The San Francisco 49ers’ season is over, and the front office is likely already looking ahead to March free agency. The team has eight unrestricted free agents, two restricted free agents, and two exclusive rights free agents.
The 49ers get an exclusive window to negotiate until the free agency tampering period gets started on March 11—which allows other clubs to contact designated free agents. Free agents cannot sign with another team until the new league year starts on March 13, but if something does not get done by March 11, the market opens up considerably.
Everyone on the list here contributed in some way, shape or form for 2018. Kyle Shanahan said in his press conference all 10 members of the practice squad saw playing time. The big names I see below are Robbie Gould and Raheem Mostert. The latter’s absence was felt on special teams after he broke his arm.
We’ll be doing plenty of free agency discussion and predictions, but for now, here’s a full list of the 49ers 2019 free agents.
Kicker Robbie Gould
The 49ers kicker had himself a huge year. He made it into the Pro Bowl as an alternate, despite being (arguably) the better kicker in the NFC. Regardless of snubs, Gould put together great numbers going 33 for 34 in field goals and 27 for 29 in extra points. Keep in mind, that XP number has one attempt that was a botched snap, so Gould only missed one XP on the year. Given the difficulties of kicking at Levi’s Stadium and how Gould has been reliable, he has become a crucial piece to 49ers special teams. 2018 was not kind for kickers and the 49ers would be wise to stay away from bringing a new face in.
Prediction: Returns. 49ers aren’t going to chance this.
Cornerback/safety Jimmie Ward
Coming off his fifth-year option, Ward began 2018 as a glorified backup, but one of the best in the league. A swiss army knife capable of both corner and safety, Ward was inserted into the starting lineup in no time. And, much like we’ve come to expect, finished his season on injured reserve. Ward played in nine games this season before hitting IR which makes him four for five on getting through a full NFL season. Ward is a very versatile player when healthy—that’s the only problem. Given that he began the season on the bench and ended it on IR says he won’t be returning. At least not for the price the 49ers paid for his fifth-year option. They have said they’d explore options with him, but considering they paid him money to sit on the bench to start the season, he’s going to go somewhere he is guaranteed a start.
Prediction: Does not return. There’s a team somewhere willing to break the bank for him.
Guard Mike Person
Who would have thought Person would be the team’s answer at right guard? With Joshua Garnett sidelined, Person took the reigns of the job and never looked back. There’s not much to say about Person. And for offensive line, if you’re not talking about them, it means they are doing their job. With the MCL tear to Laken Tomlinson, the 49ers are going to be needing guard help for 2019 just in case of a longer than expected recovery. Person might be a bit more expensive with his 2018 performance, but the 49ers should be able to get an extension out of him. Plus, he knows Kyle Shanahan’s offense.
Prediction: Returns. The 49ers all of the sudden need guard help and Person did well in the role.
Long Snapper Kyle Nelson
Kyle Nelson has been in and out of the 49ers roster as a special teams snapper since the Harbaugh days. Since 2014, he’s been handling those duties and there’s been nothing to complain about. During 2018, he was suspended 10 games for using performance enhancing drugs. Before this suspension, a new contract looked like a given, but now one has to wonder if the suspension will factor into the 49ers’ decision to sign him. Given how cheap he could come and how solid he’s been, the 49ers could bring him back.
Prediction: Returns. He’ll have a contract worded where if he screws up there will be hell to pay.
OLB Mark Nzeocha
Another body that saw some playing time. Nzeocha started in three games for 2018 and didn’t really do much in any of them. He comes cheap and the 49ers will need linebackers so expect to see him at training camp unless he did some sort of cardinal sin to make the 49ers look elsewhere.
RB Alfred Morris
Morris’ signing was seen as pure genius the moment Jerick McKinnon went down with injury. After Joe Williams was shown the door, the show was Matt Breida and Alfred Morris’. A show that Breida stole the starring role from and never looked back. Morris became a frequent healthy scratch mid-season and really didn’t get prominent until the end when Breida went down with injuries along with Jeff Wilson Jr. and Raheem Mostert. Given his age, experience, and how he’s been sidelined for those above names, the 49ers may part ways with him. Kyle Shanahan brought Morris in when the 49ers head coach knew that Morris had a shot at making the team. Morris won’t make the team when the running backs get healthy. Plus, he’s good enough to go somewhere to get more playing time.
Prediction: Does not return
S Antone Exum
Exum signed a one-year deal with the 49ers after getting released from the Minnesota Vikings early-on in the 2017 season. Since then, he’s been a decent, if average backup. Exum started the final four games at safety notching two passes defended and 12 solo tackles. While the 49ers may look to keep Exum around, especially since injuries ravaged the safeties so much it became an almost running gag, he might have an opportunity to start somewhere for relatively cheap. It’s a longshot, but the 49ers are going to look to upgrade the position in the offseason. One will say they have plenty of bodies, but we saw how that turned out when backups were playing for backups. That said, I don’t see Exum sticking around.
Prediction: Does not return
RB Raheem Mostert
That’s development, holmes. Mostert could have fought for one of the most improved players on the 49ers roster. Too bad he had to break his forearm against the Oakland Raiders. Mostert has the speed and pass catching ability as a running back. His tendency to fumble is more than made up for with one other value: special teams. As a gunner, Mostert was missed on punt coverages. Several plays would have been blown up if he was there like the speedy man he is. He’s a good third or fourth running back and has special teams value now. The 49ers can work something out.
Prediction: Returns. The question is how they tender the restricted free agent.
DB Tyvis Powell
A participant of the 49ers musical chairs of the roster, Tyvis Powell came in and out as the season wore on and the injuries piled up in the secondary. He finished 2018 playing in seven games, starting in one, and accumulating six tackles. That’s it. The 49ers will be looking for help in the secondary and Powell at-best will be a camp body. He’ll be back for training camp. If he plays musical chairs with the roster again is another story.
Prediction: Returns. Camp bodies are useful.
P Bradley Pinion
I still miss Andy Lee. Whatever Trent Baalke was thinking trading Lee away and drafting Pinion we may never know (salary cap space is a good guess), the 49ers have Pinion and he was solid if underwhelming at the position. Given how inexpensive he could be, the 49ers don’t want to take a chance on a rookie punter. Maybe they bring in a free agent, but Pinion may be fine where he is.
Prediction: Returns unless a team overpays for a punter.
CB Greg Mabin
Ahkello Witherspoon. Man, what happened? Because of this, Greg Mabin saw some playing time in 2018. And that’s really all he saw. Picked on by Aaron Rodgers when the 49ers played the Green Bay Packers, it was apparent Mabin was not the answer at cornerback. At least, not yet. The 49ers were running out of bodies and started him against their first game against the Los Angeles Rams in Week 7. This would be a mistake. When Witherspoon later went on IR, the 49ers didn’t bother giving Mabin the starting nod. Mabin was on the roster because the 49ers were running out of bodies. Does he return? Sure, but it would be as just that: a camp body. The 49ers have Tarvarius Moore and Witherspoon duking it out for the starting job with one being a backup.
Prediction: Returns on a league minimum deal
LB Elijah Lee
When Reuben Foster was suspended, the 49ers plugged Elijah Lee as a backup. When 2018 came to a close, Lee was starting games and looking good. In his four-game stretch as a starter to finish the season, Lee racked up 35 total tackles, one quarterback hit, and one pass defended. Now those aren’t setting anything on fire, but Lee has been more than serviceable as a backup. The 49ers have indicated a need for competition and no one should be involved in competing than Lee. If he continues to develop, he’s the answer as Fred Warner’s right-hand man. If not, he’s great to spell who will be. 49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh said Lee will be in competition for the starting spot—so that says the organization likes him too. The 49ers could grab a late-round linebacker as competition, but Lee isn’t going anywhere.
Prediction: Returns on a league minimum deal
How do you go about handling this?