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49ers mailbag: Why Nick Sorensen? What will Brandon Staley add to the staff? Will Deebo Samuel, Brandon Aiyuk, or George Kittle be traded?

Marc Adams
Mar 6, 2024 at 8:54 AM--

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The San Francisco 49ers reportedly are promoting defensive passing game specialist Nick Sorensen to the position of defensive coordinator. The team also adds former Los Angeles Chargers head coach Brandon Staley as its new assistant head coach. We'll have to wait and see how that all plays out.

Next week is the start of NFL free agency. With the coaching additions, rumors about potential trades, and pending free agency, fans of the team undoubtedly have plenty of questions. So we opened up the 49ers Webzone Mailbag to see what was on your mind. Let's hop in and take a look.

Why Nick Sorensen? What will he bring to the defense that chronically underperformed this year from a schematic standpoint in situational football? - Stefan R.

49ers Head Coach Kyle Shanahan must see some things in Sorensen that he likes. For one, Sorensen worked on Pete Carroll's Seattle staff and has been with the 49ers for the past two seasons, so he knows the system. And Sorensen has led some team meetings during that time, and so Shanahan has had a chance to see him in action. So while he may be an unknown to the fanbase and media, he's not to Shanahan. We also know that Shanahan wants to keep this system. That's why it didn't work out a year ago when they were interviewing Vic Fangio.

Sorensen has also played a lot of different roles as a coach so far. He coached special teams in Jacksonville (when the special teams coach abruptly quit). He coached linebackers with the 49ers when Johnny Holland needed to take some time away due to health concerns. He played safety in the NFL for about 10 years, mostly on special teams. So the 49ers' new defensive coordinator has been exposed to a lot of different things as a coach.

Of course, that doesn't mean he will be any good at it. But he will have Shanahan, as well as Staley, to go to for advice. Plus, the 49ers reportedly are hiring former Seahawks linebacker K.J. Wright to be an assistant linebackers coach. Will there be anyone on the coaching staff who knows the defense better than Wright? He should be a great resource for the coaches and the players.

I think the 49ers have a strong enough staff and roster to overcome Sorensen's lack of experience. As much as people seem to dislike Steve Wilks, the 49ers defense was still really good. And if they're not, the 49ers will have some guys like Staley, and defensive backs coach Daniel Bullocks, who might be able to step in.

With the supposed addition of KJ Wright as an assistant linebackers coach, how do the 9ers backfill Sorensen's role as pass game coordinator? Will the 9ers also replace Anthony Lynn's role as an additional RB coach, with Bobby Turner? Chris Foerster is the run game coordinator and o-line coach. Could we see a Mike McDaniels/Mike LaFleur-type duo again? - Jordan

Bobby Turner is the running backs coach. When Anthony Lynn was hired and assumed that role, it was only until Turner could return to the team. As you may recall, he also missed some time due to health reasons.

As far as what the 49ers will do to fill the role of defensive passing game coordinator, I wouldn't be surprised if someone was promoted to that position. Maybe they will bring someone in, but I think it's more likely they will promote someone who is already on the staff. That's typically what they do.

What will be Staley's role as an assistant coach who is 3-4 guy? - Mike R.

That remains to be seen. I would expect Shanahan, or John Lynch, to give us some information when they finally meet with the media to discuss the coaching hires. Next week, the new NFL year (and free agency) begins, so one of them may address the media then. Lynch spoke with reporters last week, so maybe Shanahan will soon. If not next week, the annual league meeting takes place March 24-27 in Orlando. We normally hear from them during that week.

But I would anticipate Staley being a resource for Sorensen, and probably Shanahan, as well. Everyone talks about how great of a football mind Staley has. He wasn't a successful head coach, but that doesn't mean he isn't smart.

Matt Maiocco, of NBC Sports Bay Area, was a guest on KNBR on Monday and suggested Shanahan may use Staley to give him a better idea of how opposing defenses may attack his offense. I think it will benefit the 49ers to have another mind and set of eyes in the room. But we'll have to wait and see exactly how they plan to use their new assistant head coach.

What will Brandon Staley add to the staff? Asst. HC is high praise, so why would the 49ers hire a washout? What are we missing? - Stefan R.

No one seemed to care that they hired Lynn as assistant head coach. Remember, he was also a former Chargers head coach who didn't fare well. Some coaches just aren't cut out to be head coaches. Sometimes the timing is wrong. Sometimes the team you go to is the wrong one for you. Remember when Bill Belichick went from being the legendary defensive coordinator of the New York Giants to a "washout" as a head coach with the Cleveland Browns? He turned out to be pretty good.

So I wouldn't judge Staley based solely on his Los Angeles debacle. According to Maiocco, when the 49ers had joint practices with the Chargers a couple of years ago, Shanahan and Lynch came away very impressed with Staley. Not everyone is meant to be a head coach. It's a completely different animal, and I believe the 49ers will use Staley's strengths to make the team better.

Kyle clearly wants a "HC" of the defense. Is this combo of coaches going to give him that? - William S.

Perhaps, but I still think that Shanahan is the "HC of the defense." As I mentioned already, we'll have to wait and see what he tells us, if anything, about what Staley's role will be.

When will Sorenson's first press conference be? - Jon S.

Our Managing Editor at 49ers Webzone, David Bonilla, said he expects Sorensen to speak to reporters during the team's rookie minicamp in May. This was when Wilks first met with the media last year.

So now that the NFL Combine is complete, which players are the 49ers smitten with? And which players really disappointed? - Ed H.

I'll defer to our very own, Steph Sanchez, on this one. Every year, she puts together a 49ers draft sheet of all the players the 49ers have met with, be it at the scouting combine, the senior bowl, or wherever. And as she has mentioned, the 49ers traditionally have drafted, or later signed a lot of the players with whom they meet. So it's something to pay attention to.

Her draft sheet doesn't include who the 49ers are "smitten with" or who disappointed, though. And the 49ers brass would never reveal that information.

What position(s) do you see the 49ers addressing in free agency, and which free agents do you see the 49ers addressing said positions with? - ShoqMax

I don't expect any big splash moves, but I also didn't expect the team to sign Javon Hargrave last year. That said, don't be surprised if the 49ers pass on the big-name players, and grab some second-tier players for positions like:

  • Offensive line (particularly guard)
  • Defensive tackle (someone who can be the run stuffer they've been missing)
  • Corner (as Lynch said last week, you can never have enough corners)
  • Edge rusher (someone like Clelin Ferrell)

I do expect the 49ers to address offensive tackle, edge rusher, and corner in the draft. And possibly wide receiver if something crazy happens (more on that below).

With 11 projected draft picks, do you see the 9ers targeting: Brendan Rice, Frank Gore Jr., and/or Luke McCaffrey next month? I think this would be absolutely AMAZING. - Jordan

49ers fans would love to have Jerry Rice's son, Brenden, Frank Gore's son, Frank, Jr., and Christian McCaffrey's brother, Luke, on the team. But Lynch and Shanahan will be drafting players they have determined are the best fits for the team. I don't think they will be as focused on drafting family members of 49ers legends.

It would be a cool story, but can you imagine being the son of the greatest wide receiver in NFL history, and playing for the same team as your Hall of Fame father? That would be a lot of pressure. But if any of those guys are a great fit and can help the 49ers win another Super Bowl, I'm all for it. And for those hoping at least one of these guys is drafted by the 49ers, you'll be happy to know that the team has met with all three.

So there is a chance.

How farfetched would it be for the Niners to trade up and grab a top 5 or 10 pick? - Michael H.

Remember what they gave up to move from number 12 to number three when they drafted Trey Lance in 2021? They traded the following to the Miami Dolphins:

  • 2021 first-round pick (No. 12 overall)
  • 2022 first-round pick (No. 29 overall)
  • 2022 third-round pick (No. 101 overall)
  • 2023 first-round pick (No. 29 overall)

That was a hefty price to move up nine spots. Moving from number 31 into the top 10 will cost even more, especially if you want to move up all the way to number five. The 49ers' number 31 pick is valued at 600 points. The number five overall pick is valued at 1,700 points. Even if the 49ers traded number 31, number 63 (2nd round), number 94 (3rd round), and number 98 (3rd round), they'd still be almost 600 points short. And since the number 31 pick in the 2025 draft isn't worth as much as the 2024 pick right now, trading next year's first-round pick still wouldn't be enough. They would have to trade much more than they did in 2021 for Lance.

I see no way the 49ers will make a move like that. That's the kind of move you make for a quarterback, and by all accounts, the 49ers believe they have their guy in Brock Purdy. You may have heard of him.

Sorry, Michael, but it's not going to happen.

I love Deebo and Kittle...BUT! Both of these guys are now hurt more than they are healthy. Neither player takes over games the way they did. They both get paid way too much to be "Good Enough." I'm guessing both players are on the roster this year, but is either player on the roster next year if they have another "good enough" season? - William S.

I believe that Deebo Samuel and George Kittle will both be with the 49ers this coming season. But neither may be in San Francisco in 2025. The 2024 salary cap is such that the front office should be able to make some small moves and be cap-compliant. But in 2025, the cap will be much more difficult for the 49ers to manage, especially when they redo Purdy's contract. If he has another season like he did in 2023, he could cost $40 million per year. And as Bonilla said to me a couple of days ago, can you imagine the 49ers paying two wide receivers (Samuel and Aiyuk) $50 million per season (if Aiyuk is extended)? It's hard to see that happening.

There have been rumors that Aiyuk will be traded this offseason. I've heard speculation that Kyle Juszczyk could be let go. There have also been rumors that Samuel will be traded this offseason. Rohan Chakravarthi, of Niners Nation, wrote, "The initial buzz around the NFL Combine is that the 49ers would be willing to move off Samuel, although his contract may provide some complications with that idea. That buzz was synonymous with the 49ers' commitment to getting a deal done for Brandon Aiyuk, with San Francisco potentially picking their younger receiver as the focal point going forward."

As Chakravarthi alluded to, trading Samuel before June 1 won't help the 49ers much this season, and will cost a lot to do so. If they decide to trade Samuel after June 1, it may be better for the team financially, but it will hurt the 49ers because they will have lost one of their best players, and it will be after the draft and well into free agency. Essentially, it will be too late to replace him.

In the end, I still believe both receivers, as well as Kittle, will play for the 49ers in 2024. However, 2025 is a different story. That's when some really painful moves may have to be made.

That's all for this edition of the 49ers Webzone Mailbag. We'll be back next week when free agency is in full frenzy.
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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