49ers starters: Defense
The Niners could potentially suffer some serious turnover in their secondary this offseason, namely with defensive backs Jaquiski Tartt, K’Waun Williams, Josh Norman and Dontae Johnson poised to hit the free-agent market.
San Francisco’s defensive line could take a hit, too, as D.J. Jones, Arden Key and Jordan Willis are all pending free agents.
49ers defensive line
Defensive tackles: Arik Armstead, Javon Kinlaw
Defensive ends: Nick Bosa, Samson Ebukam
Things changed drastically for the 49ers when Arik Armstead moved inside full-time, and that’ll likely be the plan in 2022. However, with Jones poised to depart in free agency, there’ll be more pressure on the Niners’ first-round pick from the 2020 NFL Draft, Javon Kinlaw, to provide a substantial impact.
Ideally, San Francisco finds another quality pass-rusher to pair with Nick Bosa, and Samson Ebukam could be a possible cap casualty.
Yet Ebukam might have to stick in place, especially if Key winds up trying to cash in on a lucrative deal elsewhere after a career-best 6.5 sacks last season.
MIKE: Fred Warner
WILL: Bobby Wagner
SAM: Azeez Al-Shaair
Yes, our first splash move from the 49ers’ offseason.
The Seattle Seahawks releasing perennial All-Pro veteran Bobby Wagner should be of massive interest to the Niners, and the early reports suggest there’s interest:
This, of course, would mean San Francisco moving fellow linebacker Dre Greenlaw, but that’s still a clear-cut upgrade to pair Wagner with fellow All-Pro Fred Warner.
Wagner, meanwhile, gets to enact vengeance on his former team twice a year.
Outside backs: Emmanuel Moseley, Jalen Pitre
Nickel back: D.J. Reed
OK, so a nickel cornerback technically isn’t a starter. But in today’s pass-happy league, SAM linebackers are rotational players, while slot corners are essentially starters.
But the team reunites with an old friend, Seahawks nickel back D.J. Reed, who flourished after Seattle claimed him off injury waivers early in 2020.
The need for boundary corners is still there, though, and that’s where the 49ers deploy their top pick from the 2022 NFL Draft, Baylor defensive back Jalen Pitre, a clear-cut Niner Noise draft crush.
Read More: Why we like Baylor DB Jalen Pitre so much
Pitre can play all over the secondary, so just consider him a high-quality defensive back selected in Round 2. And right out of the gate, he’ll be an upgrade over second-year pro Ambry Thomas, who’ll still be in the mix as a starter but will need additional time to develop.
Free safety: Jimmie Ward
Strong safety: Jaquiski Tartt
Sure, the Niners may lose Tartt to free agency. But it’s clear he helps make San Francisco’s defensive so much better when he’s on the field. And even though he comes with a notable injury history, the 49ers don’t exactly boast a quality replacement option (unless Pitre develops into that role at some point) on the roster right now.
Tartt may price himself out of the Niners’ comfort range, yes. However, the desire to stay alongside his high school teammate, Jimmie Ward, could also point to Tartt settling on a team-friendly two-year deal to stick around.
That’d be preferable, and it’s what we predict here.