15 49ers Who Could Leave After 2020: Part 3
Here is the series finale -- Part 3. These are the final five 49ers who could leave in 2021.
1. Left Tackle Trent Williams.
Williams was cheap when the 49ers traded for him -- they gave up basically just a third-round pick in 2021, and received the best left tackle in the NFL from Washington.
But Williams won’t be cheap in 2021. He’ll be an unrestricted free agent who could become the highest-paid offensive lineman ever if he plays well in 2020. He sat out 2019 because he refused to play for Washington.
But he’s still relatively young -- he’ll be 32 next season. And he’s fresh. If he plays up to his standard in 2020, he could ask for $23 million per season. The league’s highest-paid offensive lineman, Laremy Tunsil, currently earns $22 million per season, and Williams is better than him.
If Williams struggles at times next season because he’s rusty, the 49ers probably will re-sign him because then he won’t be outrageously expensive. Otherwise, they probably will have to let him sign somewhere else.
2. Fullback Kyle Juszczyk.
Juszczyk will be a 30-year-old free agent in 2021.
He’s the league’s best fullback, a position which is making a comeback because coaches such as Kyle Shanahan have used them successfully in modern offenses. Lots of teams with cap space probably would love to have Juszczyk.
I’m sure the 49ers would love to have him, too. But he’s expensive for a fullback -- they pay him more than $5 million per season. And the 49ers don’t have much cap space anymore -- they’re trying to create space to give George Kittle a record-setting contract for tight ends.
If Juszczyk gives the 49ers a discount, he probably will return in 2021. If he wants what he’s worth, he might have to look elsewhere. The 49ers have a cheap replacement on the roster -- undrafted rookie Josh Hokit from Fresno State.
3. Run Game Coordinator Mike McDaniel.
The Cardinals wanted to interview McDaniel last year to be their offensive coordinator, but a technicality allowed the 49ers to block the interview. That technicality no longer exists, meaning the 49ers can’t block McDaniel next year. He probably will leave.
McDaniel never can become a real offensive coordinator on the 49ers, because Shanahan calls the plays. But McDaniel is brilliant, too. He’s the architect of the run game that no defense could stop last season. He’s the one who finds all the new and creative ways to use Juszczyk as a blocker.
When McDaniel leaves, will the 49ers run game revert to what it was before 2019, when it was much simpler? We’ll find out.
4. Kicker Robbie Gould.
Gould held out of minicamp and OTAs last year for a contract extension, and got it -- the 49ers caved and gave him a four-year, $19 million extension through 2022.
But they can cut him after 2020 and save $3.75 million in cap space. By then, Gould will be 38. Will he still be good?
He wasn’t good last season. He made only 74.2 percent of his field-goal attempts, a career low. He needs to play much better to justify the $5 million per season the 49ers pay him. One more down season, and they’ll probably cut him.
5. Quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo.
The 49ers always qualify their praise of Garoppolo. They say he played well last season for a guy who was coming off a torn ACL and was in his first full season as a starting quarterback. He was good for a beginner coming off a serious injury. He was good with an asterisk.
So when the 49ers took the ball out of Garoppolo’s hands in the playoffs and basically ran their way to the Super Bowl, they didn’t dump Garoppolo afterward. They kept him, because they think he can get better.
He needs to get better.
The 49ers pay him $27 million per season -- they pay him to be an elite quarterback. To make other players better. Not to ride the coattails of a dominant run game.
In 2020, Garoppolo will have no asterisks. He’ll be two years removed from a torn ACL and he’ll be veteran. So he’ll need to play like a veteran who’s worth $27 million per season. Will need to be the reason the 49ers win a playoff game, not the reason they lose one.
Because if Garoppolo doesn’t get better in his second full season as a starting quarterback, the 49ers might begin to question how much more he can improve, and how much money he’s really worth. They might feel backup quarterback Nick Mullens can do most of the things Garoppolo does for a fraction of the price. Or, the 49ers might want to trade for Aaron Rodgers if he becomes available -- the Packers don’t seem to want him. They just spent a first-round pick on a quarterback.
Whatever the 49ers decide, they can save more than $24 million in cap space if they cut Garoppolo next year.
Garoppolo controls his fate. He can keep his job and his contract if he wins the MVP or the Super Bowl next season. Anything less, and things could get weird.