SANTA CLARA, CA – The San Francisco 49ers were within minutes of reaching their second Super Bowl in three seasons, but they narrowly missed the Los Angeles Rams in the NFC Championship Game.
It was a roller coaster season that the Niners started 3-5, rose to 7-2 and won two of their road games against old rivals Green Bay and Dallas. Along the way, San Francisco had elite productions of expected stars like finisher Nick Bossa, tackle Trent Williams and tight end George Kettle, but it was the emergence of wide-back Debo Samuel that catalyzed the team’s second run in the second half.
Now, the Niners are entering another off cash season with plenty of questions to answer and developing quarterback Trey Lance at the center of it all. But, having finished 10-7 with a pair of post-season wins, the Niners are doing so with confidence that they are not far from returning to the bigger stage in the game.
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Expected maximum salary area: $8.2 million over expected salary cap
The most important free agents: G Laken Tomlinson, DT DJ Jones, D. L. Arden Key, CB K’Waun Williams, RB Raheem Mostert, S Jaquiski Tartt
Possible candidates for cutting: Two to watch are defensive end De Ford and central Jimmy Garoppolo. Ford was unable to stay in the field and is unlikely to return with his current cap figure south of $12 million. Ford’s release will save about $2 million, but if determined after the June 1 release, it will save $7 million. The Niners expect Garoppolo to trade but if they can’t find an operator, he can be released.
The big question: What happens with Garoppolo? Coach Kyle Shanahan and general manager John Lynch said no decision has been made after the season, but Garoppolo was clear: He expects a deal and wants to have a say in where he land. While it can’t be officially traded until March 16, the Niners could agree to a deal before then, and that’s the expectation. Getting an agreement sooner would not only allow the Niners to know what they got back for, but would also free up much-needed space to work at a free agency.
Best Holiday Season Scenario: Demand for veteran quarterbacks outstrips supply and the Niners get a second-round pick on terms that could make him a first-round pick and another Garoppolo pick. They use the savings to retain some of the key players – including extensions to Bossa and Samuel – and draft resources to fortify the offensive and secondary line.
Worst case scenario off season: The Niners find no acceptable deal for Garoppolo, and he has to wait until after the draft to trade with him and get a third day pick in return after watching most of their free base agents leave for teams in better pay cap positions.
An early look at the NFL Draft, from ESPN analyst Jordan Reed: 49ers can get skinny quickly in high school based on freelance talent agency. Talanoa Hufanga could step into a larger role, but revamping the depth there at the back end of the defense is a solid option. If they lose Tomlinson in free agency, tackling the inner offensive line might be another route for Lynch.
Most important needs: CB, S, IOL
Best choice for: No. 61