With free agency a few weeks away, we continue our free agency tour around each division in the NFL. The 49ers figure to make some noise in free agency. That could be by signing one high-priced free agent or electing to “run it back” and hand out several one-year deals with their impending free agents again.
If San Francisco elects to look outside of the building, we have you covered. Today, we’ll look at potential free agents in the NFC North.
S Tracey Walker, Detroit Lions
If you remember back to the 2018 game between the Lions and 49ers, Walker was the recipient of an errant Jimmy Garoppolo throw. After safety Quandre Diggs was flagged for defensive holding away from the ball, the interception was called back.
Walker, 27, has played all over the secondary since 2018. He’s lined up in the box, in the slot, outside at cornerback, and as the “post” or free safety. Walker settled in as the post safety this past season for the Lions and had his best season to date. Walker finished with 108 tackles, with three of those ending up for a loss. He added a sack, an interception, and six pass breakups.
Walker was inactive for two games due to the COVID-19 protocols but started in every other game for Detroit. After Week 5, PFF graded Walker as the No. 2 safety in the NFL and the third=best safety against the run.
Signing Walker is the ultimate low-risk, high-reward signing. With the 49ers, a second-year focusing on one position could lead to Walker taking the next step in his development. This time around, he’ll have the benefit of one of the best defensive lines to play behind — which should lead to more ball production.
Walker would be a Jaquiski Tartt replacement and compete with Tarvarius Moore and Talanoa Hufanga. In a market that has Marcus Williams, Jessie Bates, Tyrann Mathieu, and other star names, Walker could wind up being the “best bang for you buck” signing when we look back in a couple of years.
RG James Daniels, Chicago Bears
The 49ers have fared well when it comes to bringing in players from other teams who were high draft picks and turning them into competent players. Laken Tomlinson is a prime example. However, now that Tomlinson is an unrestricted free agent, the Niners could look to replace him or their current starter at right guard, Daniel Brunskill.
Aaron Banks is likely to find his way onto the field in some capacity. And while he worked at right guard last season, he played on the left side during his college career. So perhaps, Banks is more comfortable on the left side and would take Tomlinson’s place.
If that’s the case, the 49ers must get more athletic on the right side. Too often, defensive tackles got the best of Brunskill and Tom Compton on elementary stunts/twists upfront.
Enter James Daniels. The former 39th overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft out of Iowa has not lived up to expectations. He’s 25-years-old with 48 career starts, including 17 last season.
Even if Daniels is late to pick up a twist, he has the athleticism and arm length to recover:
Flash of Athleticism for Daniels as he has to pick up Shaq Barrett on the stunt. Let go just in time to not be flagged here, I guess. pic.twitter.com/lpVx1hikXN— Goodberry (@JoeGoodberry) February 20, 2022
Daniels has a quick enough first step to excel at cutting linebackers off or reaching defensive tackles a gap over.
Daniels could play center in a pinch if needed, as he started 23 games for the Hawkeyes at center. Coming out of the draft, experts were comparing Daniels to the next Jason Kelce.
Over the Cap’s valuation of Daniels comes in at $6.3 million annually. Even if that’s a tick low, and knowing the Niners should invest in their interior offensive line, why not an athletic upside player who is just scratching the surface? Daniels is worth the risk.
LB Anthony Barr, Vikings
Minnesota doesn’t have a player I’d go out of my way to sign, so let’s just list their top free agent, Anthony Barr, who turns 30 in a month.
Barr’s injury history has prevented him from having what many would consider a successful NFL career. The former first-round pick started 11 games for the Vikings this past season and finished with a pair of interceptions, 2.5 sacks, 18 total pressures, and only 4.1 yards per target on a 58.3% completion percentage per Sports Info Solutions.
Barr is an excellent blitzer and would give the Niners another pass rusher from the second level who could also cover.
In a reduced role, you’d hope Barr would stay healthy for the duration of the season. Over the Cap valued Barr’s season at $6.6 million moving forward, which would put him out of the Niners price range. If teams are stingy, and Barr could be brought in on a value deal, I’d be all for it.
WR Marquez Valdes-Scantling, Packers
The 49ers need a burner. They need a guy who can win down the field and open things up for Brandon Aiyuk at the intermediate level and Deebo Samuel underneath. You can’t complain about weapons after naming those two with George Kittle, but the Niners could use a complement to those players.
Another player that has an injury history, MVS, hasn’t played more than 12 games in a season. When healthy, he’s been a walking big play. MVS has at least a 74-yard reception in each of the past three seasons and is averaging over 18 yards per reception during that stretch. Eighteen of his 26 receptions this past season went for a first down, and MVS averaged 6.2 yards after the catch.
Because of a lengthy injury history, Valdes-Scantling figures to be undervalued on the market. Over the Cap believes his valuation is right around $2.1 million. At 27, with his speed, that’s a touch low. Still, the 49ers could use his services over a guy like Trent Sherfield if the 49ers aren’t going to use him on offense.