The chances of the San Francisco 49ers going out and making a big splash signing this offseason feels slim as the salary cap is expected to be around $180 million and the team has numerous free agents in-house in which they need to re-sign.
I’d guess the number of free agents outside of the building signed this offseason isn’t greater than five, and even then, we’re looking at one or two-year deals for veterans. We’ll still go through each division to handpick one player from each team that the 49ers should keep an eye on or have an interest in. We went through the NFC West last week. Let’s take a look at the NFC North today.
WR Cordarrelle Patterson - Bears
Patterson has been included in our second offseason plan. Why? Well, we’re going on a decade since the 49ers had a reliable return man. Seriously. In 2011 Tedd Ginn averaged 27.6 yards per kick return and 12.3 yards per punt return. Since Ginn, nobody has come close to putting up his numbers.
Patterson isn’t a punt returner but hasn’t averaged fewer than 28 yards per kick return since 2014 and has a kick return touchdown in six of his eight NFL seasons. Add in Patterson’s potential value as a running back/hybrid player in Kyle Shanahan’s offense, and his fit makes sense.
Per Football Outsiders, they were 23rd in average starting field position during the 2020 season. The team was second in 2019 but dead last in 2018 and 23rd in 2017. Patterson is the returner the 49ers are looking for.
EDGE Everson Griffen - Lions
The Lions have a pair of wideouts that are intriguing in Kenny Golladay and Marvin Jones, but the Niners would be wise to continue to invest at the wide receiver position through the draft. Patterson won’t cost anywhere near what these two would and is more of a special teams addition.
Detroit doesn’t have a lot to offer, so I went with Griffen, who is a veteran pass rusher the Niners could use in spots to give the starters a breather. He’d be what Ronnie Blair was to the defense. Nick Bosa and Arik Armstead will come off the field. The goal should be to minimize the drop-off between them as much as possible.
Griffen is 33-years-old and far from the player he once was. In seven games with the Lions, Griffen had a higher sack and pressure percentage than Kerry Hyder did this past season for the Niners. Griffen can rush the passer and also could be had for cheap.
C Corey Linsley - Packers
I could see Shanahan being smitten over a guy like Aaron Jones, who is a legitimate receiving threat out of the backfield. Jones will cost a pretty penny, and investing in a running back during free agency has bitten the Niners recently, so no thanks to handing out a contract to a running back that’s played 16 games once in four years.
Linsley is an All-Pro who missed a total of four blocks this past season, per Sports Info Solutions. Four. Only one of those blown blocks came in pass protection. Linsley didn’t have any penalties all season and didn’t allow a sack.
RB Ameer Abdullah - Vikings
Much like the Lions, Minnesota doesn’t have much to offer outside of safety Anthony Harris. We’ll go back to finding a return man as Abdullah averaged 31 yards per kick return in his last seven attempts with the Vikings as he closed out the season as their returner. I’ve always liked the idea of using a running back or a player with running back-like skills.
Abdullah would hypothetically sign for the veteran minimum, so you won’t have to worry about him being another free agent bust.