49ers should re-sign Ian Williams, let Reggie Bush walk

Nathan Jahnke previews free agency for San Francisco under the Chip Kelly regime, identifying who to re-sign, let walk, and target.

| 8 months ago
(AP Photo/Joe Mahoney, file)

(AP Photo/Joe Mahoney, file)

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.


Let walk

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.

| Director of Analytics

Nathan has been with Pro Football Focus since 2010. He is the Director of Analytics, an NFL analyst, and a fantasy writer.

  • boise49ers

    I agree with all those predictions. Especially letting Pear’s go. He is horrible.

    • Jacob M. Lundeen

      I remember reading Davis “retiring” for the year would have the single biggest impact on the team, and it was. Pears was meant to be a backup at RG, but shoved into starting at RT because of Davis. It also didn’t help that our CS was atrocious.

  • sidbrown210

    No to Jeffery. How many seasons has he been healthy?

    • Frank

      He was banged up his rookie year and this past season, but was fine in 2013 and 2014…one thing Chip values is making sure his players are healthy and eat/workout/sleep correctly. If you look at Philly’s players they were among the healthiest group of players in the league, especially with soft tissue injuries (which is what AJ dealt with this past season). No reason to think AJ couldn’t benefit from that….if he makes it to FA SF should make a play.

  • mlm22

    Alshon is the biggest name in a shallow pool of Receivers this year. Chicago needs to use that to their advantage and tag him then trade him to a team for multiple draft picks and get some LB in free agency. I would love to see Chicago trade him to the Chargers for their next two 2nd round picks. Then trade down with a team in the draft this year for a couple more 2nd round picks. Grab a A’Shawn Robinson in the first round. Second round Hunter Henry, Vernon Butler, and Karl Joseph. In 2017, they would have 4 picks in the first two rounds to deal towards getting Deshaun Watson as the new franchise QB.

    • James Winslow

      They could just keep him cuz he’s a beast.

    • Tim Edell

      Don’t worry “fantasy football” will be starting soon Junior!!

    • bill jaffe

      lovely ideas but i see Harvey going in round 1 likely to Pittsburgh.

  • Luciano

    I don’t believe the Bears will let Jeffery hit open market. I thought the 9ers had huge cap space until I saw the list that the Bears’ cap room is even bigger.

    • crosseyedlemon

      I can’t see the Bears letting Jeffery walk either. They are probably going to lose Forte so if Jeffery goes that would probably leave kicker Robbie Gold as their only offensive weapon.

  • MosesZD

    Releasing Pears is just dumb. He was supposed to be a back-up guard. Not the starting Right Tackle. What he’s getting paid is pretty much market. And if he gets out-competed in camp, then release him.

    But just releasing now because some dude on a website can’t separate pressure caused by a slow-headed QB who routinely holds the ball too long (according to their own stats!) and a poor o-lineman would be dumb beyond belief.

    There’s a reason Belichick laughs at these ‘grading’ websites.

    • Blank x25

      Did you watch Pears play last year? Even as a backup, he’s awful. Cut the loss and move on.

      The pressure on our QBs last year was 80% from horrible OLine play, not from QBs holding the ball too long.

  • bill jaffe

    i do not see the Niners spending money on a WR no matter how good

    • Blank x25

      Why in the world would they not get a WR?

      Boldin is a FA (and way past his best days), Torry is a #2 at best, and Ellington and Patton have both done close to nothing since being drafted. We HAVE to go get a WR. Or two.

      • adon cabre

        DeAndre Smelter and a draftee called Duke Williams.

      • bill jaffe

        simple i think they will draft the WR they want or they will sign someone like Riley Cooper not big names

  • Aiiyiiyiii

    “they can afford to leave overpriced players on the roster if it doesn’t hurt their future by doing so.”

    Strongly disagree. Dump the overpaid underperforming players right now. Keeping them on takes up valuable roster slots, limits opportunity for younger players, and represents a drag on team spirit. It’s a bad idea to spend cap room just because you can afford it. There’s no such thing as too much cap room. If you don’t use it this season, you can carry it forward.

  • Frank D Misaege

    I’d opt for Marvin Jones instead…much less $$ but a WR who’s just coming into his own, and at 6-2, 200 or so he’s got the size Kelly covets. Re-signing Ian Williams isn’t enough…Baalke needs to sign at least one (if not two) FA’s. There are some very good DE’s and DT/NT’s on the market. Our front 3 is in dire need up upgrading ASAP. Drafting more beef is good, but you need some better experience up front.

  • McGeorge

    Rather than spending big money on Jeffery, the 49ers should save the cap money and spend it on Andrew Luck when he goes free agent.
    Which is about as likely to happen as Jeffery leaving the Bears.
    Even if the Bears don’t want to pay that much, they should tag him and trade him. No way they just let him walk and get nothing in return.

    • Roberto Cavalli

      Sure, Indy wouldn’t want to resign him…

      • James Jones

        He was being sarcastic.

        • McGeorge

          Who? Me?

          If I was Andrew Luck, I’d refuse a contract extension. I’d play under the tag, then leave. I’d want to go to a better run team, away from Grigson and Irsey.
          Plus I’d shave the beard.

  • Roberto Cavalli

    Resign Ian and Phil if the price is right. Also if Celek doesn’t want too much money. Go after Jeffery unless he breaks the bank. Than you build the rest through the draft. Our DBs played better than what it showed on paper. We need to draft a QB, OL, and pass rushers.

  • J French Rennier

    Agree on allowing to walk Pears & Reggie Bush. Add to that A. Brooks & A. Boone who would be a casualty of Chip Kelly anyway & is a locker room cancer.
    FA’s to sign should be # 1 – G Kelechi Osemele. This is should be the highest priority & the proper heir to left guard. Marvin Jones is a starting Z type WR to sign, Jaye Howard would be a vast improvement in the DL rotation & Danny Trevathon would fit well beside Bowman. This is my personal wish list for the $50 mill the 49ers have available.

    A. Davis return should solidify right tackle & the OL is in respectable shape as Tiller proved to be an adequate NFL caliber guard.
    The draft should prove the direction of the 49ers because if they take a Qb at #7 – get ready for 3 seasons of near the bottom. Stanley at OT, Treadwill at WR or Buckner at DT are all excellent selections or even possibly an Edge Rusher.
    If Chip Kelly wants a Qb in this draft – grad Adams from Oregon in round #4 as their are far too many positions to fill.

    • zinn21 zinn21

      Agree with you on Osemele. I would fortify both sides of the trenches with Free agents. I take Goff or Wentz with #7 then draft RB’s, ILB’s and Lineman on both sides of the ball 2-6. DB’s with late round picks and undrafted FA’s. I am not that concerned at WR but would want to re-sign Anquan. Their WR’s were not the problem. It was their O line, terrible play calling and Quarterbacking that was the problem. WR, DeAndre Smelter was one of those Baalke knee injury picks he is famous for. So far he has hit with none of them so he is due and Smelter is a hell of an athlete.

      • J French Rennier

        I look to watch Smelter perform on the big stage & he should get that opportunity this season. Rogers the FA signing from Canada may prove to be an excellent pick up.
        Cleveland will grab the #1 QB in this draft & Dallas after last season’s debacle where Romo is injured the season is lost will grab the next best QB especially since Romo is now 36.
        My personal choice with that high a selection is Buckner from Oregon at Defensive Tackle but would also agree with Stanley the Offensive Tackle from Norte Dame.
        However the 49ers will tip their hand April 1st with Kaepernick. If retained, they will not draft a Qb that high, if released they will.

  • David Freund

    You mean sign the guy they should have picked at number 30 in 2012 over AJ Jenkins? Jeffery was picked 45. I like Alshon. I hope Baalke can make this happen even if it hurts his pride.

  • MBCubs

    Trevathan would be a homerun FA signing for the 49ers. You must stop the run in the NFC West, with Ian Williams at NT and Bowman/Trevathan, we are immediately strong inside. Dial and Armistead round out the D line, Signing Trevathan frees up the top two draft picks for QB and a pass rusher. Wilhite and Hodges are back ups, at best.