We’re just a couple of days away from free agency. We went over four potential unrestricted free agents from the AFC West a couple of days ago. Today, we look at the AFC North to see if the San Francisco 49ers can find any gems.
Bengals - Edge rusher, Carl Lawson
Lawson likely ends up back in Cincy once the dust settles. Lawson’s valuation is around $8 million a season. I mentioned finding gems in free agency. Lawson is good enough to be your team’s best pass rusher. I wrote back in February that he’d be the best bang for your buck free agent.
If I’m a team like San Francisco, I add a skilled pass rusher like Lawson, whose value goes through the roof when you pair him with a Nick Bosa. At 26, you have two bookend rushers which allows Arik Armstead to rush primarily from the inside. The Niners should strongly consider paying a quality edge rusher during free agency. It’ll be tough to find a better value than Lawson.
Browns - WR Rashad Higgins
It’s a deep draft class at the wide receiver position once again, which means the free agents won’t make as much as we think. Higgins is a better version of Kendrick Bourne. Higgins is a tough receiver who averaged 16.2 yards per reception this past season. Higgins has zero drops this past season, while 26 of his 37 receptions went for first downs.
Higgins isn’t the flashy receiver, yards before catch per reception, at 14.1. Higgins would provide the “big slot” option that I think would serve Jimmy Garoppolo better than the smaller, shifty slot receiver. Baker Mayfield’s passer rating was 119.0 when targeting Higgins this past season. He’s reliable and would be a nice complement to Brandon Aiyuk and Deebo Samuel.
Ravens - Edge rusher, Yannick Ngakoue
I’m going in another direction here and saying the 49ers should avoid Ngakoue and his double-digit price tag. He finished with eight sacks, and 11 QB hits this past season, but if we’re talking about value, Yannick doesn’t have any.
Players like Lawson and Romeo Okwara can do everything Ngakoue can, and in some areas, they’re better. They don’t have the 12-sack seasons that Yannick does, but that doesn’t mean you overpay Ngakoue, who gives you next to nothing against the run. If I’m paying a player that much money, I want him to dominate on every snap. I never get that feeling when watching Yannick, which is why I’m letting another team pay him.
Steelers - CB Mike Hilton
One prediction from Around the NFL had the 49ers signing Hilton to replace K’Waun Williams. Hilton played 68% of his snaps in the slot last year while playing a little free safety and other positions in the box.
He notched three pass breakups and three interceptions as well. Hilton’s five tackles for loss as impressive as is his three sacks and four QB hits.
If there is a K’Waun replacement in free agency, Hilton would be the closest comparison, as Pittsburgh has blitzed him at least 53 times during the past four seasons. Over The Cap’s valuation for Hilton’s 2020 season comes in at just under $3.6 million annually, which means San Francisco could fit Hilton into their budget.