General manager John Lynch and coach Kyle Shanahan enter into Year 3 at the helm of the San Francisco 49ers. With a slew of roster needs and some $65 million in salary cap space, the 49ers could be among the more active teams in free agency. In this series, we’ll be taking a look at impending free agents that could be on the team’s radar at the start of the league year on March 13.
The 49ers have used a third-round pick on a cornerback in the past two drafts - Ahkello Witherspoon in 2017 and converted safety Tarvarius Moore in 2018. Witherspoon was routinely tested last season after opposing offenses avoided throwing to Richard Sherman’s side of the field. Moore stepped in for the injured Witherspoon in Week 15 and closed out the season with mixed results. The 49ers could use an upgrade while Witherspoon and Moore, both relatively raw, continue to develop.
Among the top cornerbacks slated for free agency is Houston Texans’ Kareem Jackson. The nine-year veteran was one of the NFL’s best in 2018, totaling an impressive 87 tackles, five tackles for loss, 17 pass breakups, two interceptions and two forced fumbles. He finished the season with overall grade of 85.7 from Pro Football Focus, ranking fifth out of 131 cornerbacks. His run support was even better, earning a 91.1 that ranked second.
Jackson signed a a four-year, $34 million contract with the Texans in 2015, earning $6.75 million last season. The 49ers signed Sherman to a three-year, $27.15 million contract during the offseason, with an annual value of just over $9 million. Both cornerbacks are 30, with Jackson turning 31 before the season. The 49ers could likely ink Jackson to a two-year deal with an annual value approaching that of Sherman’s.
Jackson is a versatile, complete defender that would significantly upgrade the 49ers’ secondary opposite Sherman. He’s exactly the type of player Lynch would covet, one that excels in coverage but isn’t afraid to come downhill and make a stop against the run. Jackson is a sterling example that both Witherspoon and Moore could benefit from in 2019 and beyond.