Suddenly, Larry Warford is a free agent. That could be a blessing for the 49ers.
Warford was released by the New Orleans Saints Friday, a surprising move by one of the NFC’s best teams. Warford, a seven-year NFL veteran, is a right guard who’s been selected to the Pro Bowl the past three seasons.
The third-round pick by the Lions out of Kentucky in 2013, a 6-foot-3, 317-pounder, is known as one of the league’s best pass-blocking guards, but New Orleans decided it could move on without him after selecting Michigan guard Cesar Ruiz in the first round of the most recent draft. Warford was due to cost the Saints about $12.9 million in 2020, and his release clears a lot of salary cap space for the Saints.
It also clears the way for several teams to go after Warford as a big upgrade to their offensive line – including the 49ers.
Especially because the Niners’ weakest spot on the O-line is at right guard. Trent Williams (left tackle), Laken Tomlinson (left guard), Weston Richburg (center) and Mike McGlinchey (right tackle) are solid, but right guard is a question mark. After the recent release of starter Mike Person, the position is up for grabs, with Daniel Brunskill the most likely replacement.
Signing Warford, however, would make an already-good offensive line significantly stronger. It’s a challenge financially, but the 49ers might be able to maneuver under the salary cap to make it happen.
As Grant Cohn of Sports Illustrated wrote Sunday, speaking to general manager John Lynch: “Make more cap space. Sign Warford. And strengthen the only glaring weakness remaining on the roster. Pick up a freaking phone, John.”
This past season, Warford’s run-blocking grade was the seventh-best in the league among guards. He also allowed just two sacks the entire 2019 season and was penalized only six times.
As Cohn noted, as good as Warford was in the run game, “he specializes in pass protection” and has allowed just seven sacks over his past three seasons. Cohn said Person’s inability to block Chiefs defensive tackle Chris Jones in the Super Bowl was a key to the 49ers’ loss. So, Warford would immediately fix that problem.
But, Warford will be pricey, the 49ers like Brunskill (who isn’t expensive) and there will be competition for Warford. The Bears, Texans and Rams could also be at the front of the line to seek Warford’s services.