Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The Under-the-Radar “Winner” of this NFL Offseason

Rohan Chakravarthi
Apr 14, 2021 at 11:30 AM0

In an offseason during which many players have decided to find new homes, there have been some prominent "winners" and "losers".

When hearing about "winners" for the NFL offseason, the teams that are generally mentioned are the New England Patriots, New York Giants, and the Arizona Cardinals, due to their additions of prominent free agents.

However, none of these teams' offseasons match that of one under-the-radar team that managed to retain almost every important pending free agent it had: the San Fransisco 49ers.

With a combination of key re-signings, additions of potential starters, and acquisitions to increase depth, the 49ers were a sneaky team whose offseason was overlooked due to the amount of volatility surrounding other teams around the league.

The Key Re-Signings

Despite facing the salary cap drop of $16 million to $182 for the year, the 49ers overcame their cap situation, having just under $24 million in cap room, to re-sign a whopping eight of their nine starters who became free agents (Kendrick Bourne left for the Patriots).

Trent Williams

The main re-signing was the one that had 49ers sweating: star offensive tackle Trent Williams. For the first few days in unofficial free agency, the lack of news surrounding Williams had fans, myself included, constantly checking Twitter.

Williams was gaining strong interest from Super Bowl LIV rival Kansas City, and he even admitted that he was considering that deal, but reassured the 49ers that they would have a last chance at re-signing him. Sure enough, in the early hours of March 17th, reports circulated that Williams had officially re-signed, with rumors sparked by Williams' Instagram stories.

The deal itself was massive: a six-year contract worth a record-breaking total of $138 million, with $55.1 million guaranteed, and a $30.1 million signing bonus. With cap-guru Paraag Marathe, the 49ers Executive Vice President of Football Operations and mastermind behind the 49ers' cap flexibility, manning the specifics of the deal, Williams' 2021 cap hit came in at a measly $8.2 million, much lower than his average annual value of $23.1 million.

By converting part of the cap hit into a signing bonus, the 49ers were able to keep much of their needed cap space to allocate for other essential free agents, like center Alex Mack.

While the total value of the $138 million deal may seem like an exorbitant amount for a 33-year-old left tackle who has struggled with injuries, in reality the construction of the deal is team-friendly.

The deal essentially breaks down into two separate deals: a 3-year deal for $60.75 million, with $45.1 million guaranteed at signing, and a team option to exercise the remaining three years of the contract at a value of $77.31 million.

If the 49ers are unhappy with Williams' performance towards the end of the first three years, they can elect to opt out of the contract and alleviate that financial burden.

However, if Williams performs as he did in 2020, earning a Pro Football Focus grade of 91.9, the highest of any tackle in the league, the 49ers can choose to exercise the contract, turning the deal to its original value of six years.

The 49ers are in the driver's seat with arguably the best tackle in football, and have a strong blindside protector for years to come once they draft their quarterback of the future.

Jason Verrett

While Trent Williams was deemed a priority, Jason Verrett was seen as an uncertainty for a return to the 49ers because his price range may have been too expensive to keep on the roster.

However, even with a strong 2020 campaign, Verrett decided to show his loyalty to the 49ers franchise, the team that took a chance on him after injuries derailed the first half of his career, by taking less money than expected and coming back on a one-year deal.

With an Over-The-Cap valuation of around $9-10 million for Jason Verrett, retaining him on a one-year, $5.5 million dollar contract seems like a bargain for a 49ers team in need of secondary help. The lowered cap hit on Trent Williams for 2021 allowed the 49ers to retain some cap space, which inevitably played a role in the signing of Verrett.

Verrett preferred a short-term deal over the multi-year offers he received elsewhere because he wanted to prove himself once more in hopes of a larger payday with the increased cap next year, and to retain familiarity, which the 49ers could provide.

Keeping a Pro Bowl-worthy corner on a cheaper deal constitutes yet another impressive feat for this under-the-radar offseason "winner."

Kyle Juszczyk

Kyle Juszczyk was one of the first 49ers to re-sign, getting a five-year, $27 million deal, with $10 million guaranteed. At first, fans were mixed over this deal, due to the fact that Juszczyk did not play a premium position.

However, in Kyle Shanahan's offense, the fullback plays an essential, versatile role in which he is meant to be a strong blocker, but also a key component in the passing game. Juszczyk has done exactly that during his time as 49er.

Similar to the Trent Williams deal, Kyle Juszczyk's contract actually plays favorably for the 49ers.

There is a team option at the end of year three, under which the Niners can choose to opt out of the contract. Then, the contract would essentially be a three-year, $14.5 million deal, lowering the blow for the future.

Juszczyk has proven to be a versatile weapon on the offensive side of the ball for the 49ers, and his re-signing bolsters the team's case to be dubbed the biggest "winner" in free agency.

K'Waun Williams

Perhaps the most underrated player on the 49ers, K'Waun Williams has been one of the best, if not the best, slot corners in the NFL over the past few years.

Since he was only third on the 49ers' priority list behind Trent Williams and Jason Verrett this offseason, and given his suitors, it was also uncertain whether the slot corner would return to San Fransisco for another season.

The Jets were making a strong push for him, as former 49ers defensive coordinator and new Jets head coach Robert Saleh was familiar with Williams and wanted another starter to add to his team. Given their ample cap space, they were seen as the early favorites to sign him.

However, K'Waun Williams put a smile on every 49er fan's face by choosing to re-sign with the franchise, once again bolstering that strong defense which led the team to the Super Bowl in 2019. He agreed to a one-year, $2.37 million deal, providing him another chance to hit free agency next year with hopes for a bigger contract.

A key player on the 49ers defense, K'Waun Williams helped the 49ers secure their top three cornerbacks from last season, and gives them a luxury that was not expected.

D.J. Jones

Another heavily underrated player on this 49ers team, D.J. Jones was a key piece on the 49er defense a year ago, filling in at the defensive tackle position, replacing the traded DeForest Buckner. A player who was expected to get a bigger deal from a franchise with abundant cap room, Jones returned to the 49ers on a one-year, $3.5 million deal.

Jones secures another starter for the 49ers on their impressive defensive front, which will return star pass rusher Nick Bosa, while giving Jones the chance to enter free agency next year.

Jones was one of the Niners' stalwarts last year, starting in 14 of a possible 16 games, which provided some stability on a team decimated by injuries.

Emmanuel Moseley

With the re-signing of Emmanuel Moseley, the 49ers were able to keep their cornerback core, while also leaving room to potentially grab one in the draft for more depth.

Moseley was brought back on a two-year, $9.38 million deal, including $8.78 million guaranteed. Moseley, an undrafted free agent in 2018, outplayed Akhello Witherspoon two years ago to earn a starting job and has been the 49ers boundary corner opposite Jason Verrett and Richard Sherman since. He provides stability at a position lacking depth for the 49ers, and bolsters their defense for the next two years with this deal.

While the 49ers' cap situation looked bleak to start free agency due to the number of players they had to retain, keeping Moseley, their youngest starter, was a priority, which is why he was the first corner to re-sign with the team.

Jaquiski Tartt

Jaquiski Tartt, the starting strong safety opposite Jimmie Ward, returned on a one-year, $1.1 million deal this offseason. Tartt, a player whose career has been marred by injuries, looks to bounce back from a 2020 season in which he only played in seven games.

When on the field, Tartt has been a productive player and he fills up the safety hole to wrap up the 49ers starting secondary.

In a year in which almost every 49ers starter in the secondary was a free agent, retaining all four of those free agents was key to maintaining stability on the defensive side of the ball.

Daniel Brunskill

Brunskill returned to the 49ers after signing his tender, making the deal a one-year, $850,000 signing. Brunskill is an essential player along that offensive line who possessed versatility over the last two seasons, playing both tackle and guard, due to the numerous 49er injuries.

He figures to be the potential starter at right guard, and completes an effective offensive line of Trent Williams, Laken Tomlinson, Alex Mack, and Mike McGlinchey. His being on the tender was very helpful to the 49ers as he likely would have commanded a salary higher than $850,000 had he hit the open market.

He rounds out an impressive 49er offseason, during which they sneakily put themselves back in Super Bowl contention after a boatload of signings.

The Key Free Agent Additions

Not only did the 49ers re-sign eight of their nine free agents, they acquired extra talent in free agency to fill holes and add roster depth.

Alex Mack

In perhaps the craziest hour of free agency for the 49ers, the Alex Mack-Niners reports began surfacing. After re-signing Trent Williams at close to two in the morning, the Niners set to work to acquire a starting center to improve the offensive line. Trent Williams, himself, attempted recruiting Alex Mack to join the 49ers on Williams' Instagram stories, and just hours later, the signing became reported.

Mack signed a team-friendly three-year, $14.85 million deal, with $5.6 million guaranteed to re-unite with his former offensive coordinator, Kyle Shanahan.

While the three years may seem like a lengthy contract for a 35-year-old center, there is no guaranteed money after year one, meaning that the 49ers can part ways with him if they are not satisfied.

Mack will bolster the offensive line play, which should help out starter Jimmy Garoppolo and his lack of mobility.

Samson Ebukam

Samson Ebukam was a key signing this offseason for the 49ers to provide some depth at the EDGE position, as his physical traits were enticing for the team.

He signed a two-year, $12 million deal, with $5 million guaranteed. Like the Trent Williams and Kyle Juszczyk contracts, Ebukam's deal involves a team option after the first year, providing the 49ers with flexibility for next season.

While Dee Ford continues to rehab from injury, Ebukam could earn a starting spot opposite Nick Bosa as the speedy pass rusher that the 49ers have desired. His physical traits and efficiency with sacks over the course of his career should make for a good fit with the 49ers.

The Rotational Piece

Along with re-signing several starters, and adding starters via free agency, the 49ers were able to retain a key rotational piece to bolster their roster depth for the upcoming season in running back Jeff Wilson Jr.

Jeff Wilson Jr.

Jeff Wilson Jr. was a very effective running back in his age-25 season, rushing for 600 yards on 4.8 YPC in 2020. Given his value as a runner in the 49ers committee, getting him back, especially with the new offensive line, will improve the 49ers run attack.

Wilson signed a one-year, $2.05 million fully-guaranteed contract, and is expected to be the RB2 behind Raheem Mostert with Jerick McKinnon and Tevin Coleman officially gone.

Wrap Up

While many teams signed marquee free-agents to bolster their rosters this offseason, no team had a better one than the under-the-radar 49ers, who secured eight of their nine starters who were free agents, as well as signing key pieces for their roster next season.

Bringing back arguably the best free agent this year in Trent Williams, this successful free agency period, along with an impactful draft, very likely would bring the team back into at-least playoff contention.

49ers EVP Paraag Marathe managed to work around the limited cap space to bring in several key pieces, while maintaining the most important free agents, essentially leading the team to being dubbed my biggest offseason winner this year.
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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