San Francisco 49ers mock draft: John Lynch and Kyle Shanahan will have to hit big time. (Photo by … [+]
The San Francisco 49ers have north of 40 free agents and a mere $22.42 million to spend under the estimated $185 million NFL salary cap in 2021.
San Francisco is among the teams most impacted by the revenue downfall created by the COVID-19 pandemic. With the cap not increasing in a manner most believed pre-pandemic, the 49ers have to walk a tightrope.
Remember, the NFL salary cap is based on revenue split equally between 32 teams. With a number of teams not being able to host fans and others hosting fans in a limited capacity, said revenue took a major hit during the 2020 season.
For the 49ers, this will leave them with some big decisions to make. It stands to reason that both edge rusher Dee Ford and center Weston Richburg will be released. If designated post-June 1 cuts, that would save San Francisco north of $23 million in cap room.
San Francisco 49ers will end up releasing Dee Ford should he pass a physical. (Photo by Michael … [+]
Obviously, the Jimmy Garoppolo situation is center stage right now. San Francisco is looking for an upgrade. Trading Garoppolo would save the 49ers $23.6 million in cap room. Depending on who they hypothetically bring in to replace him, we’re talking about a major cap savings.
New York Jets quarterback Sam Darnold would count roughly $5 against the cap in 2021. Houston Texans star Deshaun Watson would count north of $10 million against the cap. Restructuring Garoppolo’s contract would save about $11.8 million against the cap in 2021, tying the quarterback to San Francisco for beyond next season.
That’s an issue given the 49ers pushed back against restructuring his contract last offseason.
These are avenues the 49ers can pursue to create cap room. It is a number that could reach up to $60 million depending on what San Francisco does.
The bad news? Star left tackle Trent Williams is a priority re-sign. He’s looking at $20 million annually on a new deal. Comeback Player of the Year candidate, cornerback Jason Verrett, will likely cost north of $8 million annually. He’s also a priority re-sign with it looking more and more like Richard Sherman will depart in free agency.
Safety Jaquiski Tartt, cornerback K’Waun Williams, Pro Bowl fullback Kyle Juszczyk and wide receiver Kendrick Bourne are also impending free agents. Retaining all four would cost, in my estimation, about $20 million annually.
Of course, 49ers salary cap guru Paraag Marathe will be able to push back big time cap hits to later years when the NFL revenue increases post-COVID. But that’s still roughly $30 million or so set to count against San Francisco’s cap in 2021 should the team re-sign the players mentioned above.
What does this all mean? While the 49ers should have some money to spend in free agency, most of their work to create depth with 40-plus impending free agents will have to be done through the 2021 NFL Draft.
That’s where this article comes into play. As of right now, the 49ers have 10 draft picks. That doesn’t take into account a possible trade for a quarterback.
The need to build up depth via the draft could lead to a trade down from the 12th selection.
It’s in this that I provide you a full San Francisco 49ers mock draft with two hypothetical trades included.
* San Francisco 49ers acquire Sam Darnold from the New York Jets for a third-round pick in 2021 and conditional 2022 pick
* San Francisco 49ers trade 12th pick to the Indianapolis Colts for 21st pick and second-round pick
Note: Draft picks based on Pro Football Network simulator of available players
San Francisco 49ers mock draft: Patrick Surtain Jr. (Photo by Alika Jenner/Getty Images)
Regardless of what happens in free agency, cornerback is a top priority for the 49ers. The expectation here is that Pro Bowler Jason Verrett will return to San Francisco after the team took a chance on the injury-plagued veteran. Even if he does re-sign, the 49ers need an immediate-impact corner with Richard Sherman more than likely set to depart in free agency.
The 6-foot-1 Surtain, if available, makes a ton of sense. He fits the 49ers’ defensive scheme to a T and can play both man and in zone-specific packages. After a dominating career with Alabama, he could slot in as an immediate starter next to Verrett. It would be a cheaper alternative for the cash-strapped 49ers than going the free-agent route.
San Francisco 49ers mock draft: Trey Smith. (Photo by Andrew Ferguson/Collegiate Images/Getty … [+]
The stellar play of left guard Laken Tomlinson has not made guard a lesser need for San Francisco. In fact, the right side of the line was a major issue this past season. I could see the 49ers targeting an interior lineman in free agency. However, that will most likely be the center position due to Weston Richburg’s recent hip injury and questionable status with San Francisco moving forward.
Smith would be a plug-and-play guard from Day 1. It’s something the 49ers will need moving forward in the 2021 NFL Draft — players that can make an immediate impact. At 6-foot-4 and 312-pounds, Smith is also not scheme specific. He can star in both power and zone-blocking offenses. That makes the guard an attractive option for San Francisco.
San Francisco 49ers mock draft: Patrick Jones. (Photo by Don Juan Moore/Getty Images)
Dee Ford is going to be a cap casualty. Last season’s sack leader, Kerry Hyder, is slated to hit free agency. Meanwhile, former NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year Nick Bosa is coming off a torn ACL. Needless to say, edge is a must in both free agency and the 2021 NFL Draft for San Francisco.
I do fully expect the 49ers to add a veteran (perhaps, Ryan Kerrigan) on the open market. That doesn’t make edge any less of a need. The 6-foot-4, 264-pound Jones stood out on tape and has a massive ceiling. Over the course of the past two years with Pittsburgh, he recorded a combined 24 tackles for loss and 17.5 sacks. He’s projected as a starting defensive end in a 4-3 scheme — the exact defense San Francisco runs.
San Francisco 49ers mock draft: Shaun Wade. (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)
Exposed big time in the National Championship Game against reigning Heisman winner DeVonta Smith of Alabama, there’s now some talk that Wade should transition from cornerback to safety. He showed out big time in his first two seasons with Ohio State, playing the slot, before struggling out on the boundary last season.
This is a clear indication that strong safety is the best fit for Wade moving forward. He has the ball skills and physicality for it to work out. San Francisco is also in need at that position with Jaquiski Tartt slated to hit free agency and likely to draw a ton of interest on the open market.
San Francisco 49ers mock draft: Dazz Newsome. (Photo by Joel Auerbach/Getty Images)
49ers general manager John Lynch has a strong track record of adding elite talent in the mid-to-late rounds. Given the team’s cap situation this year, that can’t change. It also wouldn’t be a surprise if Lynch targeted a slot receiver. Trent Taylor is a free agent and did nothing of substance last season. Richie James has not panned out. Former third-round pick Jalen Hurd missed each of his first two seasons to injury.
In the 5-foot-11 Newsome, San Francisco would be adding an ideal slot option for whoever is under center. He was ultra productive at North Carolina, tallying 126 receptions for 1,702 yards and 16 touchdowns over the past two seasons.
With K’Waun Williams set to hit free agency, slot corner is also a need for the 49ers. Even if San Francisco is able to retain him, finding a potential replacement at some point in the draft makes sense. Vincent (5-foot-10, 189 pounds) is considered a big slot and is not scheme centric. He recorded four interceptions for LSU in 2019 before opting out of this past season.
Versatility. That has to be a theme for San Francisco heading into the 2021 NFL Draft due to the team’s financial situation. Barnes would more than provide that. He played both a pass-rush and straight linebacker role with Purdue, recording 7.5 sacks back in 2019 before taking on a more traditional role this past season. At the very least, Barnes could provide depth at linebacker while rushing the quarterback in obvious passing situations.
Even if the 49ers were to add someone like Alex Mack during NFL free agency, finding a center of the future makes sense. While this position is somewhat limited in 2021, Morrissey is a perfect fit in the 49ers’ zone-blocking scheme. He has plus-level technique and succeeded expectations in college after joining the Panthers as a walk-on. Getting a developmental starter in Round 6 would be a coup.
San Francisco 49ers mock draft: Pooka Williams. (Photo by Frank Jansky/Icon Sportswire via Getty … [+]
San Francisco is not going to exhaust either financial capital or a high-round pick at running back. The likes of former undrafted free agents Raheem Mostert and Jeff Wilson will lead the charge in 2021. However, finding a potential late-round steal couldn’t hurt. Playing for a bad Kansas team, Williams tallied nearly 2,700 total yards in 2018 and 2019 before opting out four games into the 2020 season. He’s a capable receiver and can initially make an impact on special teams as a returner — something the 49ers need.
Under the scenario laid out above, San Francisco would have Jimmy Garoppolo, Sam Darnold and Josh Rosen on the roster. On the surface, there wouldn’t seem to be a need for a developmental quarterback. Even then, I have a hard time believing the 49ers will conclude the 2021 NFL Draft without selecting a signal caller. The 6-foot-3 Ehlinger has a track record of success and fits the prototypical mold Shanahan adores.
Editor at Large of Sportsnaut, contributor here at Forbes. Seen on Fox Sports and MSN. Heard on Fox Sports Radio and ESPN Radio. Previous bylines include: Bleacher