No. 1: Defensive End Ronald Blair
One of the reasons why Anthony Zettel was brought aboard was to alleviate the loss of Ronald Blair, who suffered a season-ending ACL tear trying to sack Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson back in Week 10.
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At least Blair finished the sack, so that’s a positive.
Blair, who has served as a regular member of the defensive line’s rotation since 2016, hits free agency for the first time in his career, although his price tag should be notably lower having come off a serious injury.
While that injury could be something of concern to the 49ers, it’s hard to overlook just how important Blair was to the D-line’s rotation over the first half of the season. He’d typically hover between 30 and 50 percent of the team’s defensive snaps before the injury, and the ability to play a number of different positions within the defensive front made him a valuable commodity.
There were a number of other reasons, yes. But one could make a feasible argument the Niners D-line wasn’t quite as dominant as it was earlier in the year before Blair’s injury. Losing him meant two things: San Francisco had to rely on less-impactful backups to fill the void, and a lot of the starters ended up playing significantly more snaps than defensive coordinator Robert Saleh otherwise would have preferred.
Unless the 49ers can either develop one of their younger linemen on the roster to replace Blair, or they find a solid replacement in the NFL Draft or free agency, retaining the 27 year old would seem to be a smart move.