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John Clayton ranks top 20 free agents for 2017

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John Clayton laid out his list of the top 20 potential 2017 free agents. Many will sign extensions or be franchised, but for now we can considering the possibilities.

The San Francisco 49ers will head into next year’s offseason with a lot of cap space. They have approximately $43 million in cap space this year, all of which they can roll over next year, if they so choose. Before any trades, releases, or contract extensions, the 49ers have approximately $46 million in cap space next year. If they roll over this year’s space, they would have close to $90 million in cap space, and that number could climb depending on what they do with Colin Kaepernick, Ahmad Brooks, and others.

Next year marks the first year of the new minimum cash spending period, which covers 2017 to 2020. The 49ers have to spend 89 percent in cash of their total cap over those four years. Just a reminder, a $20 million signing bonus on a five-year deal signed in 2017 counts for $20 million in cash for 2017, but $5 million in cap space for each year from 2017 to 2021.

All that is to say, there is money to spend. The 49ers do not actually need to spend a ton because they’ll have more time to get to the minimum cash spend rule. And again, since it’s cash, it’s not all that difficult to reach. But with so many holes in the roster, there will be additions both through the draft and through free agency.

We don’t know who will be general manager when free agency starts in March, so it is hard to know how the team will move forward. But, it’s still interesting to at least ponder the free agent options that are out there. The picture will clear up once we get into the offseason, but in the meantime, John Clayton took a look at the top free agents set to hit the market. He acknowledged that many of these players are likely to get a new deal or be franchised before they hit the market, but here is a look at the players by position:

QB: Kirk Cousins (6)
RB: Le’Veon Bell (2), Latavius Murray (13), Eddie Lacy (20)
WR: Alshon Jeffery (11)
OL: Kevin Zeitler (15)
DL: Kawann Short (1), Chandler Jones (4), Brandon Williams (5), Calais Campbell (8), Dontari Poe (10), Jabaal Sheard (14), Jason Pierre-Paul (18), Bennie Logan (19)
LB: Jamie Collins (3), Donta Hightower (9), Melvin Ingram (12)
CB: Stephen Gilmore (16), Trumaine Johnson (17)
S: Eric Berry (7)

It is a defensive-heavy group, but it is also safe to say a lot of these players are not going to be available when March rolls around. As for what the 49ers might do, it will depend entirely on what changes they make this offseason. The most notable issue will be the type of defensive scheme we see next year. If they switch from a 3-4 to a 4-3, that is going to alter the kind of personnel they need.

I do think we see the 49ers sign a quarterback in free agency, but that will be at most a bridge option while they figure out the guy of the future. Cousins is there, and of course some team might trade a pick for Jimmy Garoppolo. Other than that, you’re looking at a group that includes Case Keenum, Brian Hoyer, and not a whole lot else.

Who ends up being the “best” free agent on the market when March rolls around? Do the 49ers make a run at any of them?