Super Bowl LVIII - San Francisco 49ers Practice
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The state of the union ahead of San Francisco’s 2024 off-season campaign

When friends and family offer the sympathetic phrases “there’s always next year” or “they’ll be back,” I often meet it with a head shake. The fact of the matter is it’s hard to lose a Super Bowl and rebound quickly.

Outside of the Patriots’ three straight appearances from LII to LIV, there hasn’t been a Super Bowl loser that has made it back to the big game the following season since the early 90’s Bills, who strung together a historic four straight Super Bowl defeats. The grueling NFL schedule is unkind in general, and the pressures of postseason failure can weigh deeply on entire franchises the following season (see: Philadelphia 2023).

But at some point, things fall back into order—the process of grief transitions to potential and, with it, the dreams of new triumphs. As Mike Shanahan put it – “You keep fighting. That’s f—ing life.” It can be tough to swallow, but the 49ers can absolutely be back in contention for the Lombardi next February. And at some point, that’s what the Faithful’s focus will shift to as well.

This off-season will be full of soundbites explaining away the biggest loss in the Shanahan era and the weaknesses that impacted their ultimate demise. But it will also be for looking forward and making decisions on how to avenge the faults of this 2023 squad. How they improve will first rest on the configuration of the roster.

Per OverTheCap, San Francisco is roughly $3.7 million dollars in the hole for 2024 (estimated cap between $240-245 million). Here is how their setup currently appears before undergoing the necessary changes in the coming months.


2024 Under Contract: Brock Purdy

Free Agents: Sam Darnold, Brandon Allen

Having your franchise quarterback in place for less than $1 million a year is incredibly advantageous in today’s NFL. The skyrocketing cost of an elite signal caller can put teams in a bind when trying to upgrade the talent across the rest of the roster. San Francisco is in great shape to make another aggressive push this off-season as the window of opportunity is tied to Purdy’s rookie contract. Darnold may find a better opportunity in free agency, so it would be great to see Allen back in the fold next August.


2024 Under Contract: Christian McCaffrey, Elijah Mitchell, Jordan Mason, Kyle Juszczyk (FB)

Free Agents: None

This room is probably set. CMC is the highest-paid player at the position but was worth every dollar as he snatched the Offensive Player of the Year award. It does mean there isn’t room for the other running backs to make much money in this backfield.

With Mitchell and Mason’s contracts expiring in 2025, don’t be surprised to see Shanahan and Lynch go back to the well with a day two or three pick that will run a low price tag for another few seasons. The 49ers have drafted some mid-round backs over the last few years that didn’t pan out, so ideally, they would set their sights on low-cost options in the free agent market instead if they want to bulk up the competition during training camp and preseason.


2024 Under Contract: Deebo Samuel, Brandon Aiyuk, Danny Gray, Ronnie Bell

Free Agents: Juaun Jennings (Restricted), Ray-Ray McLoud III, Chris Conley

Brandon Aiyuk is entering the final season of his rookie contract after the 49ers smartly exercised the All-Pro’s fifth-year option ahead of 2023. After the performance Aiyuk put together this season, it’s easy to see why signing him to an extension will be a priority for the front office.

An early estimate from Spottrac evaluates his market value to be around $22 million per year, which would be slightly less than Deebo Samuel’s average but still a top-ten mark (current) at the position. Having those two players dominating their cap space may be consequential in the long run, but it’s hard to deny they’ve proven to be worth it.

Jennings’ future with San Francisco is unclear right now. At only 27 years old (next season), Jennings should see plenty of interest in testing free agency following a strong Super Bowl performance. Like Kendrick Bourne a few seasons ago, the 49ers would love to hold onto Jennings, but the price tag may not be worth matching, and there would be some benefit to recouping the draft pick of the tender they placed on him.

McLoud and Conley have played important roles on special teams all season but don’t move the needle in the passing game. Even if one or both are brought back on cheap, short-term deals, 49ers brass should spend draft capital on adding a dynamic pass catcher or two in order to bring more variation to the passing attack.


2024 Under Contract: George Kittle, Cameron Latu, Brayden Willis

Free Agents: Ross Dwelley, Charlie Woerner

The San Francisco front office likely had this off-season in mind when they took Latu and Willis in the third and seventh rounds, respectively, in last year’s draft. Dwelley and Woerner had never really brought much impact as secondary tight ends behind Kittle, and adding younger, cheaper options was a sound investment.

Of course Latu tore his meniscus and had to miss all of his rookie season, and Willis only played sparingly and was mostly asked to block. Bringing back Dwelley or Woerner wouldn’t break the bank, and if Latu is too far behind where they need him to be following the injury, it could be worthwhile to resign a guy who already has played in the system. If not, hitting the draft again wouldn’t be the worst option. San Francisco has 11 picks, and with the lack of developmental reps for their 2023 rookies, their long-term replacement for Kittle (who turns 31 and carries a hefty cap hit) could be available this April.


2024 Under Contract: Trent Williams, Aaron Banks, Jake Brendel, Colton McKivitz, Spencer Burford, Jaylon Moore, Nick Zakelj

Free Agents: Jon Feliciano, Matt Pryor, Ben Bartch

Trent Williams is on board for year 14 with his sights set on breaking the pro-bowl record for offensive tackles. Having a future hall-of-famer protecting your quarterback’s blindside remains a blessing, but it would be ignorant to say his presence absolves the front office of their mistakes in building out the rest of the offensive line. Even though all five starters coming into 2023 are on the books for 2024, there has to be a major focus to improve upfront.

Feliciano played well after taking over the right guard job after the bye week, but it isn’t a necessity for the Niners to bring him back. He did provide the necessary depth along the interior and took snaps at all three inside spots this season. But counting on the 32-year-old journeyman to be an above-average starter for a full season slate isn’t reasonable. Like many of the other position groups, the cap hit is tied to one major contract (Williams), but that doesn’t mean the limited financial resources should prevent the front office from dipping into the free agency pool if a premiere starter (especially on the right side of the line) becomes available.

It isn’t hyperbole to say that most 49ers fans would prefer to see spending at this position rather than any other roster spot this off-season. From starters to depth, it should be a major overhaul heading into 2024. That includes the draft, where early rankings show a class teeming with first-round talent at offensive tackle, guard, and center.


2024 Under Contract: Arik Armstead, Nick Bosa, Javon Hargrave, Drake Jackson, Kalia Davis, Robert Beal Jr.

Free Agents: Clelin Ferrell, Randy Gregory, Chase Young, Javon Kinlaw, Kevin Givens, Sebastian Joseph-Day

San Francisco has invested heavily in fielding a dominant front four. But the lack of production from this unit for the majority of the season and playoffs is enough of a concern that more resources (and a new defensive scheme) will have to be utilized on rounding out this unit.

Even if the 49ers wanted to bring back their SB starting group, which would include Chase Young, it would be incredibly difficult considering the amount they are already spending on the other three first-team guys. Armstead, Bosa, and Hargrave are making up a little over 20% of the team’s cap space in 2024, and that number will boost even higher a year later with Bosa’s back-loaded contract (although Armstead will be a free agent).

Kinlaw enjoyed the healthiest season of his career but hasn’t lived up to the expectations of a first-round pick. Having him back in the mix as an improving backup isn’t out of the realm of possibilities if both sides agree to a cheap, short-term “prove-it” kind of deal that allows him another shot at a full off-season of development with a clean bill of health.

There was plenty of excitement surrounding Jackson at the start of the season, but, similarly to Spencer Burford, things cooled off quickly, and the inconsistent play was not going to cut it for a team looking to contend immediately. Perhaps with another year under his belt, Jackson can become that missing impact edge opposite Bosa, but it wouldn’t be a surprise if the team chose to attack the draft for one of the top pass rushers either.


2024 Under Contract: Dre Greenlaw, Fred Warner, Dee Winters, Jalen Graham

Free Agents: Oren Burks, Demetrius Flannigan-Fowles

The Achilles injury to Greenlaw dampers the linebacker situation severely entering 2024. His absence in the Super Bowl was an immediate turning point for the game, and San Francisco didn’t have the answers to replace his energy, tenacity, and ability. It isn’t a certainty, but Greenlaw may miss the beginning of next season. Burks and Flannigan-Fowles were the replacements against Kansas City, but neither is a lock to be on the roster to take those reps in 2024.

Winters and Graham were late-round picks a year ago, and it would be a long shot to assume they develop into what the Niners will need with Greenlaw out. Add linebacker to the list of potential positions that San Francisco might target in April’s draft.


2024 Under Contract: Deommodore Lenoir, Charvarius Ward, Ambry Thomas, Isaiah Oliver, Darrell Luter Jr, Samuel Womack, Ji’Ayir Brown, Talanoa Hufanga, George Odum

Free Agents: Tashaun Gipson Sr, Logan Ryan

Gipson hasn’t made a decision about his playing status next season but nearly chose retirement last off-season. Even though his veteran presence would be missed, San Francisco is probably in good shape to run it back with this group in 2024. Ji’Ayir Brown made some rookie mistakes but also came up with some big plays in his expanded role after Hufanga’s injury. Watching those two young safeties grow together over the next few seasons will be a lot of fun. Depth will be important.

The cornerback room is a little shakier, with no real answers outside of the top two. Ward is a free agent in 2025 but has outplayed his current contract. Lenoir has evolved into a confident playmaker on the outside or in the slot and has solidified his role as CB2 on this defense.

But if Lenoir is asked to play the nickel again next year, that spot opposite Ward becomes worrisome. Ambry Thomas took most of those reps down the stretch and got exposed quite often, especially in the playoffs. If the new DC decides Lenoir is better suited to stay outside, the nickel position becomes an immediate area of need. Oliver and Ryan were not up to snuff, and neither returning (i.e., Oliver getting released) is probably the best route for the Niners to take.

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