SF 49ers: 5 free agents Niners can’t afford to let go in 2021

San Francisco 49ers offensive tackle Trent Williams (71) Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports
San Francisco 49ers offensive tackle Trent Williams (71) Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports /
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Ben Garland, SF 49ers
Offensive lineman Ben Garland #63 of the San Francisco 49ers (Photo by Ralph Freso/Getty Images) /

The SF 49ers face some serious dilemmas in NFL free agency this offseason, but these five free agents need to be retained at all costs.

It was one thing for SF 49ers general manager John Lynch and head coach Kyle Shanahan to build a Super Bowl-caliber roster.

Ultimately the tougher challenge will be keeping it that way.

Despite their 6-10 finish last season, the Niners have a lot of good players, and good players want to get paid like good players should. Unfortunately, the dip in the 2021 salary cap to as low as $176 million combined with nearly 40 pending free agents hitting the open market has created quite the bad backdrop for San Francisco’s offseason.

A good chunk of those players won’t be back this year. And with $170.5 million already committed to player contracts in 2021, it’ll be awfully tough to retain even a small portion of the high-impact free agents poised to hit the NFL free agency market without some serious roster jockeying elsewhere.

That said, the SF 49ers need to have a priority list put together of their top free agents, and these five should be at the very top in this order.

Note: All contractual and cap information courtesy of Over the Cap unless otherwise noted.

No. 5: SF 49ers Center Ben Garland

It’s weird to put a backup offensive lineman on this list. But with starting center Weston Richburg’s long-term status very much up in the air after missing all of 2020 with a knee injury suffered in 2019, retaining the No. 2 option, Ben Garland, makes a good deal of sense.

Garland stepped in well enough late in 2019 en route to the Super Bowl and got the start early last season when Richburg still wasn’t available.

Then, once Garland suffered his own season-ending calf injury, the Niners were forced to endure a turnstile of centers — none of them exactly performing well in Garland’s stead.

Granted, the 2021 NFL Draft is awfully deep with quality offensive linemen, particularly the interior. And while it would be smart for San Francisco to use a mid- or late-round pick on one. But given the intricate nature of Shanahan’s offense and the massive responsibilities placed on the center for calling out protections, etc., it makes more than enough sense for the SF 49ers to retain someone familiar with the system and on the cheap.

For that role, Garland fits the bill.