Free agency is set for Thursday, March 9th, and so far the we have no idea what the 49ers are planning. They already made some signings prior to free agency (spending more money in the last two weeks than they did through all of the period last year), which suggests we might see a busier March than last year. We have heard them connected to some names, but it is all rumors for now.
We can’t say anything for sure say, but we can start to infer some things based on past relationships. Our friends at Bleeding Green Nation took a look at coach and executive connections with upcoming free agents, and I thought we’d use the framework with the 49ers’ own free agency issues.
The following is a list of coaches and executives free agents may have crossed paths with during their time in an organization. This is in no way definite, and we did leave some players out, but this is who we think could very well get a longer look from John Lynch and company.
Kyle Shanahan (Head Coach/Offensive Coordinator)
We’ll begin with the coaching grand poohbah, Kyle Shanahan. Thanks to his time in Atlanta and in Washington, we have all sorts of players that could wind up in San Francisco.
QB Kirk Cousins
The big prize in free agency. Well, as far as the 49ers are concerned. Kirk Cousins was a Kyle Shanahan pick in the draft and when number 1 pick Robert Griffin III went down with an injury, Cousins showed why the then-offensive coordinator had faith in him. Despite some rough patches following some impressive games, Cousins would later wrench the starting job from Robert Griffin III long after Shanahan’s departure. There are rumors he’d want out of Washington, and Shanahan’s system isn’t much different than current Washington coach Jay Gruden’s, cutting the installation and learning down.
QB Matt Schaub
It’s no secret the 49ers are going to be scouting a quarterback. Schaub could be the perfect stop-gap for the team if they decide to sit a prospect for a year or two to learn Kyle Shanahan’s (difficult system. Schaub also played in Shanahan’s system while he was a starter for the Houston Texans. While Gary Kubiak was calling plays and may have had more influence, there’s no doubt a lot of Shanahan’s current system came from that influence.
QB Brian Hoyer
Take what we just said about Schaub and and you can make the same case for Hoyer. Hoyer saw some good numbers playing in Kyle Shanahan’s offense during Shanahan’s lone year in Cleveland. While he’s a bit more of an unknown to Schaub, he at least doesn’t hold the record for pick-sixes in consecutive games.
WR Pierre Garcon
2013 gave Garcon his best career numbers. That also happened to be a year he played in Shanahan’s offense, posting 1346 receiving yards. He also was a Shanahan free agent signing under his dad, Mike Shanahan. He may be getting a bit long in the tooth, but he’d be a perfect addition for a young quarterback to throw the short ball to and can help in the transition of Shanahan’s offense with a rookie wide receiver.
TE Jacob Tamme
The 49ers may also want to shore up their tight ends. They signed re-signed Vance McDonald and have Garrett Celek on a long-term deal. Tamme, thrived under Shanahn’s system in Atlanta, but would the 49ers want to get resentment from their two veteran tight ends? Do they really need Tamme?
WR Andrew Hawkins
The Browns released Hawkins on Monday, although by all accounts it was a mutual decision. He wants to go to a contender, and the Browns are in a rebuilding process. He had the best season of his career when Shanahan was Browns OC.
Adam Peters, VP of Player Personnel
John Lynch’s first hiring once he became general manager was Adam Peters. The 49ers hired him away from the Denver Broncos, where he served as director of college scouting. Broncos running back C.J. Anderson tweeted a thank you to Peters after the 49ers hired him, saying the executive was the reason he was in Denver.
The Broncos current free agents include OLB DeMarcus Ware, DE Vance Walker DT Sylvester Williams, LS Thomas Gafford, RB Justin Forsett, WR Jordan Norwood, DE Billy Winn, OLB Dekoda Watson, CB Kayvon Webster, and WR Marlon Brown. From that group, defensive tackle Sylvester Williams and cornerback Kayvon Webster were drafted by the Broncos in 2013, which was Peters’ last season as national scout.
Rich Scangarello (Quarterbacks Coach)
The 49ers do not have an offensive coordinator coming in for the 2017 season, so Rich Scangarello could have larger responsibilities than most quarterbacks coaches.
QB Matt Schaub
Again, Matt Schaub brings the perfect stop-gap for a young QB to sit and learn with the 49ers. Scangarello was an offensive quality control coach for the Falcons in 2015, so he wasn’t really hands on with the quarterbacks, but another familiar face could help in bringing Schaub to the 49ers.
Bobby Turner (Running Backs Coach)
The 49ers were unable to keep Tom Rathman on the coaching staff after he was seemingly invincible to coaching regime changes. In comes Bobby Turner and it’s a good reason to be optimistic.
FB Patrick DiMarco:
The Falcons—and Washington by extension, don’t have much in free agent possibilities to offer in the backfield, but Patrick DiMarco could be an intriguing option to come to San Francisco. After doing away with fullbacks during Chip Kelly’s brief run in Santa Clara, the 49ers will need fullback help going into 2017. After an underwhelming period before Turner’s arrival, DiMarco had a career year in 2015 with 110 receiving yards and 2 touchdowns. DiMarco wouldn’t be a sexy signing, but with fullbacks non-existent on the roster, DiMarco could hold things down until a better option is available.
Jon Embree (Assistant Head Coach, Tight Ends coach)
The 49ers brought in Embree after he spent the past three seasons as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers tight ends coach. As assistant head coach, he could have a particularly close working relationship with Kyle Shanahan.
QB Mike Glennon
Embree’s time in Tampa Bay was after the most extensive starting portion of Glennon’s career. While Glennon would have spent his time in the QB room, there could be some connections there that Embree might sell the 49ers on.
Robert Saleh (Defensive Coordinator)
The 49ers will be switching to a 4-3 defense in 2017 which will mean scrutinized evaluation on the defensive side of the ball. Some above average players may find themselves in a bit of a hole with the transition while other previously stumbling talent (READ: Tank Carradine) may finally have a chance to excel.
ILB Malcolm Smith:
The 49ers are desperate for an inside linebacker to put next to Navarro Bowman. Saleh worked with Smith in Seattle during his time as a defensive quality control coach. It’s not much—but it’s something! Maybe Smith and Saleh shared a beer or a coffee break that resulted in enough male bonding to maybe kick the tires and bring him to SF.
SS Johnathan Cyprien
With Antoine Bethea getting up in age, the 49ers will be looking to upgrade the safety position. Unfortunately, Cyprien may not be worth bringing in when the 49ers will need to figure out where to place Jimmie Ward in this new defense. Cyrprien wouldn’t carry a high price tag, but there may be more upside with a younger option.
CB Prince Amukamara
The former New York Giant played just as quiet in Jacksonville as he had for most of his career. Given the 49ers abundance of cornerbacks with the same skill set or talent level of Amukamara, there isn’t any realistic scenario to see them bringing him in.
DE Tyson Alualu
The 49ers are going to need pass rush help this season and while the signing of Earl Mitchell certainly helps get the 4-3 established, another veteran couldn’t hurt. Alualu could be a nice veteran piece to add to the defensive side of the ball. It would depend on what his price tag is. It’s not a sexy signing, but the 49ers need pass rush help, and Alualu would be an upgrade for some sort of rotation.
Jeff Zgonina (Defensive Line Coach)
A player that spent some time all around the league is now moving on up the coaching ranks. Zgonina has gained tremendous respect from his players. A fact that was part of Earl Mitchell’s reasoning when signing with San Francisco last week. Zgonina was at Houston and New York before coming to the 49ers. Does he have connections during his time as assistant defensive line coach?
DT Johnathan Hankins
A potential solid signing who played under Zgonina when the latter was the assistant defensive line coach in New York. Unfortunately the 49ers have DeForest Buckner and Arik Armstead as their defensive tackles and Hankins will be wanting to start. Do you sign him and have a bit of an overpriced rotation?
Jason Tarver (Senior Defensive Assistant)
No longer coaching running backs, Tarver is now listed as a defensive assistant. It’s a good guess that he’ll have a hand in the linebackers in some way, shape, or form. And there’s one the 49ers could bring over.
ILB Rolando McClain
One of the better defensive players for Dallas becomes a free agent. His final year in Oakland was also Tarver’s first year as the Raiders’ defensive coordinator. Bringing McClain in wouldn’t be a bad move, but it won’t be cheap. Still, it solves the problem of getting a partner for Navarro Bowman to go cause all kinds of chaos. This may happen.
Jeff Hafley (Defensive Backs)
The 49ers defensive backs, like every position needs help, however there’s already a wealth of unanswered questions. Will Redmond will have a shot at things after returning from an ACL injury last year, Rashard Robinson showed a lot of potential on a bad defense, and Jimmie Ward’s status is still up in the air.
S Chris Conte
The jury is out on Conte. It seems like some people see him as a viable safety, others wonder why he’s still starting in this league. He left the Chicago Bears in 2014 to rejoin former coach Lovie Smith in Tampa Bay, signing 1-year contract after 1-year contract. He didn’t have a bad 2016 campaign, but the Buccaneer defense was far from elite, and some wanted to point the finger at safety play.
Conte wouldn’t be much of an upgrade over Antoine Bethea and if the 49ers were considering signing Conte, rolling the dice on a rookie seems like a better idea given what they still need to figure out with their safety situation.
S Bradley McDougald
One of the unsung heroes of the Buccaneer secondary. McDougald began as an undrafted free agent from the University of Kansas and now starts for the Buccaneers. He played his first season in Tampa Bay under Hafley and while he didn’t post any stats his first year, perhaps Hafley (as a specialized safeties coach) gave him the tools to succeed. Listed at number 10 on Pro Football Focus’s top players to hit free agency, some thing of him as a bit underrated for his play in 2017. If a decent deal is set in place, he could come to San Francisco if they were trying to move on from Bethea. But then what happens to Jimmie Ward?
QB Mike Glennon
This is a bit more tangential. The Bucs drafted Glennon in 2013, and the rookie started that season. I doubt he had extensive connections to Hafley, but the connection is there. The 49ers are reportedly interested in Glennon if they cannot land Kirk Cousins.
The 49ers are on their fourth special teams coach in as many years. It seems to be a position where if a head coach is fired, the special teams coach is out there door with him, regardless of any returning staff.
WR Alshon Jeffery
Hightower was the Bears assistant special teams coach in 2016. Jeffery played two special teams snaps last season, so I am guessing they did not interact a whole lot.
That’s our picks for this. Is there someone we missed? Is there a signing you really want?
Who should the 49ers go after out of this group?