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49ers Mailbag: Will the 49ers go after big free-agents? Is the offensive line or defensive line a bigger priority? What happens at right tackle? Will Trey Lance be traded? Biggest draft need?

Marc Adams
Feb 15, 2023 at 10:00 AM--

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The Super Bowl is now in the rearview mirror. The San Francisco 49ers didn't make it to the game. The Kansas City Chiefs did, and they won their second Lombardi. The Philadelphia Eagles lost the game, and Philly fans are still losers.

Now that the 2022 season is officially over, it's time to begin the off-season and look forward to 2023. And we're kicking off the 49ers off-season, fittingly, with a mailbag to address your questions. Let's jump right in.

How do they [the 49ers] overcome the lack of high draft picks? How do they get better on the d-line? Do they keep Aiyuk? - Mike M.

Let me address Mike's questions one at a time.

  1. The 49ers don't have any high draft picks this season, so they need to nail it on their remaining draft picks, which are in abundance. The 49ers are projected to have 11 draft picks in 2023. Included in those 11 picks are three 3rd round picks, and three 5th-round picks. The 49ers could package some of them to move up, but they need to have a really strong bottom half of the draft. Fortunately, they have been really successful in the lower rounds. The team's front office also needs to supplement what they will do in the draft with some good moves in free agency, beginning with keeping some of their own.
  2. How do they get better on the defensive line? Find someone in the middle, to play next to Arik Armstead, who can be a run-stuffer with some ability to pressure the quarterback up the middle, as D.J. Jones did. Unless Javon Kinlaw is going to become that guy (more on him later), they need to find someone who can fill that void.
  3. Brandon Aiyuk has 2023, and then 2024 (his 5th-year option) remaining. The 49ers will work hard to extend him. Can they afford to pay Aiyuk and Deebo Samuel? They've paid top money to numerous other positions. They may not be able to do that twice at wide receiver. Will they let Aiyuk leave in free agency, or will they trade Samuel and keep Aiyuk?

16 million in cap space. What is the best approach to sign who needs to be resigned or extended? - Joe M.

The 49ers always put a price on their own free agents, as well as other teams' free agents. They evaluate the market price for that player, and what they are willing to pay, and they go from there. They do the same thing with players they are looking to extend. The 49ers typically don't move too far off that "fair market price."

For example, they would probably like to have some guys like Mike McGlinchey and Jimmie Ward return to the team. But the 49ers will have a price that they believe is fair for that player and his productivity/talent. So if they value that player and his position at $12 million per season (for example), and the player gets offered $16 million in free agency, the 49ers likely will stay at their own evaluation and let the player walk.

I would expect them to do the same thing they've been doing. That's why guys like McGlinhey and Ward have likely played their last downs as 49ers.

Do you think they will be players for any big free agents? - Sean P.

Do I think the 49ers will sign any day-one free-agency players who get the biggest contracts? No, I do not. They normally are not players in that game.

Last year they went after Charvarius Ward, but that was a glaring need at a very important position. With Nick Bosa's contract extension on the horizon, I just don't see them spending a ton in free agency on big-name players.

So while there will be plenty of rumors about the 49ers, and some big-name free agents, don't expect to hear about them signing someone on day one of free agency. Keep in mind, though, that the 49ers place a call inquiring about almost everyone. But they rarely bite.

Will the 49ers be rumored to sign some big free agents? Yes. Will they actually do it? No.

Which is the higher priority this offseason? Rebuilding the offensive line or the defensive line? - Uncle Salty

Last week on my podcast with guest John Chapman, of the 49ers Rush Podcast, I asked him what his biggest concern was for the 2023 season. Here's what he said:

"The 49ers had the number one defense—points, yards, whatever metric you want. They dominated. However, they were not getting after the quarterback. You know, you look at the sacks that took place down the stretch, quarterbacks weren't getting hit. Quarterbacks were somewhat comfortable. Now were they putting up lots of points? No. But if this team's going to be what it could be, it's gotta have a better pass rush. It just has to. And that's my biggest concern.

"It's the pass rush opposite of Bosa. Armstead is great. He's a defender, pass defender. Bosa's the best defensive player in football. But you can't just have two aces. You can't, you gotta get some guys there. That's why I wanna see McGlinchey go elsewhere, and spend that money on a defensive end or a pass-rushing defensive tackle or something. Because I think that defensive line, and that's who John Lynch and Kyle Shanahan built this team around."

It's hard to argue with him. The defensive line is what has carried this team since 2019, yet they weren't as strong down the stretch in 2022. So certainly rebuilding the defensive line is a huge concern for the 49ers.

But we also just watched the Chiefs beat the Eagles in the Super Bowl. The Eagles had a great defensive front, but the Chiefs won the game, primarily because of a dominant offensive line. Patrick Mahomes gets most of the credit, but that Kansas City offensive line was just as much of a reason why they won.

So I might choose the offensive line as my top priority, but history tells us the 49ers will choose a defensive line.

What do we do at RT and DT as McGlinchey and Kinlaw seem to be out or underperforming? - Susheel

Javon Kinlaw is still under contract, so he will be on the team in 2023. The 49ers will not pick up Kinlaw's fifth-year option, though. I'm rooting for him and hope he has a great 2023. But I'm not optimistic about him.

As far as right tackle, I think it's going to be Colton McKivitz or Jaylen Moore. But on my podcast, Chapman threw out an interesting suggestion. He said he could see the 49ers moving Spencer Burford to right tackle and bringing back Daniel Brunskill to play right guard. I really like that idea and think that might be the best option for the 49ers.

Will they do it? I don't know, but I love the idea of Burford can play right tackle. Chapman seemed to believe he can.

Let me give you a tough one. Who should the 49ers target in the draft with their first three picks? - ShoqMax

I don't follow the draft closely enough to answer questions involving later-round picks, so I asked a colleague at 49ers Webzone, Rohan Chakravarthi, for his thoughts. Here's what he said:

"The 49ers have consecutive picks in the third round due to the compensatory formula. However, since they draft only in the third round, it's tough to see who they should target at that specific spot, due to how the board could play out. A logical position to look at could be offensive tackle, as the draft seems to have several talented players that should be selected in the middle rounds. Others could be center, given the talent at the position in the class, linebacker, since Azeez Al-Shaair likely goes elsewhere, or defensive line to continue adding at the position."

Are they grooming Jaylon Moore to be Trent's successor in a few years before the inevitable retirement? - Zach M.

I hope that's not the plan. I realize we haven't had much of a look at Moore, so we don't really know what to expect of him, but I would think that if he has the type of talent to replace a left tackle who is on his way to the Hall of Fame, we would've already seen more of him.

When are the 49ers going to announce the hiring of Wilks, and what FAs do you think they will resign? I'm hoping for Gould, Gipson, and Brendel. - Kim C.

Good question. They still have not announced the hiring of Steve Wilks as Defensive Coordinator. Why? I'm not entirely sure, but it could be that they're just waiting until the current hiring cycle is complete so they can announce all of the new additions.

DeMeco Ryans is no longer listed on the coaching page of the team website. But Bobby Slowik is. So they likely just haven't updated the page yet.

On the 49ers' Twitter page is a congratulatory post for Ryans. So they're at least acknowledging his departure.

As far as free agents the 49ers will re-sign, I would think Robbie Gould, Tashaun Gipson, Emmanuel Moseley, and Jake Brendel will be priorities. I would also expect one or two of the defensive linemen to be brought back, as well. And don't sleep on Brunskill returning.

Where are they going to find a free-agent RT who can actually protect our QB on passing downs? It's definitely not #69 McG! Restructuring contracts to free up cap space should allow decent room for Bosa, & free-agent signings to fix the gaps…49ers are Super Bowl bound! - Kelly R.

That is going to be one of the big challenges for the 49ers this off-season. McGlinchey wasn't the best right tackle, but he was decent and it's just hard to find quality tackles in this league. Hopefully, the 49ers can upgrade at right tackle, but if not, they need to at least not get worse. Again, Kansas City doesn't win the Super Bowl without the best offensive line in football.

How much are we gonna pay Bosa? - Travis H.

More than any defensive player has ever been paid. I would expect Bosa to get over $30 million a year. His brother, Joey Bosa, gets $27 million annually. T.J. Watt gets $28 million. And Aaron Donald, who is currently the highest-paid defensive player, gets $31.67 million.

I would think Bosa will eclipse that mark. It will be structured in such a way that helps the 49ers as much as possible, but he's about to cost more than most small towns are worth.

Will the 49ers maintain a 4-3 front will Wilks as the new DC? - Ninerforlife96

Yes. Kyle Shanahan made it clear he wanted to keep the same scheme. That was, no doubt, discussed during Wilks' interview. And I think it is part of the reason Vic Fangio went to Miami instead of coming back to the 49ers.

What are the plans to replace Carthon? - Jaime P.

The 49ers are big on promoting from within. I would expect that to be the case here, as well.

According to Chakravarthi, "A prime in-house candidate to replace Ran Carthon could be 49ers Director of Pro Personnel, R.J. Gillen. Gillen has five years of experience as a pro personnel scout, and has been the second-in-command to Carthon as the evaluator for talent around the NFL when it comes to free agency. He appears to be the logical replacement, given his rise within the organization."

Biggest draft need? - Aris A.

I've mentioned this somewhat already, but I'm going to say the biggest needs are:

  • Offensive line, specifically right tackle and center (depending on what they do in free agency). And if they happen to move Burford to right tackle, they will need a guard.
  • Defensive line, specifically edge rusher and defensive tackle (again, depending on what they do in free agency).

Will the 49ers really trade Trey Lance? If they do, when will it be? And for what compensation do you predict? - ToxicAnalyst0000

The 49ers are not trading Trey Lance. If however, they did choose to do so, I don't think they would get near as much for Lance as they paid for him. At this point, I don't even know if they would get a first-round pick for him. He just hasn't played, so no one knows what to expect from him. I still have high hopes for Lance, and want to see him develop with the 49ers.

IMHO; This next season is a perfect time to get younger with questions at QB and so many draft picks. Do the 49ers just let most of their FA's walk and hit the draft hard? - DoctorWDS

No, this is still a very talented team. They are not in rebuilding mode, where you start letting guys walk so you can begin rebuilding the team. They are one of the top two or three favorites to win the Super Bowl next season, so it's not time to rebuild. It's time to fill holes that will help you get over the hump to win a sixth Lombardi trophy.

Plus, they have an owner, a front office, a head coach and staff to go along with a team full of players who want to win the Super Bowl. Their championship window is wide open.

Thanks so much for all your 49ers questions. I will record this mailbag as a podcast early next week. You can check it out on my new YouTube channel or wherever you listen to your podcasts.

We'll be back in another two weeks with another 49ers mailbag.
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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