With less than two weeks until NFL free agency opens, the 49ers list of offseason needs got a new addition and forced a recalibration of their priorities. Kicker Robbie Gould will be exploring the free agent market and signing with another team.
Kicker was always going to be at least some kind of hurdle since Gould is due to become an unrestricted free agent, but this vaults the need up the list of priorities for San Francisco this offseason.
Free agency, set to open with the negotiating period on March 13, will help check a few of these boxes, but the team isn’t likely to have enough salary cap space to make any huge splashes in that market. They’ll also have 10 picks in the NFL draft. Some of these needs will get eliminated in free agency, so we’ll circle back and recalibrate then.
Here’s where things stand heading into the opening of free agency:
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The longer Brock Purdy’s surgery takes, the more the 49ers have to find a third quarterback. Injuries have been too big of an issue at the most important position on the field for San Francisco to go conservative on adding a third QB. That third signal caller may need to be the backup as long as Purdy is out. Ideally any quarterback that signs in will come in as the QB3, but the 49ers are in a spot where there’s outsized importance on that part of the depth chart since that player may need to start games for them.
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It feels silly moving kicker this high on the priority list, but with news that Robbie Gould intends to play elsewhere next year it becomes one of the most gaping holes on San Francisco’s roster. Kicker is an important position for the 49ers since head coach Kyle Shanahan isn’t overly aggressive on fourth downs and in the red zone. They’re meeting with kickers at the combine so it’s on the table that they draft one. There could be a camp competition with a rookie and a couple veteran kickers as well.
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The defensive front is what drives a very good 49ers defense. With several players hitting free agency, San Francisco needs to diligently add depth here. Javon Kinlaw may or may not be a starting-caliber defensive tackle, and Drake Jackson may or may not be ready to take on a larger role opposite Nick Bosa. Even if those two player are ready to slot in as starters, depth matters a ton for San Francisco’s line. They need to pour resources in here via the draft and free agency to ensure this unit is still one of the team’s best.
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It’s not a slam dunk that right tackle Mike McGlinchey leaves in free agency. If he does, the 49ers could turn to an in-house candidate like Colton McKivitz to replace him. Leaving the job to McKivitz without competition isn’t necessarily a good idea though. They’ll either need to re-sign McGlinchey, sign a surefire replacement, or add some competition via free agency and the draft to ensure they’re shoring up a key position on the offensive front.
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Whether it’s Jimmie Ward, Tashaun Gipson, an outside free agent or a draft pick, the 49ers need a starting safety. Talanoa Hufanga and George Odum are the only safeties sure to return. Giving defensive coordinator Steve Wilks a versatile chess piece in the back end of the secondary will be important regardless of where they come from.
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Jake Brendel is a free agent and played well enough to earn another shot at being the starter for the 49ers. However, they may not want to leave the long-term starting center job to him. It’s panic time on the offensive line if they can’t re-sign Brendel, but even if they do, some internal competition might be helpful long-term.