SANTA CLARA -- Nose tackle Ian Williams is on the verge of making it through his first 16-game NFL season. And after proving he can remain on the field and be productive for a full season, a bigger payday certainly awaits.
Williams, 26, a fifth-year pro, is likely the 49ers’ top target to retain as a scheduled unrestricted free agent after arguably being the team’s most consistent player this season.
Williams said he has purposely remained oblvious to all talks about a contract extension so he can concentrate on playing football.
History suggests there’s a strong chance the 49ers can work out a deal with Williams’ agent, Drew Rosenhaus, as the sides have reached lucrative contract extensions in the past, including those with NaVorro Bowman, Anthony Davis and Frank Gore.
It might be considered a bit of a surprise that Williams has gotten this deep into the season without signing a new deal. But Williams said he feels as if he had something to prove after playing just 11 games the past two seasons due to leg fractures.
“No, I’m not surprised,” Williams said. “I’m sure they just wanted to see me make it through a season healthy. I don’t know. I’m not worried about all of that. I just want to finish out the season strong and do what I can to help out my team, my teammates.”
Williams originally signed with the 49ers as an undrafted rookie from Notre Dame in 2011. He leads all 49ers defensive linemen with 64 tackles, and Pro Football Focus has given him the highest grade of any player on the 49ers, edging out Pro Bowl left tackle Joe Staley.
When asked Monday if he wants to re-sign with the 49ers, Williams said, “I would love to. This is where I’ve been. This is where I know guys on the team. This is where I’m comfortable at. I’d love to be back.”
Here’s a look at the 49ers who are scheduled for unrestricted free agency in March and how they might fit into the organizations plan for next season:
NT Ian Williams: He was one of the 49ers’ few bright spots this season, and he should clearly rank as the team’s top priority.
RT Alex Boone: After skipping the team’s offseason program the past two years in contract disputes, it appears likely that once Boone leaves the building, he’s not coming back. In 2014, Boone was a holdout during training camp. The 49ers moved some of his money around, but did not increase his scheduled dollar amount, to get him to report to the team just days before the first game of the regular season. The sides never engaged in any serious contract negotiations. The 49ers certainly have not gotten into bidding wars with any of their own free agents in the recent past. Typically, when one of their sought-after free agents hits the open market, he’s not coming back. Boone, a Pro Bowl alternate, figures to receive some attention in free agency.
WR Anquan Boldin: Boldin has given the 49ers just about everything for which they had hoped when they originally acquired him in a trade from the Baltimore Ravens in 2013. After two consecutive 1,000-yard seasons, Boldin will fall short of that mark this season. Boldin has never been a speed merchant, and despite slowing down, he is still having a solid season with 64 catches for 718 yards and three touchdowns. He said he wants to return to the 49ers next season. But will the 49ers try to milk a 14th NFL season out of Boldin? The team might opt to turn to younger, faster receivers, which could mean re-signing Boldin is not a top priority. The 49ers hope DeAndre Smelter could step up and make the tough underneath catches while also being more of an intermediate and deep threat.
K Phil Dawson: He turns 41 in January, and there are no guarantees he will want to return to the NFL for an 18th season. But if he does, it makes all the sense in the world to retain him. Leg strength is not much of an issue because punter Bradley Pinion handles kickoffs. In today’s NFL, it’s more important that a kicker is money from inside 40 yards – with extra points moving back to become, in essence, 33-yard field goals.
RB Reggie Bush: The 49ers signed him to a one-year contract to be the team’s change-of-pace runner/receiver behind Carlos Hyde. But Bush, who has been plagued by injuries throughout his career, experienced calf issues that forced him out of some early games. Then, he sustained a season-ending torn meniscus cartilage in his left knee after slipping on the concrete behind the 49ers’ bench in St. Louis and crashing into the permanent wall. The 49ers pieced it together with free-agent running backs off the street who ended up giving the team some decent production. This is a spot at which they can go with a younger player.
TE Garrett Celek: He performed better than any other 49ers tight end before his season ended with a high-ankle sprain. In 11 games, Celek caught 19 passes for 186 yards and three touchdowns. He does not figure to get a lot of action in free agency, so it seems like a strong possibility the 49ers can bring Celek back for a fifth season.
RB DuJuan Harris: The 49ers picked up Harris off the Baltimore Ravens’ practice squad, then five days later he was the team’s leading rusher with 73 yards on 11 carries. He also caught one of the two passes thrown his way for 11 yards. That’s quite a high percentage of action despite playing just 15 snaps against the Detroit Lions. Perhaps, Harris can provide an under-the-radar option for the role intended this season for Bush.
Restricted free agents
(Team maintains right of first refusal if team provides a contract tender)
RB Shaun Draughn
LB Michael Wilhoite
DL Tony Jerod-Eddie
LB Ray-Ray Armstrong
Exclusive rights free agents
(Player has no outside negotiating power if team provides a contract tender)
G Jordan Devey
RB Jarryd Hayne
TE Brian Leonhardt
RB Kendall Gaskins