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One free agent from each team, AFC North edition: A.J. Green’s risk is worth the reward

Baltimore has a starter the 49ers could use, too

Cincinnati Bengals v San Francisco 49ers Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

We are winding down our series, where we go through each division in the NFL to find one free agent that the San Francisco 49ers may be interested in. Some divisions, like the AFC South, don’t mesh well with the 49ers’ needs. Let’s see how the AFC North stacks up.

Ravens- CB Jimmy Smith

This is more of a pipe dream than anything. My guess is that if the 49ers choose to address cornerback this offseason, it’ll be with a veteran and not a rookie. If that’s the case, Smith should be on the team’s radar. Smith comes with a long list of injuries. Only twice in his nine-year NFL career has Smith played all 16 games. From an Achilles tendon, a sports hernia, a strained lower back, and three concussions. Smith has “been through it.”

Smith only played the second half of 2019, but he looked like himself. Smith was targeted 49 times (49%) and only allowed 24 receptions for an average fo 10.6 yards. Smith’s average yards per pass was 5.8, and his success rate was 59%. For reference, second-team All-Pro Richard Sherman allowed 5.6 yards per pass and had a success rate fo 53%. Smith can play. With his injury history, that may help a team like the 49ers set up his contract to be team-friendly and heavily incentivized.

Steelers- Nope

Pittsburgh’s list of free agents isn’t good. There is no reason to sugarcoat it. Cornerback Artie Burns was good...two years ago. Javon Hargrave is an athletic interior defensive lineman that would be fun, but after his 2019, Hargrave is expected to make over $14 million a season. Bud Dupree would be a downgrade. Vance McDonald, anyone? Pass.

Browns- S Damarious Randall

One thing I haven’t done a good enough job throughout this series is brought up names that can fill out the 49ers depth. Not every signing needs to be a starter. When the 49ers brought in Ben Garland last season, Kyle Shanahan never envisioned Garland starting four playoff games if you count Week 17. When you know your depth will be tested, it’s smart to bring in talent.

Randal played both safety positions in Cleveland and was a cornerback before being traded from Green Bay. His skillset could interest San Francisco. If there are injuries to anyone in the secondary, Randall has experience playing all four positions. For those wondering, Randall’s PFF grade was 69.3 in 2019. It isn’t very easy to project his market is coming off a rookie contract. Since Randall hasn’t produced at a high level, he likely won’t cost more than $4-5 million a year.

Bengals- W.R. A.J. Green

Signing a player that didn’t play football the previous season should make anyone nervous. If you watched Green in 2018 and your eyes light up, and now you’re totally comfortable paying Green. The injuries should scare you, and that’s likely why Green is valued at under $10 million a season. The 49ers have a decision to make in a couple of weeks. Do you keep a player that transformed your offense and made everyone around him better? It’s tough to ignore the impact Emmanuel Sanders had, both on and off the field. Or do you swing for the fences and sign one of the most talented wideouts in football, hoping you can manage his workload and keep him healthy? Decisions, decisions.