patrick Peterson

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    Kyusung Gong/Associated Press

    When examining external free agents, the 49ers should look to continue revamping their secondary. Defense, after all, was San Francisco's biggest strength during its 2019 run to the Super Bowl. Stealing future Hall of Famer Patrick Peterson from the rival Arizona Cardinals could go a long way toward reforging that championship-caliber unit.

    Peterson may be nearing the end of his career, but he's still a seasoned cover corner who would likely shine opposite Verrett. While Peterson missed six games in 2019 because of a suspension, he hasn't otherwise missed a game in his 10-year career.

    Last season, Peterson totaled 61 tackles with seven passes defended and three interceptions.

    While he's been used sparingly in the role in recent years, Peterson could also provide some value as a return specialist. He was a Pro Bowl returner early in his career and could provide San Francisco's special teams with a boost when it's needed in important games.

                   

    Cap and contract information via Spotrac. Advanced statistics from Pro Football Reference.