5 bubble-watch players 49ers simply can’t afford to cut in 2022

Dontae Johnson #27 of the San Francisco 49ers (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
Dontae Johnson #27 of the San Francisco 49ers (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images) /
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Dre Greenlaw, San Francisco 49ers
San Francisco 49ers linebacker Dre Greenlaw (57) Mandatory Credit: Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports /

49ers bubble player No. 3: Linebacker Dre Greenlaw

Earlier this offseason, perhaps dating back into 2021, there might have been an argument for the 49ers to move on from linebacker Dre Greenlaw, namely in light of his nearly year-long absence because of a groin injury and the emergence of fellow linebacker Azeez Al-Shaair as a reliable starter.

True, both are under contract for 2022 at modest costs, but the Niners won’t be able to afford both when they’re scheduled to hit unrestricted free agency next offseason. Perhaps getting something for Greenlaw now would have made sense, right?

Well, not so fast. At least not any longer.

San Francisco inked former Green Bay Packers linebacker Oren Burks primarily to help out on special teams, which is his forte. In OTAs, however, Burks hasn’t exactly looked the part of a reliable fill-in replacement on defense, meaning if his number is called to fill in for an injured Greenlaw, Al-Shaair or Fred Warner at any point of the upcoming season, the 49ers defense will be in some considerable trouble.

It might not be sustainable for the long run, but Greenlaw should be viewed as a vital commodity for the Niners in 2022 even if they have something of a top-heavy stockpile of starting-caliber linebackers.