49ers free agency: Grading 2021 additions and losses
By Peter Panacy
The 49ers managed to retain most of their key pending free agents yet were forced to bid farewell to others. Let’s grade the moves so far.
The San Francisco 49ers entered 2021 NFL free agency with three primary goals:
- Re-sign left tackle Trent Williams
- Re-sign cornerback Jason Verrett
- Re-sign fullback Kyle Juszczyk
As things turned out, Niners general manager John Lynch and Co. were able to pull off all three.
Williams returned on a massive six-year extension worth $138 million, making the eight-time Pro Bowler the highest-paid offensive lineman in NFL history. Verrett, meanwhile, stayed on a bargain-basement one-year deal, gambling on himself to stay healthy while hoping to cash in on a hefty contract in 2022 when the NFL salary cap is expected to increase.
Juszczyk also stays after signing a five-year deal, too, ensuring head coach Kyle Shanahan’s offense doesn’t lose that vital cog.
Yet San Francisco was forced to bid farewell to some players, too. And sometimes, it’s the deals teams don’t make that wind up being excellent.
While it’s still relatively early in the 2021 NFL free agency period, Niner Noise grades out all of the 49ers’ unrestricted free-agent additions and losses so far.
49ers 2021 NFL free agency losses
It’s a little challenging to grade the Niners’ free-agent losses from San Francisco’s perspective, but let’s put some reason to this.
Would the 49ers like to have kept wide receiver Kendrick Bourne, who has more than adequately filled the No. 3 role on the depth chart the last three seasons as both a third-down weapon and red-zone target?
The Niners have receiving-depth questions behind their two starters, Brandon Aiyuk and Deebo Samuel, and those issues are yet to be addressed. But Bourne commanded a three-year, $15 million contract with the New England Patriots, which is a lot of money for a player who has never been a regular starter over his career.
San Francisco still wins here by not having to outbid a team like the Pats.
The only reason the 49ers would have wanted to retain their third-round pick from the 2017 NFL Draft, cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon, would be to reinforce their depth in the secondary with a starting-caliber corner who could fill a void if someone like Verrett was unavailable for any length of time.
Witherspoon, whose career with the Niners was marked with plenty of ups and downs, finished 2020 on a high note. And while he never quite put the consistency element together, one could reasonably figure he would have been a cheap re-sign target for San Francisco this offseason.
Except the Seattle Seahawks swooped in and grabbed Witherspoon to address their own defensive needs.
Witherspoon is poised to earn $4 million fully guaranteed, which is a shade less than Verrett’s $5.3 million potential cap hit in 2021. And Verrett was far superior a player last year, although health concerns remain.
From a purely financial standpoint, the 49ers are winners on this front.
In terms of their top pick from the 2017 NFL Draft, defensive end Solomon Thomas, the Niners would get a retroactive D-minus grade. Perhaps an F-mark instead.
As far as letting Thomas walk in free agency, well, there wasn’t much more to it than it needed to happen.
Granted, San Francisco could have retained Thomas on the cheap as a backup player capable of spelling multiple spots along the defensive line. But with him coming off a season-ending ACL tear and in need of a fresh start elsewhere after flaming out with the 49ers over the last four years, it’s best to simply move on.