We are a week away from the start of free agency, and it’s fair to say the San Francisco 49ers have all sorts of decisions to figure out on both sides of the ball. On offense, they need a playmaker or two on offense, a long-term option to eventually replace Joe Staley, maybe a guard to compete, and a tight end to pair with George Kittle. On defense, they need help in the pass rush, a linebacker to pair with Fred Warner, and considerable improvement in secondary depth.
Football Outsiders addressed the last part of this in a recent column at ESPN. They took a look at all 32 teams and decided on the most daring moves they could make this offseason in free agency and the draft. For the 49ers, suggested “blow up the pass defense.”
The 49ers’ defense had plenty of problems, but it was primarily the pass defense that was the issue. FO ranked the pass defense No. 27 in DVOA, while the run defense ranked No. 11. For those not familiar, DVOA takes every play during the season and compares it to a baseline adjusted for situation and opponent. It’s more useful than yards allowed since it provides context to the numbers.
The 49ers struggled in a host of ways. At the link above, you can see how the team ranked in covering specific types of players. They ranked 19th against No. 1 wide receivers, No. 26 against No. 2 WRs, No. 31 against other WRs, No. 21 against tight ends, and No. 19 against running backs. Pretty weak across the board.
FO offered this in their suggestions for shaking things up:
Richard Sherman is obviously sticking around -- he was still a top-10 cornerback by success rate, according to Sports Info Solutions. But the 49ers should be looking to upgrade everywhere else in the defensive backfield. Injuries knocked out first-string safeties Jaquiski Tartt and Adrian Colbert for half a season each, but neither was playing like Ronnie Lott when healthy. Jimmie Ward, Antone Exum and Greg Mabin are free agents, and GM John Lynch should thank them for their time and let them walk.
The good news is San Francisco has more than $65 million in effective cap space, so it can be aggressive in acquiring talent. Go sign Earl Thomas and Landon Collins. Add Morris Claiborne, and trade for Patrick Peterson. With the second pick in the draft, the 49ers should get a quality edge rusher such as Ohio State’s Nick Bosa, Kentucky’s Josh Allen or Michigan’s Rashan Gary. That will make any secondary look better.
The 49ers are one of three teams listed as needing to target Patrick Peterson (Buccaneers, Chiefs are the other two). I doubt the Cardinals deal Peterson, but if they did, it would make plenty of sense for the 49ers to get aggressive. Tarvarius Moore and Ahkello Witherspoon are the current competitors for a starting spot opposite Richard Sherman. One or both could provide considerable depth and an eventual replacement for Sherman. Again, I don’t expect it to happen, but you can plenty justify making a move for Peterson.
That move aside, the rest of this is not exactly out of the realm of the possible. I doubt they make a push for BOTH Earl Thomas and Landon Collins, but if they decided they needed a serious upgrade at both safety positions, they can make that happen. Claiborne would add some solid veteran depth at the cornerback position. And with Nick Bosa available if the Cardinals take the plunge with Kyler Murray, the 49ers could drastically re-make their pass defense in the space of six weeks.
What do you make of these moves, even if you remove a Patrick Peterson acquisition from the equation?