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.
Expectations for the 49ers’ linebacking corps were high in 2018. Rookie Fred Warner quickly established his reputation while the team awaited Reuben Foster’s return from a two-game suspension to start the season. Unfortunately, Foster’s play suffered, in stark contrast to his rookie debut, before his eventual release in Week 12. Coordinator Robert Saleh filled the void left by Foster with a rotation between veteran Malcolm Smith and Elijah Lee, with Lee eventually closing out the season as the starter. A linebacker to pair with Warner in the starting lineup is among the 49ers’ most pressing roster needs.
Free safety Earl Thomas has been the Seahawks defender most associated with the 49ers as free agency approaches. But another member of the original “Legion of Boom” in Seattle, linebacker K.J. Wright, can also provide an immediate impact on the 49ers’ familiar defensive scheme.
Wright has been a reliable part of Seattle’s defense since 2011, including the team’s Super Bowl victory in 2013. The 29-year-old linebacker accumulated over 100 tackles in four consecutive seasons from 2014-17. A nagging knee injury limited Wright to just five games in 2018, but in 2017 he totaled 108 tackles, five tackles for loss, six pass breakups and an interception in 15 games.
Wright never earned a grade below 65.0 from Pro Football Focus in his eight years with the Seahawks. In limited action, Wright received an overall grade of 70.2 in 2018, ranking 28th out of 96 qualifying linebackers. He was among the best in coverage last season, allowing one reception every 13 coverage snaps, ranking ninth. Wright would fit well among the 49ers’ defense as the weakside linebacker, a role he’s manned during the majority of his time in Seattle.
Wright is among the top linebackers available in free agency. With names like C.J. Mosley, Jordan Hicks and Anthony Barr dominating the headlines, he could likely be had by the 49ers for a reasonable price. The NFL’s best paid linebackers make $10-12 million per year, so a contract for Wright would likely resemble that of Kansas City Chiefs’ Anthony Hitchens, who signed a five-year, $45 million contract in March.