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Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Assessing the 49ers roster and needs after one week of free agency

Mar 17, 2023 at 3:44 PM--

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The first wave of free agency has come and gone, and the 49ers have had to say goodbye to a number of familiar faces while welcoming a few new ones. There's been a good amount of shuffling over the past week, but one thing remains clear -- the 49ers still have one of the best rosters in the NFL.

There's still more players to be added in the weeks ahead, both in the draft and in free agency. The 49ers still need depth and competition in a few areas, and maybe a new starter in a key spot on special teams. But with the way things look now, the 49ers could be looking at a fairly complete roster with very few weaknesses once they're done with their offseason moves.

Here's a look at where things stand by position as of March 17, along with some thoughts on where the 49ers still could use more help.


Returning: Trey Lance, Brock Purdy
Signed: Sam Darnold
Departing: Jimmy Garoppolo (Raiders)
Free Agent: Josh Johnson

Darnold gives the 49ers the veteran quarterback they needed with Lance and Purdy coming off injuries. His presence adds to an already high level of intrigue surrounding the quarterback position in San Francisco. Darnold won't start this season unless something goes awry with Lance and Purdy, but it'll still be fascinating to see if he can give his career a boost under head coach Kyle Shanahan and quarterbacks coach Brian Griese. Things haven't turned out as expected for Darnold after joining the league as the No. 3 overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft, but he's still young (25) and has plenty of talent to work with.

Of course, most of the attention in the months ahead will center around Lance, who should be back on the field during offseason workouts after his season-ending ankle injury, and Purdy, who is expected to need six months of recovery after recent elbow surgery. Even with Purdy's standout performance at the end of the 2022 season, Lance may have an opportunity to Wally Pipp Purdy if he's able to put together a strong showing over the next six months.

The 49ers will almost certainly add a fourth quarterback in the weeks ahead, perhaps a late-round pick like Purdy was last year, or maybe an undrafted rookie. But with Darnold in the fold, any young quarterback added to the roster moving forward would probably be competing for a spot on the practice squad once Purdy is ready to go.

Need factor: Low to moderate

Running Back/Fullback

Returning: Christian McCaffrey, Elijah Mitchell, Jordan Mason, Tyrion Davis-Price, FB Kyle Juszczyk

The 49ers seem set at running back numbers-wise and quality-wise, but the guess is that won't necessarily stop them from adding more help here in the draft. They proved with the selections of Davis-Price in 2022 and Mitchell and Trey Sermon in 2021 that they intend to spend draft capital to keep the position strong, even if it seems to already be an area of strength. The injury histories of McCaffrey and Mitchell could make them think it will be a good idea to do so again.

Either way, the 49ers will have one of the best running back groups in the NFL next season. The trick, as it has been year in and year out, will be keeping them healthy.

Need factor: Low

Wide Receiver

Returning: Brandon Aiyuk, Deebo Samuel, Ray-Ray McCloud, Danny Gray, Jauan Jennings
Reserve/Future signings: Tyron Johnson, Tay Martin, Dazz Newsome

The 49ers return all of their production from 2022 at this position, so it'll be a strength once again. But this could also be an area where more help is brought in, both to ensure depth for this season and to plan for the future (perhaps one or two of the above players eventually will become too expensive for the 49ers' liking). It's also tough to say for sure what the team will get from Gray, who caught only one pass while developing as a rookie in 2022. Wide receiver isn't a huge need at the moment, but adding a young prospect to the mix makes some sense.

Need factor: Low to moderate

Tight End

Returning: George Kittle, Charlie Woerner
Free agents: Ross Dwelley, Tyler Kroft, Jordan Matthews

Perhaps this is finally the year for the 49ers to spend one of their higher draft picks on a young pass-catching tight end to pair with George Kittle. The only tight ends the 49ers have drafted in the Shanahan/Lynch era are Kittle (2017, round five), Woerner (2020, round six), and former 49er Kaden Smith (2019, round six), so they obviously haven't viewed it as a huge priority.

It might be a good idea to reverse that trend this year. There's a need for competitors and improvement depth-wise at this position, and the tight end crop in this year's draft is deep and talented. This is a rare spot on the roster where there's clearly a spot (or two) available to be won. Who winds up competing for it remains to be seen.

Need factor: Moderate

Offensive Line

Returning: LT Trent Williams, LG Aaron Banks, C Jake Brendel, RG Spencer Burford, RT Colton McKivitz, Jaylon Moore, Nick Zakelj
Departing: Mike McGlinchey (Broncos), Daniel Brunskill (Titans)
Reserve/Future signings: Alfredo Gutierrez, Keith Ismael, Jason Poe, Leroy Watson

With depth on the offensive line looking iffy at the moment, the 49ers can be counted on to add more help at the position at some point in the near future. Williams, Banks and Brendel are locked into the starting lineup, while Burford may be as well despite sharing snaps with Brunskill last season as a rookie. McKivitz is in line to replace McGlinchey at right tackle, at least for now.

The 49ers could use depth across the board and competition on the right side of the line. The draft seems to be a likely place they'll look, as they have the past two years. It would also be nice to find another versatile veteran on the cheap like Brunskill, who was able to fill in at multiple positions.

Need factor: Moderate to high

Defensive Line

Returning: DE Nick Bosa, DT Arik Armstead, DE Drake Jackson, DT Javon Kinlaw, DT Kevin Givens, DT Kalia Davis, DT T.Y. McGill
Signed: DT Javon Hargrave, DE Clelin Ferrell
Departing: DE Samson Ebukam (Colts), DE Charles Omenihu (Chiefs), DT Hassan Ridgeway (Texans), DT Maurice Hurst (Browns)
Free Agents: DE Jordan Willis, DE Kerry Hyder
Reserve/Future signings: Alex Barrett

With Hargrave on board, the starting lineup looks nice... real nice. Bosa, Armstead and Hargrave will make up one of the best defensive line cores in the league. Jackson saw his playing time tail off towards the end of last season but is a favorite to start opposite Bosa. There's depth on the inside with Kinlaw and Givens, while we don't know what to expect from the 2022 sixth-round pick Davis, who missed his rookie season while recovering from injury. Ferrell comes to the 49ers on a one-year deal, hoping to be the next player to jumpstart his career under defensive line coach Kris Kocurek. He will at least add depth and can help in multiple spots.

Need factor: Low to moderate


Returning: Fred Warner, Dre Greenlaw, Oren Burks, Demetrius Flannigan-Fowles, Marcelino McCrary-Ball
Departing: Azeez Al-Shaair (Titans)
Reserve/Future signings: Curtis Robinson

The loss of Al-Shaair leaves at least one spot to be won at linebacker. Warner and Greenlaw are fixtures, of course, while Burks once again will provide depth and a special teams presence. Past that, it remains to be seen how the rest of the position plays out. Flannigan-Fowles is an early favorite to be back on the roster again, while, McCrary-Ball and Robinson are capable of winning a spot. But chances are there will be more competition added here in the future. The 49ers haven't drafted a linebacker since Greenlaw in 2019. That could change this year.

Need factor: Moderate

Defensive Back

Returning: CB Charvarius Ward, CB Deommodore Lenoir, CB Ambry Thomas, CB Samuel Womack, S Tashaun Gipson, S Talanoa Hufanga, S George Odum
Signed: CB Isaiah Oliver
Departing: CB Emmanuel Moseley (Lions), S/CB Jimmie Ward (Texans), S Tarvarius Moore (Packers)
Free Agents: CB Dontae Johnson, CB Jason Verrett
Reserve/Future signings: S Tayler Hawkins, CB Qwuantrezz Knight, CB Tre Swilling, DB A.J. Parker

Moseley was a tough loss, even if the 49ers went much of the 2022 season without him due to injury. The 49ers expressed interest after the season in keeping him around, but even the modest price tag he found in Detroit (one year, $6 million) apparently wasn't enough. Charvarius Ward, Lenoir, and Oliver seem set to play big roles at corner, with Gipson and Hufanga once again starting at safety. Oliver is the early favorite to take over for Jimmie Ward at nickel.

The guess here is the 49ers will add more competition at both corner and safety in the draft. Gipson had a strong showing in 2022, but he's back on just a one-year deal and is not getting any younger (33 in August). So a dash of youth might be nice there. There could be a spot or two to be won at corner as well. If the 49ers add one or more in the draft, Thomas and/or Womack could find themselves in a roster battle come August.

Need factor: Low to moderate


Returning: LS Taybor Pepper, P Mitch Wishnowsky
Free Agent: K Robbie Gould

This has been an area of relative stability in recent years, give or take a long snapper. That might not the case now that the 49ers and Robbie Gould may or may not have parted ways. Unless there's a reversal and Gould returns to the Bay Area, the 49ers will need to find a replacement. If indeed Gould moves on, the 49ers should turn over every stone they need to in order to find a reliable successor.

Need factor: High at kicker
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.

1 Comment

  • Jim
    With one unproven starter and the lack of edge depth, defensive line should still be rated moderate to high. Jordan Willis would help some.
    Mar 18, 2023 at 8:47 AM

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