Over 40 players from the San Francisco 49ers are bound for free agency.
It is utterly impossible for them to retain the majority of these players. However, not all of the players that are hitting free agency are as impactful. Some players are replaceable, while others will make it tough on the 49ers to replace. When it comes to the defensive side of the ball, there is one player the 49ers will miss the most if he leaves.
That player is slot cornerback K'Waun Williams.
Now I know that Jason Verrett was one of the best defensive players for the 49ers last season. He certainly has a better chance of cashing out in free agency over Williams. But Williams is a tenured player. He has been embedded with the 49ers since Kyle Shanahan took over as head coach. Replacing a guy who has locked down the slot corner position for the last four seasons won't be that easy.
It is more than just how long he has held onto his role with the 49ers. His production and impact on defense has been irreplaceable. No one else currently on the 49ers roster is capable of doing what Williams does, which is practically everything.
Williams is a slot corner by position, but in reality he is an all-around playmaking defensive player. The guy covers at a high-level, can defend against the run well, and is an effective player to blitz. Since the beginning of 2019, I have pounded the table regarding how underrated and underappreciated Williams is in the defense. His absence for half of the 2020 season showed it as the 49ers struggled to find someone to fill in at slot, let alone do everything Williams does.
Losing Williams will hurt the 49ers if he leaves. In fact, I think it is a guarantee that he is gone. Robert Saleh could woo him over to the Jets and Williams did grow up around that area. At 30 years old when the season starts, he could look to start winding down. Then there is also the price he will come at, which I am not sure what that looks like for him. Williams' injuries certainly hurts his case to be paid nicely, so he could return to the 49ers.
I just don't think the 49ers want to continue to go the route with players who constantly find themselves getting injured. Plus, his role could change a bit with DeMeco Ryans now in charge as defensive coordinator. The 49ers know what their defense looks like without Williams, so maybe they believe they have an idea on how to replace him.
Regardless, Williams' potential departure will sting. Maybe not throughout the whole 2021 season, but they will sorely miss his playmaking ability.