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 competition to start at cornerback opposite Richard Sherman will be a significant offseason storyline for the 49ers defense. Currently, the battle is between a pair of third-round picks in Ahkello Witherspoon (2017) and Tarvarius Moore (2018). Witherspoon struggled in 2018 with the added attention as opposing offenses avoided Sherman’s coverage. When Witherspoon suffered a knee injury in Week 15, Moore stepped in and performed as expected for a rookie converted safety. The 49ers would be wise to add another contender into the matchup at right corner.
Denver Broncos cornerback Bradley Roby has already emerged on the 49ers’ radar on the opening day of the free agency negotiating period. In addition to San Francisco, NFL Network’s James Palmer said on Monday that Roby was drawing significant interest from several NFL teams, to include the Houston Texans, Cleveland Browns, Pittsburgh Steelers, Oakland Raiders and the Broncos. He might be in demand, but he doesn’t represent the upgrade that team’s typically spend big on in free agency.
Roby would likely be the clear favorite to start opposite Sherman if he signed with the 49ers, but the 5-foot-11, 192-pound cornerback struggled with consistency over his five-year career with the Broncos. Roby earned a 59.8 overall grade from Pro Football Focus in 2018 - the lowest of his career. His 78.3 in 2017 was a career-high.
Roby was among PFF’s least efficient cornerbacks last season. He was tied for 20th with 82 targets, but gave up 823 yards, ranking fourth. His 1.48 yards per coverage snap ranked 102nd of the 131 cornerbacks that qualified. Roby allowed a career-worst 65.9% completion percentage when targeted and a passer rating of 117.3 in 2018.
If the 49ers were to sign Roby, it'd be safe to assume that they felt he could bounce back from a down year and earn the starting role. Given his struggles, it’s unclear what Roby’s demand will be in free agency. The Chicago Bears agreed to a three-year, $16.5 million deal with former New York Jets cornerback Buster Skrine on Monday. Perhaps Roby would command a similar contract.