49ers' Early Report Card for Most Impactful Offseason Decisions

Kristopher Knox@@kris_knoxFeatured ColumnistMarch 22, 2021

49ers' Early Report Card for Most Impactful Offseason Decisions

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    Tony Avelar/Associated Press

    The San Francisco 49ers may not have had the 2020 campaign that they had desired, but they didn't make any knee-jerk or drastic changes following the season. Instead, they appear poised to bank on a few key moves—and a healthy roster—to return to contention in 2021.

    Unlike some other franchises, San Francisco hasn't remade the front office, made a quarterback change or chased big-name external free agents. This doesn't mean, however, that they haven't already made some impactful decisions.

    Here, we'll examine some of the biggest decisions the 49ers have made thus far and apply letter grades based on factors like potential immediate and long-term impact, roster needs and salary-cap space.

Hiring DeMeco Ryans, Mike McDaniel as New Coordinators

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    Jeff Chiu/Associated Press

    The 49ers lost two coordinators when defensive guru Robert Saleh took the New York Jets head coaching job and took passing-game coordinator Mike LaFleur with him. To replace the duo, San Francisco made the smart decision to hire internally.

    Linebackers coach DeMeco Ryans took over as defensive coordinator, while run-game coordinator Mike McDaniel took over as the offensive coordinator. Both moves drew rave reviews from some notable NFL players.

    "Nobody gets more out of his players than McDaniel!" fullback Kyle Juszczyk tweeted.

    "Hell of a player, hell of a man, can only imagine he's just as great of a coach," Arizona Cardinals pass-rusher J.J. Watt—a former teammate of Ryans with the Houston Texans—tweeted.

    Ryans and McDaniel will now have to prove themselves on the sidelines, of course, but the decision to hire from within and maintain continuity was a great one.

    Grade: A

Locking Up Trent Williams

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    Rick Scuteri/Associated Press

    Offensive tackle Trent Williams sat out the entire 2019 season, was traded to the 49ers last offseason and went on to have a Pro Bowl campaign. Unsurprisingly, he was a major free-agent priority for the franchise.

    "It's an all hands on deck effort," a team source told ESPN's Dianna Russini before Williams was re-signed.

    It didn't happen early in free agency, but San Francisco locked up Williams with a six-year, $138 million deal. That's a lot of money for a 32-year-old player who hasn't played a full season since 2013, but the way the contract is constructed makes it closer to a hit than a miss.

    Williams will only carry a cap hit of $8.2 million this season, which is huge, given the reduced 2021 salary cap. He'll also have just $12 million in dead money remaining on his contract after the 2023 season. If Williams has started to decline three years from now, he can be released with relatively little financial consequence.

    Did the 49ers pay heavily to retain Williams? Yes, but they also gave themselves cap flexibility this offseason and financial flexibility in the future.

    Grade: B

Prioritizing Incumbent Free Agents

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    Jennifer Stewart/Associated Press

    Williams wasn't the only incumbent free agent to be a priority for the 49ers. San Francisco made it a point to bring back key contributors like fullback Juszczyk, cornerback Jason Verrett, defensive tackle D.J. Jones and Williams.

    This was a wise approach that should help the 49ers build on the positives of 2020—like the emergence of Verrett as a No. 1 starting corner.

    Verrett was healthy for at least 13 games for the first time since 2013. He was impressive throughout the season, finishing with seven passes defended, two interceptions and an opposing passer rating of just 76.2.

    Likewise, the return of the versatile Juszczyk will be huge for all phases of the offense. The five-time Pro Bowler frequently contributes as a blocker, runner and receiver.

    San Francisco did bring in players like center Alex Mack and linebacker Samson Ebukam. However, the emphasis on re-signing players will allow the 49ers to largely work with known commodities in 2021. With players like George Kittle, Nick Bosa and Jimmy Garoppolo expected to be back and healthy, this year's roster should closely resemble the one that went to the Super Bowl two seasons ago.

    Grade: A


    Contract and cap information via Spotrac.