This will be a key year for Azeez Al-Shaair. The fourth-year linebacker is less than a year away from a possible free agency bid, and he may have an opportunity to join Fred Warner as a three-down ‘backer. With Dre Greenlaw missing much of last season due to injury, Al-Shaair stepped in as a full-timer. This season figures to determine which contract-year linebacker — Greenlaw or Al-Shaair — the 49ers aim to keep. The one that ends up playing less figures to be the cheaper option, with Matt Barrows of The Athletic noting that might be the player San Francisco attempts to retain (subscription required). Such a strategy would mesh better with Warner, who is tied to a top-market off-ball linebacker deal. A 2019 UDFA out of Florida Atlantic, Al-Shaair registered 102 tackles (nine for loss), two sacks, two fumble recoveries and an interception in 13 games last season — his first as a full-timer. Al-Shaair, however, is recovering from offseason knee and shoulder surgeries, Matt Maiocco of NBC Sports Bay Area tweets. The team is targeting a training camp return for Al-Shaair.
Here is the latest out of San Francisco:
- New 49ers quarterbacks coach Brian Griese has dealt exclusively with the quarterbacks who have attended the team’s offseason program. He has not communicated with Jimmy Garoppolo since taking over, via Maiocco (on Twitter). While Garoppolo will surely still have a good grip on Kyle Shanahan‘s offense, this does mark another sign the franchise remains intent on finding a trade. Dealing Garoppolo is not a guarantee, but it has long been the team’s goal.
- Elijah Mitchell made a surprise ascent early last season, leapfrogging third-round pick Trey Sermon and finishing with 963 rushing yards in just 11 games. The 49ers added another third-round back this year, in LSU’s Tyrion Davis-Price, and have a new running backs coach in Anthony Lynn. The team still views Mitchell as its top backfield option, according to ESPN.com’s Nick Wagoner, who adds the incumbent plans to be roughly 15 pounds heavier than he was last season. The 2021 sixth-round pick, who missed a chunk of the season due to multiple injuries, played at around 200 pounds as a rookie.
- K’Waun Williams operated as the 49ers’ slot cornerback for five years, signing multiple contracts to stay in that role. But the veteran defected to the Broncos in free agency this year. Veteran Darqueze Dennard could benefit. Despite being a January practice squad addition, Dennard resides as the top slot option for San Francisco as of OTAs, Barrows adds (subscription required). Fifth-round pick Samuel Womack may be Dennard’s top challenger, per Barrows. Although Dennard played in just two regular-season games last year (one as a Giant, one as a 49er), he spent several years as the Bengals’ primary slot defender. This will be the former first-rounder’s age-31 season.
- Jaquiski Tartt is not expected back with the 49ers this year. As of OTAs, Talanoa Hufanga and Tarvarius Moore reside as the top options to replace him, Barrows notes. Hufanga received the first crack at the strong safety job this week, according to Eric Branch of the San Francisco Chronicle. Moore’s contract tolled from 2021, a season he missed due to a torn Achilles suffered during the 49ers’ 2021 offseason program. The 49ers drafted Hufanga in last year’s fifth round; he started three games as a rookie. The team also signed ex-Colt safety George Odum this offseason.