49ers should re-sign Ian Williams, let Reggie Bush walk
In 2015, the 49ers had one of the worst offseasons a team has had in recent memory. Despite San Francisco’s record last year and all of the negativity, the 49ers have several young players they can build around. Now with Chip Kelly at head coach and a lot of cap room, we can expect San Francisco to make some headline-worthy moves over the coming months.
(Editor’s note: This article was updated on Feb. 29, 2016.)
The 49ers are tied for the fewest unrestricted free agents, at five, and also have more cap space available than the majority of teams. Because of that, San Francisco can afford to bring back all of their unrestricted free agents, if they so choose.
NT Ian Williams
At the top of their priority list should be nose tackle Ian Williams (85.6). It’s rare to see a team break the bank for a two-down nose tackle, but in this case, it’s worth it. In 2014, he was among the best defensive tackles in run-stop percentage, at 11.7 percent, but this was on a small sample size of 111 run snaps. This led to a much bigger role in 2015, where his run-stop percentage decreased to 10.6 percent, but was on 350 run snaps. His 37 run stops were tied for third-most with Aaron Donald. Despite the low sack totals, he has graded out as an average pass-rusher these last two years, thanks to a lot of pressure.
K Phil Dawson
The 49ers have four more unrestricted free agents that they are better off re-signing than letting go. Kicker Phil Dawson is 41 years old, and shouldn’t be used on kickoffs, but he was a perfect three-for-three beyond 50 yards in 2015, and made 88.9 percent of his field goals, which put him among the top 10 most accurate kickers.
WR Anquan Boldin
Wide receiver Anquan Boldin’s (79.6) best days are probably behind him, as he’s 35. In 2015, his yards total of 789 and yards-per-catch average of 11.4 were his personal lowest in over a decade. Still, Boldin was the best receiver on the 49ers’ roster, and Chip Kelly can find a role for him if he’s back.
RB Reggie Bush
The only unrestricted free agent that doesn’t make sense for the 49ers to bring back is halfback Reggie Bush (58.3). He was only healthy for 49 snaps in 2015. In that time, he recorded just 47 yards, and allowed two pressures. If the 49ers wants a receiving back to compliment Carlos Hyde, they could use restricted free agent Shaun Draughn (80.7 receiving), or find someone else in free agency. Draughn would come cheaper than Bush, and was good after the catch, forcing five missed tackles on his 27 catches. Among running backs, only Draughn and C.J. Spiller had 27 or more catches, and didn’t have a drop.
G Erik Pears
The 49ers don’t need to release anyone to help their salary cap situation, but they can still release players who aren’t worth the contract they have. One of the worst-graded offensive linemen in 2015 was Erik Pears (37.5), who moved from right tackle to right guard. San Francisco is better off giving younger offensive linemen on the roster a chance than sticking with Pears. Releasing him would free up $2.1 million of cap space, and only leave $250,000 in dead money.
Players like quarterback Colin Kaepernick (48.6) and outside linebacker Ahmad Brooks (53.4) aren’t worth their current contracts, but the 49ers might be better off keeping them. Letting them go would result in a lot of dead money, and both players were at one point good, so they could flash that potential once again. For a team with so much cap space, they can afford to leave overpriced players on the roster if it doesn’t hurt their future by doing so.
The 49ers’ biggest question mark is at quarterback, but they may not figure out a long-term solution until the draft or next offseason. The 49ers would be better off getting some of the best players available, so when they do find the answer at quarterback, he has the weapons around him to succeed.
G/OT Kelechi Osemele (Ravens)
The 49ers need a lot of help on the offensive line. If Anthony Davis is reinstated that would help, but they still need at least one new offensive linemen, or two if they don’t re-sign Alex Boone (65.0 They also need to be ready for when Joe Staley, who turns 32 before next season, retires. The best player they can bring in to help both this year and in the future is Kelechi Osemele (79.6). Most of his experience has come at left guard, but he also has experience at both offensive tackle positions. He has been a top-five run-blocking guard in both 2014 and 2015. Over the last three years, Osemele has only allowed three sacks. He would allow the 49ers to put their best five offensive linemen on the field, regardless of position.
LB Danny Trevathan (Broncos)
San Francisco once had unquestionably the best linebacker duo in the NFL, with Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman. Fast-forward to the present, and Willis has retired, and Bowman isn’t the same player he once was in coverage. Next to him, a rotation of Gerald Hodges and Michael Wilhoite failed to impress. The best solution would be signing free agent Danny Trevathan. Trevathan was one of just five linebackers with 53 or more stops and seven or fewer missed tackles. He would turn the 49ers biggest weakness on defense into one of their biggest strengths.