SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- When the 2020 NFL season ended, the San Francisco 49ers had nearly 40 players scheduled for some form of free agency.
That number has already dipped a bit as the Niners re-signed quarterback Josh Rosen, running backs Jeff Wilson Jr. and Austin Walter, cornerback Ken Webster and long snapper Taybor Pepper, but there's still a long way to go for the 49ers to do what they're hoping to do: Keep as many core players as possible.
"After our year, going 6-10, you don't usually sit in front of a team and say, 'We truly want to get all you guys back,'" coach Kyle Shanahan said. "Everyone knows that you can't do it, but it's the truth. We've got a lot of guys that we do want to bring back because we do believe we have a good team, a really good team."
The expected drop in the NFL's salary cap following the pandemic makes that goal more difficult. Lynch has said the 49ers are operating under the assumption of a $175 million salary cap, though ESPN’s Adam Schefter reports that the league is expecting it to come in closer to $180-181 million. The new league year begins March 17.
The exact amount of cap space the Niners will have is unknown until the amount is set, but it's safe to say the Niners will undoubtedly lose many of their free agents, including some they'd like to keep.
Here's a look at the Niners' lengthy list of free agents and how they'll be prioritized as the offseason approaches.
The No. 1 priority: OT Trent Williams
Williams has said he wants to stay with the 49ers. He's also curious what kind of price he would fetch on the open market. If he's going to remain in the Bay Area, it's not going to come cheap. But Williams is easily the best player on this list and he plays a premium position. The Niners will do everything they can to retain him, even if it means saying goodbye to others on this list they'd like to keep.
The chances of retaining this trio plus Trent Williams seems remote, but if the Niners do it, they'd consider the offseason a success. Juszczyk's versatility is unique. The Niners use a fullback so often because they have Juszczyk not the other way around. Still, that versatility is expensive and other teams will be interested in a player who is probably taking his last big bite of the free-agent apple. K'Waun Williams has been one of the best bargains in football as a top-tier nickel, but this is also his best chance to cash in. With Robert Saleh taking over as the New York Jets coach, the competition will be fierce. Verrett's price will be fascinating given his injury history, but he's coming off an excellent bounce-back season that has reestablished him as a good starting cornerback in the league and worth retaining.
All three have made valuable contributions and the Niners would love to keep them, but doing so will depend on the market. Jones and Bourne have starting ability and the right team might be willing to pay a little more to give them that chance. Hyder is coming off a career year and has earned a nice payday after bouncing around the league. All three could land nice deals elsewhere but they are also the type of players who could slip through the cracks with the cap dropping and return at reasonable rates.
Most of the names in this group are either players who have proved themselves as worthwhile depth (Garland and Taylor, for example) or are young players with upside worth a further look (Willis). Thomas is the biggest name here and it's fair to wonder if the former No. 3 overall pick will seek a new beginning elsewhere after a rough four years, which includes a torn ACL suffered last season. But he's also the kind of player who could return on a cheap, one-year deal that gives him one more shot to establish himself, much like the Niners did with free safety Jimmie Ward in 2019.
Probably headed elsewhere: CB Richard Sherman, SS Jaquiski Tartt, DE Ronald Blair III, CB Ahkello Witherspoon, QB C.J. Beathard, RB Tevin Coleman, RB Jerick McKinnon, WR Trent Taylor, OL Tom Compton, C Hroniss Grasu, DE Ziggy Ansah, OL Tony Bergstrom
Sherman has already said it would take a "miracle" for him to be back given the team's many free agents and lack of cap space. It can't be entirely ruled out, especially if K'Waun Williams and Verrett don't return, but Sherman is also a candidate to follow Saleh to New York. Blair also fits the category of a Saleh favorite, though the Niners would like to keep him. Players such as Tartt, Witherspoon, Beathard, Coleman, McKinnon and Taylor could use a fresh start elsewhere, more opportunities or a combination of the two, though any would be a candidate to return if their markets don't develop.
Getting Wilson re-signed was a priority and that's why the Niners moved swiftly to make it happen. Moseley is the next priority here and could draw some interest on the market. The Niners will give him a tender offer, possibly at the second-round level, which would cost more but also probably scare off interested teams. Harris and Dwelley could return but probably at the lowest tender amount or on separate deals at a lower cost. Coming off an elbow injury, Mullens might not draw much interest, but the Niners seem likely to be in the market for improved depth, especially if Jimmy Garoppolo remains the starter.
This group doesn't have much say in what happens as the Niners can tender all of them and they have no ability to seek other offers. Brunskill is a starter and will be back with Webster, Walter and Rosen. Given the low cost, it's likely all of these players will be re-signed at least for the offseason program (if there is one) and training camp.