The Super Bowl curse hit the San Francisco 49ers hard this past season. After climbing to the height of NFL success following five consecutive seasons without a playoff berth, the 49ers fell back down the ranks of the NFC West. San Francisco’s highly disappointing 2020 season called into question some of its glaring flaws that were masked during the Super Bowl run, including (and most importantly) under center.
San Francisco currently sits at $12.5 million over the projected $180.5 million cap, according to Over the Cap. The team cannot be as lucrative as it might like, especially considering its needs on the offensive line and at quarterback and its own free agents in need of new deals. Left tackle Trent Williams is projected to hit free agency at an average salary of $18.2 million, via Spotrac, and fullback Kyle Juszczyk should also command top dollar. It’ll take some cap gymnastics for the 49ers to be able to re-sign key offensive players along with team-friendly free agents in just over two week’s time.
Here are three offensive free agent targets San Francisco should consider.
Alejandro Villanueva, OT, Pittsburgh Steelers
Williams wants to stay in San Francisco, and the 49ers want to keep their star left tackle. But with a big question mark on who will be their starting quarterback in 2021, the 49ers might struggle to secure both. If San Francisco does move on from Williams, who started in 14 games in his first season with the team, it’ll desperately need to fill that hole. They could look to the 2021 NFL Draft and a rookie contract would be very team-friendly. But with the most recent offseason news of defensive end J.J. Watt now in the NFC West, agreeing to a lucrative two-year contract with the Arizona Cardinals, the 49ers might want more veteran talent protecting their passer. Alejandro Villanueva offers All-Pro talent at a slightly lesser value than Williams. Villanueva, who is slated to hit the open market after seven seasons with the Pittsburgh Steelers, comes with a market value of $16.5 million per year.
Willie Snead, WR, Baltimore Ravens
I would have put John Ross here, but the 49ers need a more proven receiving option. Ross has been stricken with injuries early in his career and has yet to reach his full potential, which was well on display at the collegiate level. While he would be a cap-friendly free agent due to his overwhelming lack of production, there are teams more cap stricken than the 49ers—and less desperate for depth. Instead, San Francisco can spend a little more on the Ravens’ Willie Snead. Since the receiving corps has been an oft-injured, oft-depleted position group, Snead could provide a reliable target for whoever is under center. He’s had a couple of meager seasons with the Ravens but would give the 49ers much-needed depth and is a versatile runner with special teams value.
Cam Newton, QB, New England Patriots
Jimmy Garoppolo’s future in San Francisco is uncertain. After a Super Bowl demise in 2019 and a 6-10 season to follow, the 49ers are expected to have a new passer in 2021. The quarterback free-agent market isn’t great. Deshaun Watson will be on a new team, likely not in San Francisco. Dak Prescott should remain with the Dallas Cowboys somehow because it would be very unwise for Dallas to let him go. It leaves only a handful of decent-to-good passers. Cam Newton is the best choice here. While Newton is seemingly far removed from the MVP play with the Carolina Panthers, he’s still a very solid quarterback. There is injury history, similar to Garoppolo, but when healthy, Newton can give San Francisco a more elevated and competent passer than Garoppolo. Newton can still successfully avoid negative plays and create plays with his dual-threat abilities. The 49ers would need Newton to stay healthy, which is the biggest factor at this point in his career. Newton would come at a team-friendly price and a one-year, prove-it deal in San Francisco’s system could be the spark he needs.