Free agency negotiations are set to begin in under two weeks. We’ve gone through the NFC East, North, and West. Let’s finish up with the NFC South to see if there are any players the San Francisco 49ers could be interested in come the time free agency rolls around March 17.
C Alex Mack - Falcons
With the latest news about Weston Richburg’s health, signing or drafting a center for San Francisco inches closer to the top of the list as far as needs are concerned. At 36, Mack should come at a bargain for the Niners. A 1-year, $-$6 million contract seems feasible for both sides.
This past season was the first time Mack missed a game, and he missed two. A veteran center makes life easier for everyone, including Jimmy Garoppolo. There are no free runners up the middle. You no longer have to worry about stunts and games from the defensive line upfront. This past season, Mack allowed one sack.
WR Curtis Samuel - Panthers
Some team is going to pay Samuel more money than we expect this offseason. To me, he’s worth it. It’d be difficult to find a better offensive fit for Kyle Shanahan’s offense than Samuel, who played pseudo running back for Carolina this past season at times. Samuel had 41 carries and averaged 4.9 yards per carry while averaging 3.1 yards after contact. That’s an added bonus to what Samuel brings to the table as a receiver.
Carolina used Samuel on jet motions and underneath routes but also stretched the field with Samuel. Over 50% of his receptions went for a first down, and Samuel caught 91% of his targets that were catchable, per Sports Info Solutions.
His athleticism would give the Niners a trio of receivers that would make the offense even more dangerous than it already is. I’d expect Samuel to sign a contract where he makes at least $10 million annually in free agency, though.
TE O.J. Howard - Buccaneers
Howard is under contract for one more season, but Tampa Bay could save $6 million in cap space by releasing him. After the season Gronk had, that wouldn’t be a surprise. Plus, Howard tore his Achilles at the beginning of October.
Betting on a player coming off an Achilles injury goes against what Shanahan and John Lynch have preached, but Howard would presumably cost next to nothing given that he didn’t live up to his first-round draft status in 2017.
The Niners rolled the dice on Jordan Reed last year — whose injury history has been well-documented. Howard would be a low-risk, high-reward scenario that continues to add athletes to an already dynamic offense.
Shaquil Barrett, Lavonte David, Rob Gronkowski, and Ndamukong Suh are all likely out of the Niners' price range.
QB Jameis Winston - Saints
Kyle wouldn’t dare, right? Winston signed a one-year deal with the Saints last offseason for $1.1 million. If the goal is to find a backup that you can win with, does Winston qualify? Winston was a turnover machine during his last season as a starter with the Bucs. In the four seasons before 2019, Winston’s interception rate was 3%, the same percentage as Garoppolo in four seasons as the 49ers quarterback.
We know he has a big arm and can make plays. During the second half of ‘19, Winston was an above-average starter. You’re hoping that Jameis learned a thing or two from Drew Brees this past season and that the 27-year-old could hold the fort down in case he has to play. On a cheap deal, I wouldn’t hate the idea of adding Winston as a backup.