49ERS' FRONT OFFICE FORCES THEIR SUPER BOWL WINDOW BACK (WIDE) OPEN
By Scott Geelan
With the battle for offseason primacy well and truly upon us, the NFL has surged back into the headlines and the forefront of sports fans’ focus. Even with coronavirus’ impact on revenues, teams have been clashing across the league in their desires to improve, mediated and manipulated by agents seeking the best deal for the clients. Regular contestants have encountered new foes, with many column inches already devoted to the Patriots’ free agency rampage; Bill Belichick spending lavishly to retool what had been a dilapidated roster, whilst Jacksonville are similarly active entering a new phase in their rebuild/build.
Meanwhile, on the opposite side of the country, the 49ers were working in the shadows. With typical targeted precision, the 49ers’ front office addressed their roster’s most glaring needs in the opening 48 hours of free agency to blast their Super Bowl window back open.
Easily overcoming a relatively restrictive salary cap situation, the 49ers secured:
- Two starting calibre cornerbacks, re-signing Jason Verrett and Emmanuel Moseley;
- A starting calibre defensive end, signing Samson Ebukam;
- A fullback, re-signing Kyle Juszczyk;
- A center, re-uniting Alex Mack with Kyle Shanahan; and
- The best offensive tackle in the NFL; re-signing Trent Williams
Both external additions are clearly superb scheme fits for the 49ers. Ebukam is one of the most physically gifted defensive ends to land in the NFL in the past decade, and may well benefit from getting more pass rushing opportunities in San Francisco than he enjoyed in Los Angeles. Either way, his addition also adds a talented player to the defensive end rotation, which may have the desirable knock-on effect of letting Arik Armstead play more at defensive tackle, reinforcing that position.
Mack meanwhile, already knows the system and enjoyed some of his best seasons under Kyle Shanahan. Center is massively important in the Shanahan system, and Mack will take a major role in the 49ers offense whether Garoppolo, a rookie, or a new veteran is taking the ball at quarterback. All three options will benefit enormously from Mack’s nous.
The internal re-signings are similarly wise. Verrett and Moseley are gifted starting cornerbacks who can play both man and zone coverage at a high level, signed at bargain prices. They will maintain stability in the defensive backfield as new defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans beds in.
Juszczyk has seen a declining snap count and has arguably not been at his best in recent seasons, but can certainly enjoy a bounce back year on a newly-buoyant roster whilst his presence continues to give defenses real issues with their gap discipline and adds further versatility to the 49ers’ offense.
What more is there to say about Williams that hasn’t already been said? The Aaron Donald of offensive tackles, only not undersized, Williams’ re-signing rubber-stamps the 49ers’ brilliant move of a year ago to trade for him.
Even with those signings, the 49ers have space to address further needs and still retain their freedom at the quarterback position.
The safety market has been slow-moving, and plenty of versatile pieces are still available and could be had relatively cheaply. Former 49er Jaquiski Tartt likely headlines that group, with the likes of Tashaun Gipson & Duron Harmon players who can be move around the defensive backfield to facilitate Jimmie Ward doing the same. Malik Hooker or Tre Boston could be options, but they are more pure post safeties.
The nickel corner market has also been sluggish and the 49ers can certainly look to the likes of Desmond King, Troy Hill, Brian Poole, Nickell Robey-Coleman and Mackensie Alexander as options if they do not re-sign K’waun Williams, whilst also being aware of Ward’s ability to play that spot – potentially allowing them to play more three-safety or even four-safety packages. The lower tiers of the veteran EDGE market are also loaded. Given the decisiveness, logic and clarity of thinking the 49ers’ front office has consistently showed in the past few seasons, I fully expect them to wrap up further signings in the coming days.