The 49ers don’t have too many needs entering 2023, but the ones that are pressing have to be addressed right away to keep the Niners in contention.
There are benefits to being an awful team. Usually, bad teams have plenty of salary cap space available, and each big contract is likely to be an upgrade. Then, when the NFL Draft rolls around, most picks are likely going to address a pressing need somewhere on the roster.
The San Francisco 49ers don’t fall into this category.
Despite falling in back-to-back NFC Championship games, head coach Kyle Shanahan and Co. still carry a Super Bowl-caliber roster entering 2023 despite not having a clear picture at quarterback between Trey Lance and Brock Purdy.
As such, the Niners’ offseason plans might not involve as much pressure to overhaul the vast majority of the roster as Shanahan and general manager John Lynch had to do way back in 2017.
When it comes to identifying San Francisco’s biggest needs this offseason, there are a few that stand out. The 49ers could lose two starting-caliber safeties in Jimmie Ward and Tashaun Gipson, while cornerback Emmanuel Moseley is coming off an ACL tear and will be a free agent, too.
Sure, the Niners’ defensive line still retains plenty of talent, including the reigning Defensive Player of the Year in EDGE Nick Bosa. But, supplementary pass-rushers like Samson Ebukam and Charles Omenihu are entering the NFL free agency market and could easily not return.
However, those aren’t the biggest positions of need for San Francisco.
Offensive line has to be 49ers’ No. 1 offseason need in 2023
It happened a year ago, and the 49ers managed to survive it: losing two-fifths of the starting offensive line from the previous season.
In that case, Pro Bowl left guard Laken Tomlinson left on a lucrative free-agent deal with the New York Jets, and Pro Bowl center Alex Mack retired. The Niners successfully replaced them with Aaron Banks and Jake Brendel, respectively.
Now, San Francisco might lose Brendel to free agency after his first full year as a starter, and a solid one at that, while right tackle Mike McGlinchey has all but indicated to reporters that he doesn’t expect to come back.
Again, another two-fifths of the O-line is likely to depart.
The 49ers would love to allocate their limited offseason assets ($6.5 million in cap space, currently, and 11 NFL Draft picks from Round 3 through 7) on the defensive side of the ball to keep that unit ranked No. 1 in the league like it was last year. Shanahan, too, would want to get his hands on some offensive skill players.
However, all one needs to do is understand how the Super Bowl-winning Kansas City Chiefs heavily invested not in their defense or in offensive weaponry to support quarterback Patrick Mahomes.
No, over the last couple of years, it has been their O-line that has received a lot of attention. Seriously, Niner Noise already talked about it here. And, despite boasting a middle-of-the-pack defense, KC used that offense and Mahomes’ protection to great effect, doing what the Niners couldn’t do against the Philadelphia Eagles in the NFC Championship game: stop an elite defensive line.
Now, that same San Francisco O-line is poised to lose two starters in Brendel and McGlinchey, and it might stand for upgrades at right guard anyway, too.
So, while it is necessary to pay attention to the other spots of need, Shanahan and the 49ers have to center their efforts up front in the trenches first.