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49ers potential NFL free agent target: C.J. Mosley

We’re taking a look at impending free agents the 49ers could target at the start of the league year.

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NFL: Cleveland Browns at Baltimore Ravens Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

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’ linebackers began 2018 as one of the most promising position groups. Rookie Fred Warner stood out at the start of the season and was joined by second-year linebacker Reuben Foster at the conclusion of his four-game suspension. Expectations were high. By the end of the year, Foster was released, veteran Malcolm Smith struggled to stay on the field and was eventually replaced by Elijah Lee.

The 49ers are in need of an upgrade and Baltimore Ravens linebacker C.J. Mosley is likely to be the best on the market. The Alabama product was selected by the Ravens with the 17th pick in the 2014 draft. Since then, Mosley has racked up an impressive 597 total tackles, 43 tackles for loss, 32 quarterback hits, 8.5 sacks, six forced fumbles and nine interceptions in five seasons.

Mosley earned a 78.6 overall grade from Pro Football Focus in 2018, good for 16th among qualifying linebackers. His strength is run defense, earning an 87.0 grade that ranks sixth. His pass defense isn’t nearly as reliable, with a 73.8 that falls 24th among his peers. Mosley’s deficiencies in coverage would pair well with Warner, an athletic defenders who excels in coverage, totaling six pass breakups last season.

The Ravens on Tuesday released veteran safety Eric Weddle, who was due over $7 million in 2019. Having already forgone the franchise tag, Baltimore could still be working towards a new contract with Mosley prior to free agency. If the anchor of the Ravens defense does manage to hit free agency, he’s likely to demand a contract on par with some of the highest paid linebackers in the NFL. Carolina Panthers linebacker Luke Kuechly signed a five-year, $61.7 million contract in 2015.

The 49ers have more than enough cap space to sign Mosley. It’ll come down to whether or not the team believes his ability and impact match the salary he’ll inevitably receive. The 49ers could also look to create more capital by thinning out their group of linebackers. Smith is due $5.4 million in 2019 and the 49ers would save $1.2 million if released, and over $4 million if he’s released with a June 1 designation.