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49ers mailbag: Who is most likely to be traded? What positions will SF draft? Which free-agent pass rushers will the 49ers pursue?

Marc Adams
Feb 28, 2024 at 8:35 AM--

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It's been a quiet couple of weeks for the San Francisco 49ers. Other than firing defensive coordinator Steve Wilks, and that little Super Bowl thing, there hasn't been much going on. But this week kicks off the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis, and free agency is only a couple of weeks away. So things will soon pick up.

GM John Lynch spoke with reporters at the Combine on Tuesday. And while he didn't give a lot of new information, there were still some highlights to discuss. So we opened up the 49ers Webzone Mailbag to see what questions you had about the team. Let's jump in and take a look.

Who are you hoping for (as defensive coordinator)? - Brian J.

I think we are all hoping for some big name from the outside, but I don't expect that to happen. Matt Maiocco, of NBC Sports Bay Area, reported on Monday that he texted Kyle Shanahan and that the head coach said the 49ers have interviewed former Chargers head coach Brandon Staley and San Francisco's defensive passing game coordinator Nick Sorensen for the defensive coordinator job. 49ers defensive backs coach Daniel Bullocks is scheduled to interview later this week, along with a couple of other outside candidates.

I realize Staley had success with the Rams, but he runs a 3-4 defense. And from what I understand, it's a fairly complicated defense, whereas the 49ers prefer a simpler approach so the players can read and react quickly. Will Staley change his scheme to get the 49ers job? That's what Steve Wilks did and it didn't work.

Lynch mentioned on Tuesday that there won't be any major changes to the 49ers defensive philosophy. What does Lynch consider "major changes?" I'm not entirely sure, but I would think that means the defense won't be changing to a 3-4. Lynch did say, however, that we shouldn't rule out Staley, and that he is talented enough to adjust. I'm still doubtful that he will be the choice.

Barring any trades, what positions will the 49ers address with its 11 potential draft picks? And what position gets multiple picks in April? - Ed H.

Here are the positions I feel confident in saying the 49ers will address, either through free agency or the draft:

  • Offensive line. The right side of the offensive line needs help. It's not that Spencer Burford and Colton McKivitz are bad, but they're just not good enough. The 49ers need to find a tackle that can beat out McKivitz, and they eventually need someone to replace Trent Williams. I wouldn't mind an upgrade at center, either, but the 49ers (particularly offensive line coach Chris Foerster) seem to like Jake Brendel. Lynch did say on Tuesday that the 49ers would like to bring back right guard Jon Feliciano. We'll see how that goes, but Feliciano was a good fit for the offensive line. It wouldn't surprise me to see San Francisco draft a tackle in the first round.
  • Edge rusher/defensive end. Chase Young, Randy Gregory, and Clelin Ferrell are all free agents. Maybe one of them returns, but none may come back. The 49ers need someone who can bring some QB pressure from the side opposite of Nick Bosa. Young did, at times, but he wasn't as consistent. The 49ers have two young players at the position in Drake Jackson and Robert Beal, Jr. But Jackson has underperformed so far, and Beal barely played last season due to injury. Expect to see the 49ers draft a defensive end, maybe even in the first round.
  • Cornerback. The 49ers have two really good corners in Charvarius Ward and Deommodore Lenoir, but after that, it's questionable. The team is high on Darrell Luter, Jr., but he didn't play enough as a rookie to show what he's about. On Tuesday, Lynch had good things to say about Luter, and also added, regarding the cornerback position, "That's a position you have to address every year. You just can't have enough of them."
  • Defensive tackle. The 49ers need a run-stuffing defensive tackle. Maybe Kalia Davis is that guy, but he hasn't looked like it yet.
  • Wide receiver. Lynch said on Tuesday that the 49ers want Brandon Aiyuk to be on the team long-term and that they also want to keep Jauan Jennings. Even if they can keep both, they still need to address the wide receiver position. Deebo Samuel deals with injuries a lot, due to his physical style of play. And so far, Danny Gray and Ronnie Bell haven't looked like the kind of players you can count on in a big game. Gray has one career catch.

I can confidently say the 49ers will not draft a kicker or punter. That should ease your troubled mind.

What would be the cap impact if the 49ers traded Deebo or Kittle? I love both guys, but they are hurt all the time. - William S.

I don't believe Samuel or George Kittle will be traded this offseason. Next year could be different, but for now, I think we can safely expect both to be playing for the 49ers in 2024. It's more likely that the 49ers restructure a couple of larger contracts, rather than trade someone.

As far as the cap impact, if they did trade either player, here's what the impact would be, per

  • Samuel's cap hit for 2024 is $28,633,765. If he's traded before June 1, the team could save $6,912,765. If they trade him after June 1, the 49ers would save $22,001,765.
  • Kittle's cap hit for 2024 is $21,956,575. If traded before June 1, the 49ers can save $3,042,000, but if they trade him after June 1, the team would save $14,000,000.

Again, I don't think either will be traded, and I especially don't see it happening after June 1. Another name being thrown out as a potential trade option is Arik Armstead. His cap hit of $28,353,236 is the third-highest on the team for 2024, behind Williams and Samuel. The 49ers could save $2,492,412 by trading Armstead before June 1 but would save $18,039,412 by trading him after June 1.

Trading a player after June 1 doesn't seem like a good option unless you're desperately needing to lower your team's overall salary. But doing so doesn't help the team for that coming season, especially since it's after the draft and well into free agency. So I would not anticipate the 49ers making any post-June 1 trades this offseason.

The 49ers have been smart in how they've structured some of these big contracts. Armstead's $28,353,236 cap hit in 2024 will drop to $15,547,000 in 2025. Likewise, Samuel's contract drops some in 2025, but it drops significantly, from $28,633,765 in 2024 to $8,493,000 in 2026. Structuring contracts the way they do should give them some flexibility down the road.

The team can't possibly keep all of the key players with the cap. Who is most likely traded? I've heard the likes of Armstead, Deebo, Kittle, and or Juice being on the way out. - Anthony D.

With the cap number going up significantly, I would expect the 49ers to be able to keep their core players for at least one more season. And if they do extend Aiyuk, that should create a little more space this year. The 49ers already released Isaiah Oliver, which freed up some cap space for 2024.

So I don't think the 49ers will trade anyone this year, but as I mentioned earlier, 2025 may be a different story. Especially when they have to pay Purdy.

Seems like a lot of veteran pass rushers will be available…Bosa, Burns, Mack, Hunter, and Chase Young … who would be best for the Niners to target? - Nick E.

Joey Bosa and Brian Burns are two edge rushers who a lot of 49ers fans would love to have. But will the 49ers be able to pay anyone like that? I'm just not sure how they will be able to pull off a big name such as those Nick listed.

Unless Chase Young decides to sign a one-year deal with the 49ers, I wouldn't anticipate a Javon Hargrave-type signing at edge. My best guess would be that any free-agent edge rusher will be more along the lines of second-tier types like the 49ers have signed in the past. Think of names like Samson Ebukam, Charles Omenihu, and Clelin Ferrell.

Do you believe that the 49ers will win a Super Bowl with this team and coach? Sorry, I don't, sadly! - Marcelo S.

Yes, I do believe the 49ers will win a Super Bowl with this team and coach. Why? Because they have the best roster in football, the best offensive mind in the game, and they've come really close a few times already. I realize that doesn't guarantee anything, but I will continue to believe that Shanahan and his 49ers team will eventually win one.

That's all we have for this week's edition of the 49ers Webzone Mailbag. We'll be back in a couple of weeks when the new NFL year and free agency begins, as well as throughout the offseason.
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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