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  • Nathan Rogers

49ers' Must-Sign Free Agents

Updated: Feb 23, 2021

By: Nathan Rogers

In the 2021 Off-Season, the 49ers have a myriad of decisions to make, especially in Free Agency. Currently, Shanahan and Lynch’s regime have around 35 Free Agents. Some notable players include Richard Sherman, Trent Williams, Kyle Juszczyk, and Jason Verrett. Officially, Free Agency and the New League Year starts on March 17th at 4pm Est.

In this article, I’ll dive into the must-resign players, as well as my reasoning, their impact and their cost.

  1. Fred Warner - Absolute #1 priority (extension)

All-Pro Fred! The faithful have been chanting this phrase for many seasons, and it finally came into fruition. Fred Warner was the MVP of the 49ers in the 2020-2021 season, and has been one of the most — if not the most — durable, elite, and reliable players on the whole roster. Fred Warner is the best middle linebacker on the planet. This is no longer debatable.

Along with his terrific run-stopping techniques and sideline-to-sideline tackle abilities, Warner’s bread-and-butter super powers pop in the coverage game. Allowing only an 81 passer rating in coverage, along with allowing an impressive 57% completion percentage (h/t Kyle Posey), Fred Warner is proven to be not only the best overall middle linebacker in the league, but also one of the best coverage defenders in all of football.

Don’t take my word for it, former 49ers Defensive Coordinator, Robert Saleh, said this on Warner this past season: “I will be biased and say that he is by far, by far the best middle linebacker in football,” Saleh praised, “It’s not even close in my opinion. With what he does and what we ask him to do and his energy, his positive energy, his leadership, his off-the-field stuff, you can’t make them like that, not very often anyway” (h/t Jennifer Lee Chan).

That being said, Warner is due for a massive amount of money. For context, top linebacker of the Seattle Seahawks, Bobby Wagner, earns an average salary of $18 million. I expect Warner to be worth around that price, most likely above it. This will cause some cap space mayhem considering the 49ers only have around $14 million in cap space, with the league cap room shrinking. Keeping Jimmy G without restructuring will make it almost impossible to ensure Fred Warner and Trent Williams play for this team in the 2021-2022 season.

It’s time the 49ers’ front office join the rest of the NFL, along with the faithful, in recognizing and prioritizing Fred Warner as being the best middle linebacker in the NFL by extending his contract and keeping him in the Bay Area for as long as possible.

2. Trent Williams - Must re-sign

One of the biggest weaknesses and on-going issues with the 49ers in the recent years is the Offensive Line. Making it one of the most important priorities in their opening years, Shanahan and Lynch have always been looking to upgrade the pass and run protection. Whether it be drafting Mike McGlinchey in the first round, trading for Laken Tomlinson, singing Weston Richburg to a 5 year deal, signing Daniel Brunskill, and even trading a first-round and third-round pick for Trent Williams, the 49ers’ front office isn’t shy to find some new pieces to elevate the front. Considering the need to always find and/or keep the best O-lineman, Trent Williams should be a top priority. Trent Williams was one of the best guards in the NFL, as he only allowed a 3.6% pressure rate, around 3 sacks, and earned a 94% pressure win rate (tied for best in the NFL). Oh, and he runs a 4.8 40 time. He’s a consequential part of the run game. The biggest issue with this re-sign is the cost and, considering the current market for offensive tackles, expect Williams to get around $19 million from whatever team he signs with. In order to sustain Shanahan’s dominant run game and ensure the QB’s health -- especially if Jimmy G returns -- Trent Williams is a must re-sign.

3. Kyle Juszczyk - Must Re-sign

Another quintessential piece to Kyle Shanahan’s offense, Kyle Juszczyk, needs to be re-signed. In the NFL, he’s as dynamic as they come. Whether it be blocking defensive backs, chop blocking linebackers, blocking defensive lineman, running wide receiver routes, or running like a true power running back, Kyle Juszczyk adds fluidity, uniqueness, versatility, strength, and power to the 49ers’ run and pass game. Needless to say, he also puts the fullback position on the map as he signed a 4 year, $21,000,000 contract in 2017 with an annual salary of $5.2 million. This is an absurd amount of money for a fullback, but after looking at his impact on Shanahan's run game, it’s somewhat reassuring. The run game suffers greatly when Juszczyk is absent on the field. This is a fact. David Lombardi of The Athletic outlines this perfectly below.

It is unclear how much the Harvard-prospect fullback will cost, but it sure won't be cheap. The 49ers' front office has to be extremely creative regarding the cap space and contract issues to even be contenders in their own division.

Losing Juszczyk would be one thing, but on the other hand, the 49ers also have to realize that other teams would spend a king's ransom and would instantly pounce towards the opportunity for a player as multifaceted and valubale as Juszczyk. It's not as easy as just letting him walk in Free Agency and wishing him the best. Juszczyk is going to go to a team that will pay him and truly appreciates his talent enough to keep him long-term.

Don't believe me? Take Pete Carrol's word for it. Head Coach of the Seattle Seahawks — the notable rival of the 49ers up North — Pete Carrol has repeatedly spoken greatly about the Niner fullback. In December of 2020 the Head Coach said, "Oh, he does everything. He's a great player. He's as meaningful a part of the offense as anybody in the NFL, other than the quaterback position. He has so much that he offers on offense, and he's so good at so many things. I think he's in the Pro Bowl for the fifth or sixth time in a row becuase he's the only one doing what he does. He's that special. He can play tight end. He can be out of the backfield. He can lead on all the blocking principles they have. He can carry the football. He's good in the red zone and on short yardage. He's just a great football player" (h/t Joe Fann).

The 49ers need to disregard, to some extent, Juszczyk's cost and truly appreciate and value all that he brings to the table. If the Niners let him walk, they would not only have to suffer the consequences of essentially handing him over to other potential Super Bowl contendors, but they would also spend draft capital, adjust the roster, and change game plans, just to even make up for Juszczyk leaving.

Back in December, the Niner fullback spoke publicly on KNBR's Murph and Mac Show the following: “I would just say that I absolutely loved my time here with the Niners. It’s been absolutely phenomenal. I really would love to continue here, but my economics degree would tell me that it would be smart to weigh my options, and see what’s out there, and see what kind of opportunities I do have for my family, and that sort of thing.

Kyle and I have already had just brief informal discussions about a possible return. I’m absolutely open to that and would love that because I love everything that we’ve built here, and it’s been so cool to be a part of that, really, from the very beginning when Kyle and John got here, a complete overhaul. To be a part of that first original free-agency class that they brought in has been really cool, and I would love to continue that.”

Both sides are open to agreeing on a deal, but will the cap space allow them?

4. Kerry Hyder - Must re-sign

Leading the 49ers' injury-devastated defensive line with 8.5 sacks and 18 QB hits, Kerry Hyder should be one of the biggest defensive priorities in the off-season. There are too many question marks on the defensive line following the lackluster 2020-2021 season to not consider bringing Kerry Hyder back. Will Nick Bosa come back 100% after his ACL tear? Will Solomon Thomas be back 100% after his ACL tear and bounce back back from subpar play? Is Dee Ford healthy and ready for 2021 Week 1? The 49ers need consistency, reliability, and energy on their D-line. Kerry Hyder proved he can do just that.

The Undrafted Texas-Tech Alumnus, since entering the NFL in 2014, has been with four different organizations: the Jets, Cowboys, Lions, and now the 49ers. It seems that he's just now grasping his potential. This past season, Hyder earned a 12.6% pressure rate and a 2.1% sack rate.

He's not an elite, big-money edge rusher. But, that's exactly why the 49ers should re-sign him. The front office doesn't have to invest a uncomfortable amount of money into Hyder, and they get a solid, aggressive, and production-based edge rusher.

Honorable mention

  1. Jason Verrett -

I, myself, am a big Verrett fan. Coming back from numerous injuries including; multiple knee injuries, several hamstring issues, a torn ACL, and a crushing torn Achilles, Jason Verrett is a true warrior. He had an undisputed elite season. Here are some of his stats:

- He allowed a passer rating of 7.9 through 6 weeks (Best in the NFL)

- Allowed a 76 passer rating through 13 games

- Didn't allow a reception more than 9 yards through 6 weeks (h/t Jeff Deeney)

- Allowed only 1 touchdown and hauled in 2 INTs on 75 targets

- Allowed only 6.1 yards per target (9th in the NFL)

- Allowed 9.3 yards per reception (4th in the NFL)

- allowed a 66% completion percentage

- In 2 less games played, Verrett made 14 more solo tackles and 2 more assisted tackles than in Jalen Ramsey's 15-game season.

- 6.3% missed tackle percentage, per Pro Football Reference.

- Allowed fewer than 40 yards receiving in 9 of 13 games played (h/t @Coach_Yac)

- Held DeAndre Hopkins to only 9 targets, 5 catches, 26 yards in week 16

- After week 11, Verrett allowed 11 catches, 72 yards and 0 TDs against WRs such as Michael Thomas, Stefon Diggs, Terry McLaurin, DeAndre Hopkins, and D.K Metcalf. (via Kyle Posey)

I could go on, and on, and on. The list of impressive stats from this guy is unbelievable, especially considering all the injuries he's faced.

That brings me to my next point: the injuries.

Verrett had an incredible 13 games this year — one I have been calling a top-ten cornerback season — but his injury history is suspect, to say the least.

The last thing the 49ers need is an injury-riddled player.

I put him as an "Honorable Mention" because I truly think he's an elite corner, but the questions around his injury, age, and if he can sustain success is evident.

The 49ers have a lot of uncertainty in the secondary, and everywhere else, this off-season.

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