The 3 biggest needs for the 49ers this offseason

Feb 21, 2024, 1:13 PM | Updated: 1:54 pm

Brandon Aiyuk #11 of the San Francisco 49ers celebrates with Aaron Banks #65 after scoring a touchd...

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The San Francisco 49ers fell short of their 2023 goals by one game this past season. So naturally, all of the offseason questions and concerns have spiraled out of control over the last week or so.

Here’s the problem though: The 49ers are cap-strapped, projected to only have around $500k at the moment. But that could change if General Manager John Lynch and the 49ers front office do some finagling with contract restructures and whatnot. Those discussions get even more complex, with the Red & Gold able to open up close to $55 million in cap space if certain key players agree to restructures.

But again, those conversations are for the future and overly complex for most of us on the outside to understand completely.

If they were to free up some serious cap space, here are a few areas of need that need to be addressed prominently for the 49ers to have success next season.

Improving the 49ers offensive line

If there was one thing made apparent in Super Bowl LVIII: Brock Purdy needs better pass protection.

The 49ers quarterback was pressured on over 50% of his dropbacks against the Kansas City Chiefs. Eventually, it overwhelmed the gunslinger, leading to two third-down conversions that didn’t occur in the fourth quarter and overtime. If Purdy had more time in the pocket, those plays would have resulted in first downs, and even a Super Bowl win for San Francisco.

Simple as that.

But the past is the past, the only thing the 49ers can do now is to be better equipped for the future. And that means improving the pass protection, which the 49ers ranked 26th in the NFL last season.

Second-year right guard Spencer Burford was a big part of the disappointment, finishing with a dismal 50.4 Pro Football Focus grade. After a promising rookie year, his sophomore slump kicked in in 2023. And as much as the 49ers want to grow from within, the quality of protection has to change on the right side of the line.

Here is a list of right guards available that would bolster the 49ers:

  • Nick Allegretti
  • Cody Whitehair
  • Ezra Cleveland

The biggest fish of the group is Cleveland, a player the 49ers were interested in at the trade deadline in 2023. However, he’s expected to command a hefty salary, making him likely unrealistic. The other two men are veterans at the position that should command a smaller number. Allegretti is the better of the two based on 2023 production (68.7 PFF grade).

SF should also consider re-signing Jon Feliciano to a multi-year deal.

Used as a platoon with Burford, the veteran OL made it clear he was the better of the two in 2023. He finished his first year in Red & Gold as one of the best run blockers in the NFL (81.2 PFF grade). Bringing Feliciano back on a short-term deal worth $5 million annually would be good business.

As for the right tackle spot, Colton McKivitz did fine in his first year as a starter. But if the 49ers can upgrade there, they should. Here are two options for free agency:

  • Trent Brown
  • Jermaine Eluemunor

Both men ranked higher in PFF for 2023, and would be immediate upgrades in pass protection, especially Brown.

But then again, the 49ers would need to fork over the moolah to make it happen.

Hiring the RIGHT Defensive Coordinator

Finding a defensive coordinator is one thing, but 2023 proved that the 49ers need to find the RIGHT DC to maximize their defense.

In 2023. they did not see that happen under Steve Wilks, particularly in run defense. But there were other areas of concern as well, with pass-happy QBs torching the 49ers throughout the regular and postseason. The red-zone defense also dropped to 16th in the NFL.

Decent, but not good enough considering the talent in The Bay.

The obvious big fishes on the market are Bill Belichick and Mike Vrabel, as previously stated last week. But will both of them be cool with taking a backseat to Kyle Shanahan’s methods? Maybe, maybe not.

Crickets have been heard out of the 49ers camp the last week or so, with the team staying close to the chest on the direction they are going with the DC. A rumored coach to watch, per The Athletic’s Tim Kawakami, is New York Jets DC Jeff Ulbrich. A former 49ers player who knows what it takes and has a history with the current regime’s methods. Not a bad shout.

The only worry with a hire like this is the 49ers’ regime picking based on conformity. The Wilks’ hire bit them in the butt down the stretch, contributing to another Super Bowl loss to the Kansas City Chiefs.

Because of that, Shanahan and Lynch could pick the next guy because he’s safe and because he knows the system.

My only advice is don’t settle for comfort here. The Brandon Staley’s of the world are out there because of previously failed ventures. That speaks for Steve Wilks as well, a talented defensive mind who just wasn’t the right fit with the 49ers’ roster.

The 49ers’ regime needs to hit this hire on the money, or heads will start to roll. If that means big-fish hunting and putting egos aside, then do it.

Shanahan and Lynch have also earned the trust of the 49ers Faithful. So be patient… for now. Only time will tell if the successor to Wilks is the right guy, just don’t make it about fitting what Shannahan wants only.

Run Defense

Going back to Wilk’s 49ers defense, they weren’t good at stopping the run.

The 49ers were No. 1 and No. 2 in run defense the two years before Wilks. Under Wilks, they were 26th in the NFL.

A shocking drop-off considering the 49ers added defensive line talent last season.

Wilks’ coverage-heavy scheme definitely played a factor in that. But at the end of the day, it’s up to the players to make the plays. And if the 49ers can add more help in the trenches, they should immediately.

Here are a few defensive tackles that would bolster the group:

  • Grover Stewart
  • Justin Jones
  • Quinton Jefferson
  • Lawrence Guy

As with the offensive line signings, the first two players would demand a bigger paycheck than the last two. Jones in particular is is coming off a 49-tackle, five-sack season at the age of 27 years old. But if the 49ers can open up enough room, the more the merrier for DL coach Kris Kocurek.

The other two are veterans and would be valuable in rotational roles for the 49ers. Guy especially, racking up over 500 career tackles in 14 seasons. Jefferson was also a standout in 2023, with 34 tackles and six sacks.

Both men would be quality additions for the 49ers 2024 roster.

SF has multiple DLs entering free agency next month, including Javon Kinlaw. The South Carolina alum should be a priority to re-sign if possible. If they can bring him back on a two-year, $8-$10 million deal, Lynch should do it.

Key offseason dates for the San Francisco 49ers

  • Tuesday, Feb. 20th – Teams can begin franchising players until Tuesday, March 5th
  • Tuesday, Feb. 27 – NFL Combine begins
  • Thursday, March 13 – The 2024 free agency signing period begins at 1 p.m. PST

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