The 49ers face a number of tough decisions in NFL free agency in 2022, and we’ve got your list of players who might be staying, going or coming aboard.
The San Francisco 49ers don’t have to officially worry about the prospects of losing pending free agents until the start of the NFL 2022 new year, which officially kicks off on Wednesday, March 16.
But the Niners do have a number of notable challenges, both in terms of re-signing some of their own talent poised to hit the open market as well as possibly luring in other top free agents this offseason.
A lot of this may change depending on how San Francisco handles the situation at quarterback, namely freeing up over $25 million in cap space if it moves on from veteran signal-caller Jimmy Garoppolo, who is still under contract through next season.
Right now, according to Over the Cap, the 49ers are just over $9.5 million above the 2022 salary cap of $208.2 million.
49ers 2022 NFL free agency tracker
The Niners have 34 pending free agents entering 2022, 28 of which are either of the unrestricted or restricted variety. Six are exclusive-rights free agents, so they’ll only be able to negotiate solely with San Francisco, essentially preventing them from actually being free agents.
Who are 49ers 2022 unrestricted free agents?
The following 49ers players are poised to hit the open market as unrestricted free agents in 2022:
- OG Laken Tomlinson (signed with Jets)
- WR Richie James (signed with Giants)
- RB Trenton Cannon (signed with Titans)
- WR Trent Sherfield (signed with Dolphins)
- EDGE Jordan Willis (re-signed)
- C Jake Brendel (re-signed)
- DL Maurice Hurst (re-signed)
- EDGE Arden Key (signed with Jaguars)
- WR Travis Benjamin
- CB Dontae Johnson (re-signed)
- OL Tom Compton (signed with Broncos)
- S Tavon Wilson
- S Jaquiski Tartt
- WR Mohamed Sanu
- LB Marcell Harris (signed with Jets)
- CB Josh Norman
- TE Ross Dwelley (re-signed)
- RB Jeff Wilson Jr. (re-signed)
- CB K’Waun Williams (signed with Broncos)
- RB Raheem Mostert (signed with Dolphins)
- DT D.J. Jones (signed with Broncos)
- CB Jason Verrett
- DL Darrion Daniels
It shouldn’t be too hard ranking the Niners’ top free-agent re-sign priorities, certainly a list including Tomlinson, Jones and Williams. Tartt, too, although his injury history creates some concerns.
Tomlinson, who joined San Francisco via trade in 2017, has been a mainstay for the offensive line and hasn’t missed a start since. Williams and Tartt potentially departing might mean the 49ers need to revamp their secondary, hopefully with on-roster options like 2021 rookie defensive backs such as Talanoa Hufanga, Ambry Thomas and Deommodore Lenoir.
Mostert’s replacement, meanwhile, has likely been discovered with another 2021 rookie, running back Elijah Mitchell, who turned into a pure offensive force over the season.
Another under-the-radar priority might be Key, who enjoyed a career-best 6.5-sack campaign after recording three sacks over the first three years of his pro tenure with the Las Vegas Raiders.
Who are 49ers 2022 restricted free agents?
The Niners have a little more control with restricted free agents, given they can use a certain kind of tender, which is better explained here.
San Francisco has only three restricted free agents this offseason, but they’re notable names:
- DL Kevin Givens (re-signed)
- DL Kentavius Street (not tendered, signed with Saints)
- LB Azeez Al-Shaair (second-round tender)
Al-Shaair finished the regular season with 103 tackles, second only behind fellow linebacker Fred Warner, and possibly outplayed the originally intended starter at the position, Dre Greenlaw, whose groin injury in Week 1 opened up the door for Al-Shaair to make his move.
Givens, meanwhile, might be the 49ers’ contingency plan at nose tackle if Jones departs in free agency.
2022 free agents signed by 49ers
Depending on Garoppolo’s future, the Niners may have a lot more money to go after some of the big-name free agents on the market.
Related Story: 5 free-agent players 49ers should target in 2022
Or, at the very least, re-sign a number of names.
Cornerback was one of those needs, and multiple reports had San Francisco being aggressive on the cornerback market, landing former Kansas City Chiefs three-year starter Charvarius Ward:
Ward will be expected to plug at least one of the boundary positions, potentially opposite Emmanuel Moseley, after allowing a 79.4 passer rating when targeted last season.
Former Green Bay Packers linebacker Oren Burks also tweeted out he’s joining the 49ers:
Burks, 26 years old, spent four years with Green Bay and primarily served as a special teams ace, suggesting the Niners aren’t immune to upgrading that third phase this offseason, too.
And to upgrade it even more, the team elected to bring aboard former Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver and return specialist Ray-Ray McCloud on a two-year deal, according to ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler:
The return game was one of San Francisco’s primary weaknesses a year ago, and no one had more punt returns or punt-return yardage than McCloud in 2021.
Going back to the defense and in light of the need to bolster the defensive line in the wake of Jones leaving, San Francisco is also onboarding veteran defensive tackle Hassan Ridgeway on a one-year, $2.5 million deal, as reported by Fowler, too.:
Ridgeway, 27 years old, had 20 tackles and two sacks for the Philadelphia Eagles last season.
On Friday, NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport reported the Niners were also signing former Indianapolis Colts safety George Odum to a three-year deal:
Odum was more of a special teams ace during his career, although he did start seven games in 2021 for the Colts. Whether or not this means San Francisco is closing the door on Tartt returning is anyone’s guess, but reinforcing special teams continues to be a priority.
In addition, the 49ers added an old friend, defensive end Kerry Hyder, who had a career-best 8.5 sacks in 2020 before joining the Seattle Seahawks in 2021, only to be released after one year into a two-year deal.
Pro Football Network’s Aaron Wilson broke the news:
The Niners also brought back veteran cornerback Darqueze Dennard, who had a brief stint with the team last season, on a one-year deal.
Veteran wide receiver Marcus Johnson, who has some speed to burn, also is joining San Francisco after stints with the Colts and Tennessee Titans.
2022 free agents leaving 49ers
While it’s always easy to watch players who are either not very essential to the team’s long-term success or those who weren’t exactly great on the field anyway, NFL free agency usually involves at least a few players per team who would have been preferable to re-sign.
Tomlinson, considered one of the Niners’ top free-agent priorities, won’t be returning in 2022, joining the New York Jets, according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter:
This likely means second-year pro Aaron Banks will start at left guard in Tomlinson’s wake.
Late on Monday, news also broke Jones would indeed be leaving San Francisco, signing a three-year deal with the Denver Broncos, who are in the midst of an AFC West arms race after acquiring former Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson:
Joining Jones in Denver will be Williams and Compton.
The 49ers will need their top pick from the 2020 NFL Draft, defensive tackle Javon Kinlaw, to step up in Jones’ absence.
Likewise, with Mostert leaving the Niners for a new deal with now-Miami Dolphins head coach Mike McDaniel, San Francisco will look to second-year pro Elijah Mitchell to shoulder the bulk of the load on the ground.
McDaniel also helped pluck another former 49ers offensive player, wide receiver Trent Sherfield, who contributed aplenty on special teams last year despite not being much of a regular-season offensive threat.
It’s a one-year deal, according to NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero:
It wouldn’t be surprising to see McDaniel and the Dolphins lure in more former Niners players.