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Where should the 49ers upgrade this offseason?

Rohan Chakravarthi
Feb 24, 2022 at 2:30 PM

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The San Francisco 49ers currently have 28 free agents this off-season, many of whom were signed to one-year deals last offseason with a diminished market due to the lessened salary cap in 2021.

With the amount of unknowns on the roster, there's the potential for significant roster turnover in 2022, no matter how much the 49ers would love to retain their key pieces to continue contending for a championship.

That leads us to a must-ask question regarding the 49ers offseason plan: where should they upgrade for 2022?

Looking at impending free agents that were starters in 2021, we have: OG Laken Tomlinson, DT D.J. Jones, DL Arden Key, CB K'Waun Williams, S Jaquiski Tartt, OG Daniel Brunskill, OT Tom Compton, WR Jauan Jennings(ERFA), and LB Azeez Al-Shaair(ERFA).

In addition, players like RB Raheem Mostert, CB Jason Verrett, CB Dontae Johnson, and DE Jordan Willis are some who could play valuable roles in 2022, be it on the 49ers or wherever they end up.


The 49ers could upgrade at their backup position, which could certainly be valuable, given their injury issues with starter Jimmy Garoppolo in the past. I'd look at Tyrod Taylor, Mitchell Trubisky, and Marcus Mariota as options, although I'd consider Nate Sudfeld to return, given the complexities of the Shanahan offense and his familiarity with the system.

Running Back

It will be hard to upgrade from a group that included Raheem Mostert, Elijah Mitchell, Deebo Samuel, and Jeff Wilson Jr. on the roster in 2021. Most of the "upgrades" are already on the roster, as Trey Lance will serve as a rushing threat from the quarterback position, while rookie Trey Sermon could see an expanded role in 2022 with more experience and the potential departure of Jeff Wilson Jr. to get more playing time.

If Raheem Mostert were to leave, potentially to Mike McDaniel and the Miami Dolphins, a logical replacement could be Marlon Mack, a young, explosive runner who could be best served in a committee role to preserve his legs.

However, given the amount of talent already on the roster and the ability to develop players at the position, it's not likely the 49ers upgrade at running back.

Wide Receiver

The 49ers will retain their top three players next season as Deebo Samuel and Brandon Aiyuk are both under contract, while Jauan Jennings is an exclusive rights free agent, meaning he cannot negotiate with other teams even if the 49ers offer him a one-year deal at the minimum, because he doesn't have three seasons of experience yet.

So, similar to last season, the 49ers will look to improve their depth at the position, be it in the draft or through free agency. Potential free agents to look out for could be WRs Jamison Crowder or T.Y. Hilton as they're established veterans who could flourish in a leadership role with a younger position group, although their price range is certainly something to monitor.

Tight Ends

The 49ers will look to add a second tight end to pair with George Kittle this offseason, an experiment they've already tried twice with Ross Dwelley, an impending free agent, and Charlie Woerner, a primary blocker.

Their desire to add one couldn't have come at a better time as the free agent class of tight ends is rich with talent, with TEs Rob Gronkowski, Robert Tonyan, O.J. Howard, David Njoku, and Evan Engram to name a few.

With a higher supply and lower demand, tight end may be one of the most valuable positions this offseason, and the 49ers should certainly pounce on the opportunity to add a premium player at a discounted cost to supplant their skill position core.

Offensive Line

The offensive line may have the most questions of any group, as guards Laken Tomlinson and Daniel Brunskill are expected to be free agents, while Mike McGlinchey is coming off a major injury and Alex Mack is contemplating retirement as he's done over the past few seasons.

However, Tomlinson and the 49ers are expected to begin extension talks soon, per ESPN's Jeremy Fowler, and the 30-year old guard has expressed his desire to remain in the Bay Area long term during his post-season press conference. Not to mention, he has the approval of fellow offensive lineman Trent Williams, who's made his wish to retain Tomlinson clear.

Rookie Aaron Banks could slot into one of the starting spots as the team transitions under Trey Lance for 2022, while the 49ers could look to the draft to develop a future center, should Alex Mack choose to stay for one more season.

In addition, the 49ers could sign a veteran like Morgan Moses, who played for the Jets in 2021, as their swing tackle in 2022, providing them with some key veteran depth.

However, given the uncertainty regarding the position, as well as the 49ers trend to opt for developing talent, it seems that this position group will either stay the same, talent-wise, or decrease.

Defensive Line

During both the DeMeco Ryans and Robert Saleh eras, the 49ers have had a clear defensive philosophy: build from the trenches out.

The defensive line flourished last season, not through the idea of "blue-chip" talent, but through a rotation filled with depth and excellent coaching.

Arden Key, signed on an extremely cheap one-year deal last season, made a profound impact, despite never eclipsing over 50% of the defensive snaps, while other contributors like Jordan Willis and Charles Omenihu proved to be solid pass-rushers as well.

Defensive tackle D.J. Jones led the NFL in ESPN's run-stop win rate last season, and is a must-sign free agent for the 49ers to continue having stability along their most important position.

Looking in free agency, options like Dante Fowler, Solomon Thomas, and Stephen Weatherly could be cheap pieces that could serve in an Arden Key-esque role for the 49ers as viable pass-rushers, with Weatherly having run-stopping flexibility as well.

If the 49ers are looking to splash in free agency at defensive end alongside Nick Bosa, edge rushers Haason Reddick and Harold Landry could be great acquisitions, although there may be schematic concerns, as the Carolina Panthers ran some of the most exotic packages in the NFL. Still, with the amount Carolina relied on a 4-1-6, similar to San Francisco's methodology of winning via four rushers, Reddick should be able to flourish in a scene like San Francisco.


Perhaps the most consistent position group heading into 2022 for the 49ers, rather than improve at the position, San Francisco may look to move pieces like Dre Greenlaw to clear cap space, similarly to what they did with Jonas Griffith last season, earning a sixth-round selection in return.

Going into 2022, the 49ers have Fred Warner and Dre Greenlaw under contract, with Azeez Al-Shaair being an exclusive rights free agent.

The 49ers could bring back special teams ace Demetrius Flanagan-Fowles on a one-year deal to serve as linebacker depth, while also addressing the position in the draft towards the later rounds.

But, don't expect too much change at the position.


The 49ers secondary could experience significant turnover this offseason, as Jason Verrett, Josh Norman, Dontae Johnson, and K'Waun Williams are all impending free agents, along with star safety Jaquiski Tartt, who turned 30 earlier this month.

Emmanuel Moseley and Ambry Thomas are the current duo at cornerback, while rookie Deommodore Lenoir is the current replacement in the nickel for San Francisco.

Jason Verrett could be re-signed, given his likely cheap market value, along with his Pro-Bowl esque play in 2020, but he's coming off yet another injury and is heading towards the wrong side of 30, same with K'Waun Williams.

While I'd like for both to be brought back on one-year deals, it's yet to be seen how they'll be perceived on the market, as Williams is one of the best run-defenders at his position.

A logical veteran target for the 49ers could be Casey Heyward, who had an underrated season with the Raiders in 2021, and could look to join a contender. With such a young group, Heyward could be the valuable leader he was last season in Las Vegas, while playing an impactful role on the field for the 49ers.

Apart from Heyward, CBs Desmond King, Sidney Jones, and Bryce Callahan would be good options in the slot as affordable options heading into 2022.

Regarding Jaquiski Tartt, there isn't a logical cost-effective method of upgrading from him, which is why he should be brought back for at least another season, regardless of his injury history.

If he isn't however, Pittsburgh's Terrell Edmunds could be a solid replacement, given his age and athletic ability.
The opinions within this article are those of the writer and, while just as important, are not necessarily those of the site as a whole.
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