Trading away a bevy of top draft picks didn’t minimize the 49ers’ to-do list at this week’s NFL scouting combine.
There are contingency-plan quarterbacks to examine, from underdog prospects to prospective free agents.
Over 50 defensive linemen were invited to this week’s showcase in Indianapolis, and the 49ers need to find bargains who could thrive next to Nick Bosa, the reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year.
Tight ends, offensive tackles, maybe even kickers will get the in-person once-over by the 49ers, especially their medical staff.
General manager John Lynch is slated to speak on the curious state of the 49ers at 11 a.m. Tuesday. Kyle Shanahan is expected to skip the combine and watch video feeds from afar, as he did last year — and as 12 coaches are doing this year in a trend that allegedly helps their time management.
Here is a closer look at what the 49ers must navigate this week, including negotiations with the agents of their 20-plus players headed for free agency:
1. QB CONDITIONS
Lynch can offer updates on quarterbacks Brock Purdy and Trey Lance. Is there more to explain about Purdy postponing elbow surgery last Wednesday because of persistent swelling? Is Lance’s ankle recovery indeed entering the next phase where he has begun throwing to receivers, having requested a casting call of volunteers on social media last week?
Beyond that tandem, the 49ers must scour the NFL landscape, especially if they insist they aren’t looking for a top-tier potential starter (see: the limbo-loving Aaron Rodgers, the retired-again Tom Brady).
In terms of the combine’s 15 prospects, the 49ers’ target pool falls below the hyped quartet of Bryce Young, C.J. Stroud, Will Levis and Anthony Richardson. Lynch’s staff already should know plenty about local products Jake Haener (Fresno State) and Tanner McKee (Stanford). So, do they focus on a quarterback with Lance’s passing/rushing mix (see: Malik Cunningham, Dorian Thompson-Robinson), or search more for a gritty, pass-oriented winner? Stetson Bennett (Georgia) and Max Duggan (TCU) know playoff football, so time to get to know them, too.
This is also the time to check with cohorts and agents to see which veterans may enter the market with ex-49ers starter Jimmy Garoppolo. Will Lamar Jackson (Ravens), Geno Smith (Seahawks) and Daniel Jones (Giants) re-sign and stay put? None are 49ers’ material, but they could pick from potential cap casualties in Marcus Mariota (Falcons), Matt Ryan (Colts), Carson Wentz (Commanders), Jameis Winston (Saints) and Mitchell Trubisky (Steelers). The bars, hotel suites and corridors of Indy will offer plenty of quarterback chatter.
2. FORTIFY D-LINE
Two things are pressing when it comes to the crux of the 49ers’ defensive front: Are they optimistic Bosa will sign a record-setting extension before the season, and how do they plan to complement the line’s depth by integrating more youth next to him?
Three years ago, the 49ers bypassed DeForest Buckner’s fifth-year option and traded him to the Indianapolis Colts, in a regrettable deal that gained footing at the combine. Don’t expect a repeat of that. The 49ers have budgeted for Bosa’s payday, he’s earned it, he’s embraced the franchise and a deal figures to come down by August.
With their first draft pick slated at No. 100 overall, the 49ers could take the best-player-available route. Or they do what they normally do: They’ve selected a defensive lineman with their top pick in six of the past eight drafts, including Drake Jackson last year (No. 61 overall) and Javon Kinlaw in 2020 (No. 14 overall).
The combine measurables could help identify quick-burst, long-armed defensive ends, and that position becomes a bigger need if they don’t re-sign Samson Ebukam, Charles Omenihu and Jordan Willis.
The interior might be a more pressing matter. A veteran might fit better with this team’s state of contention, rather than a developmental tackle, such as Kalia Davis, a sixth-round pick last year who missed his rookie season rehabilitating a knee injury.
3. DRAFT, DEVELOP
The 49ers remain very much in playoff mode, so don’t expect this combine to yield hidden gems who’ll be thrust into their starting lineup. Then again, last year, they did find a starting right guard in the fourth round (Spencer Burford), and, of course, there was that Purdy kid they took a flier on with the 262nd and final pick.
Where could there be holes, once free agency arrives March 15 and ushers out entrenched starters?
Offensive tackle is a priority, not just with Mike McGlinchey ticketed for free agency but with Trent Williams’ staying power in question beyond 2023.
Defensive back Jimmie Ward is poised to leave after nine seasons, and that creates a bigger dilemma at safety than nickel back, where Sam Womack and Deommodore Lenoir could take over there. Tashaun Gipson Sr., who started at safety in place of Ward last year, is also a pending free agent, and the 49ers surely would like to find a safety who could form a formidable tandem for years with Talanoa Hufanga, who made All-Pro in his second year.
If the 49ers let Robbie Gould walk in free agency after six seasons – they could franchise-tag him by March 7, as they did in 2019 – then they’ll need a new kicker. The combine brought in six candidates, including Lou Groza Award winner Christopher Dunn (North Carolina State) and fellow finalist Jake Moody (Michigan).