SANTA CLARA, Calif. — Since their arrival in 2017, San Francisco 49ers general manager John Lynch and coach Kyle Shanahan haven’t been shy about making in-draft trades. Until this year.
Armed with nine picks and little room for rookies to make the roster, the Niners figured to package some of their late-round choices and move up. Lynch hinted at such a scenario in his pre-draft news conference. By the time the draft was through, though, the Niners hadn’t made a single trade during the draft for the first time since Shanahan and Lynch showed up.
Instead, San Francisco picked nine players knowing that many of them could land on the practice squad come September but with an eye toward creating more training camp battles.
“We love the competition,” Lynch said. “We like our roster. We really do. We think it’s well-constructed and now we’ve got to go put it together. This is, there’s teams that I think can compete for the thing, we think we’re one of those, and now you’ve got to put the work in, have a tremendous offseason, come together as a team.”
After making their move for Trey Lance last year, this was supposed to be a quiet offseason. It’s been quite the opposite, as the Niners still find themselves in the middle of some drama when it comes to receiver Deebo Samuel and quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo. With the bulk of offseason roster construction complete, plenty of work has been done but plenty more remains.
What they’ve done
Despite losing key starters such as defensive tackle D.J. Jones and guard Laken Tomlinson, the Niners spent big money to upgrade with cornerback Charvarius Ward, a move made with a clear emphasis on positional value. In Ward, the Niners believe they have an ascending player capable of becoming their No. 1 corner immediately and bolstering one of the team’s biggest weaknesses last season.
Ward was the Niners’ one big bite from the free-agent apple but they also made a number of signings on the margins that should improve their woeful special teams and increase depth. The Niners were 26th in special teams DVOA in 2021, and that performance led to an afterthought becoming a priority. To that end, the 49ers invested in linebacker Oren Burks, safety George Odum and returner Ray-Ray McCloud.
The Niners re-signed some key contributors such as linebacker Azeez Al-Shaair, offensive lineman Daniel Brunskill, receiver Jauan Jennings and added ends Kemoko Turay and Kerry Hyder Jr. from the outside.
In the draft, the Niners didn’t believe they had many significant needs, which allowed them to draft the best available players on their board regardless of position. That approach resulted in early picks for USC defensive end Drake Jackson, LSU running back Tyrion Davis-Price and SMU receiver Danny Gray. The 49ers also added some intriguing undrafted free agents, such as Arizona State center Dohnovan West, North Carolina linebacker Jeremiah Gemmel, UCLA cornerback Qwuantrezz Knight and Texas A&M safety Leon O’Neal.
The hope is all of those moves will make the Niners a deeper team, better equipped to handle significant injuries.
Jeremy Fowler speaks on Baker Mayfield’s and Deebo Samuel’s will to be traded despite making little to no progress throughout the NFL draft.
In some ways, the 49ers’ offseason has been more about what they haven’t done than what they have. After losing to the Los Angeles Rams in the NFC Championship Game, the expectation was that the first big piece of business — trading Garoppolo — would happen quickly. That was before it was known Garoppolo needed right shoulder surgery, a procedure that wiped out his trade value and put his future in limbo.
Garoppolo’s shoulder is slated to get the all-clear in late June or early July, at which point the Niners will again seek a trade partner. And though the Niners have said repeatedly they don’t intend to release Garoppolo, it’s still hard to imagine a scenario in which he’s on the roster in Week 1, at least at his current $26.95 million cap number.
The Garoppolo situation has paled in comparison to the unexpected issues with Samuel, who requested a trade in mid-April. That came after nothing but positive reports from Lynch and Shanahan on the direction of a lucrative contract extension. Only the team, Samuel and his representatives know exactly what his grievances are, but the Niners remain cautiously optimistic they can mend that relationship and keep Samuel around for the long haul. A contract extension for end Nick Bosa could also be in the offing, though it’s not as pressing with Bosa under contract for two more seasons.
The Garoppolo and Samuel situations have loomed so large that other questions have gone under the radar. While the Niners mostly have their starting positions accounted for, it’s still fair to wonder who will play center and strong safety.
Veteran center Alex Mack hasn’t decided whether he will return or retire, and Lynch’s tone when talking about Mack has vacillated between the two. But the Niners didn’t draft a center, and though they have Jake Brendel under contract, Shanahan prefers to have experience at that spot. JC Tretter is a free agent and could be an option if Mack decides to call it a career.
“We got to plan and know we can’t count on it, but will have to have a center, love to have a safety,” Shanahan said. “But we do the best with our picks, and I love the guys that we did add.”