49ers roster: Dre Greenlaw looks to rebound big in 2022

Dre Greenlaw #57 of the San Francisco 49ers (Photo by Katelyn Mulcahy/Getty Images)
Dre Greenlaw #57 of the San Francisco 49ers (Photo by Katelyn Mulcahy/Getty Images) /

After missing nearly all the 2021 regular season, 49ers linebacker Dre Greenlaw faces a highly important campaign this year in which he can cash in for 2023.

We were wrong in assuming and promoting the idea the San Francisco 49ers should have traded linebacker Dre Greenlaw earlier this offseason.

Of course, had the Niners signed former Seattle Seahawks All-Pro linebacker Bobby Wagner instead of the Los Angeles Rams having done so, the context would have changed drastically, and Greenlaw wouldn’t have had much of a role behind Wagner and fellow All-Pro Fred Warner.

But that’s a “what if?” scenario, and what-ifs don’t exist.

At any rate, San Francisco elected to retain Greenlaw despite him suffering a serious groin injury that required surgery after Week 1 in the 2021 season and also in light of fellow linebacker Azeez Al-Shaair’s ascent in Greenlaw’s stead. And while Greenlaw managed to return late in the season and provided an impact in the playoffs, the 49ers could have feasibly “sold high” before the final year on the former fifth-round NFL Draft pick out of Arkansas saw his rookie contract run its course.

Dre Greenlaw Defense & Fumbles Table

Provided by Pro-Football-Reference.com
Generated 6/9/2022.

Warner, Al-Shaair and Greenlaw will comprise the trio of starting linebackers this season, and there’s not much arguing that. While there’s some room as to which backer comes off the field in sub packages, having a rotation is at least something that should benefit the Niners in 2022.

Greenlaw will want more, though, as he looks to turn the page on last year’s injury.

Why Dre Greenlaw improves for 49ers in 2022

Of course, Greenlaw made himself known for that legendary play in the waning seconds of the pivotal Week 17 game against the Seattle Seahawks in which he stopped tight end Jacob Hollister short of the goal line.

Yet Greenlaw’s play arguably took a step back the following year, at least accounting for Pro Football Focus downgrading his overall grade from 64.0 his rookie season to 59.8 in 2020.

Now at 25 years old and with three years in the league, though, it’s safe to say Greenlaw is hitting his prime. Plus, having the bonus of spending a full year under defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans, himself a former linebacker and linebacker’s coach, Greenlaw should have the confidence to go forward with a lot more rigor.

Provided that groin injury isn’t a nagging problem.

Why Dre Greenlaw flattens out for 49ers in 2022

One of the noticeable issues Greenlaw had during his limited action last season was taking poor angles and frequently being out of position. This wasn’t just in coverage either, as that has tended to be a modest strong suit, but it’s fair to wonder if that’s simply who Greenlaw is: a decent starting-caliber linebacker but not someone who can effectively anchor a defense.

Missed tackles, another area in which Greenlaw struggled in 2020, popped up again last season, too, with him missing two for a whopping 8.7 miss rate on three regular-season games played.

It’s fair to blame those on his injuries, perhaps, but an uptick in more misses could signify Al-Shaair, not Greenlaw, will be the player San Francisco wants to invest in going forward.

Why 2022 is so important for Dre Greenlaw’s long-term tenure with 49ers

The 49ers elected to retain Al-Shaair as a restricted free agent this offseason, paralleling the final year of Greenlaw’s own contract, one which will cost the Niners up to $2.62 million. While cutting or trading Greenlaw seems awfully unlikely now, the dead-money hit would only be $80,429.

However, the bigger aspect is what happens with both linebackers in 2023 when they’re tabbed for unrestricted free agency.

San Francisco has to spend its dollars elsewhere, and it doesn’t exactly seem feasible to retain both Greenlaw and Al-Shaair on new contracts. One of them will likely have to go.

That’s why 2022 is so vitally important to both players, especially Greenlaw, whose prior reputation as a bona fide starter should carry a lot of weight on the open market.

Whether or not that translates into a long-term deal with the 49ers is anyone’s guess, especially if they elect to get cheaper, but him playing in a contract year should be motivation enough to bounce back from last year’s injury-riddled campaign.

In the immediate future, though, that benefits Greenlaw and the Niners if he winds up having a career-type season.

Next. Ranking 49ers' 10 best late-round NFL Draft picks in team history. dark