The 49ers figure to have enough cap space to sign who they please during free agency. After extending Jimmie Ward and restructuring Arik Armstead, creating money shouldn’t be an issue.
With that in mind, let’s continue our tour around the NFL and take a look at potential free agents that might interest the Niners. Today, we’re headed to the NFC South.
CB Donte Jackson, Carolina Panthers
San Francisco will reportedly “poke around” Stephon Gilmore in an attempt to lure him to the Bay Area. Edge rusher Haason Reddick was a player I wanted the team to sign last offseason.
Gilmore’s teammate is the better option if the 49ers want to go for a younger alternative at cornerback. However, Jackson’s fit is intriguing. He’s one of the fastest players in the league, for starters.
Jackson surrendered 120 receiving yards in man coverage last season, per PFF. His talent is undeniable, although he was consistent during his rookie contract. However, the former second-round pick in 2018 has 51 starts under his belt, so he has plenty of experience.
Jackson finished the season with nine pass breakups and two interceptions, but he did allow 7.3 yards per target in coverage with a 64.3% completion percentage. Additionally, his tackling was suspect. Jackson missed 16 tackles and has a broken tackle rate north of 20% in each of the previous three seasons.
In a better situation, Jackson’s play figures to improve. You won’t find a better pass rush in the league than San Francisco’s. Jackson is unlikely to break the bank, making him a more attractive free agent for the 49ers.
EDGE Dante Fowler, Atlanta Falcons
Jordan Elliott detailed how Fowler would be an excellent fit for the 49ers last week. Last year, I was hoping the Niners would bring in Cordarrelle Patterson as a returner.
Patterson ended up with over 1,100 yards from scrimmage, which was ninth in the NFL. Patterson essentially played the same role Deebo Samuel did this past season for the Falcons but was leaned on as a running back even more. If I had to pick a Falcon, it’d be Patterson.
But Fowler feels more realistic.
WR Deonte Harris, New Orleans Saints
Safety Marcus Williams is going to cost an arm and a leg on the open market. He’s a top-flight safety in the NFL. San Francisco shouldn’t get into a bidding war for any safety during free agency.
It’s slim pickings on the Saints roster, but Harris would be this year’s jitterbug who helps on special teams and occasionally on offense. Harris had a career year with 26 receptions for 570 yards and three touchdowns last season. The Saints used him as a screen receiver, handed the ball off to Harris, and even took a shot down the field.
Harris’s value comes as a returner. He’s averaged 10.1 yards per punt return in three seasons and 26.1 yards per kick return. The 49ers desperately need a returner, and Harris fits the bill.
C Ryan Jensen, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
I feel for wide receiver Chris Godwin who suffered a late-season injury that’ll affect his future. He’s one of my favorite players in the NFL to watch. The answer for Tampa Bay is the best center in the NFL, Ryan Jensen.
Laken Tomlinson is going to test the market. And while I think he inevitably comes back to the 49ers, I’m not as confident Alex Mack returns. Mack was decent. Jensen is an All-Pro.
In the past three seasons, Jensen has surrendered four sacks. Sports Info Solutions charted Jensen this past season, allowing one sack and four blown blocks all season.
At 31, Jensen is the type of player you open up the checkbook for to protect your first-year starting quarterback. Now, he’s not going to be cheap, especially on the open market—spotrac projects Jensen to command $10 million annually.
For Jensen, and knowing the 49ers need interior help along the offensive line, he’s worth it. To take it a step further, if Aaron Banks, Jaylon Moore, or Daniel Brunskill start at right guard, Jensen will make their jobs that much easier. And that’s without acknowledging everything he’d take off Trey Lance’s plate pre-snap.