The San Francisco 49ers have a chance to make some huge moves this offseason. They hold the No. 2 overall pick in the 2019 NFL Draft and will be in the top ten in cap space, barring any big extensions before the start of free agency. They have shown they are willing to spend, but also will not go too crazy for the most part.
The team has a host of needs to address, with edge rusher and secondary help high on the priority list. They will need to figure out the guard situation, they could use another playmaker in the passing game, and linebacker is a need following the release of Reuben Foster.
Free agency is two months away, and we are starting to see some rankings of the best free agents on the market. NFL.com analyst Gregg Rosenthal ranked the top 25 free agents, while ESPN’s Kevin Seifert ranked the top 50 free agents.
Both rankings are topped by Dallas Cowboys edge rusher DeMarcus Lawrence. He played the 2018 season on the franchise tag, worth $17 million. The Cowboys could elect to franchise him again, but that would cost them a fully guaranteed $20.5 million. They are projected to have $54 million in cap space, but are they prepared to commit that much to Lawrence?
Lawrence finished the season with 10.5 sacks, a year removed from 14.5. He ranked 13th in PFF’s pass rush productivity stat, and they graded him ninth among edge rushers in pass rushing and 12th in run defending. If he hits the open market, he will get a huge contract — maybe not as big as Khalil Mack or Aaron Donald got this past year, but it will be a big one.
If the 49ers are not inclined to break the bank for Lawrence, or if he does not hit the open market, the next three in varying order are Jadeveon Clowney (Texans), Dee Ford (Chiefs), and Frank Clark (Seahawks). Clowney is all but assured of getting franchise tag, and it would not be surprising to see Ford and Clark get tagged as well.
If that all happens, Trey Flowers is an intriguing option (fifth and ninth on these two lists). He ranked 18th in pass rush productivity, and has 21 sacks over his last three seasons playing a mix of LEO and REO. It seems likely the Patriots get a deal done, but he’ll be a name to track.
The next tier below these names is Ezekiel Ansah, who ranks No. 21 on Rosenthal’s list and No. 17 on Seifert’s list. He played last season on the franchise tag, and seems unlikely to get tagged again. On the one hand, among all edge rushers, he was No. 1 in PFF’s pass rush productivity stat. On the other hand, he played in only seven games. Prior to this season, he had played at least 13 games in every season, but injuries have regularly been some kind of issue for him. He played 16 games each of 2014 and 2015, but otherwise has struggled to stay healthy.
Finally, there’s Brandon Graham, ranked 24th on Rosenthal’s list and 41st on Seifert’s list. He had four sacks last season, and turns 31 this offseason. He’s a capable pass rusher, who ranked 27th in pass rush productivity, but he also has never had more than 9.5 sacks in a season. He’s not the guy you build around, but he would be a solid addition on the edge — in particular to potentially mentor a Josh Allen or Nick Bosa.