Free agency is underway as teams have already agreed to deals with players around the league. Our staff gives their ideal first week of free agency for the 49ers below.
Sign a veteran corner
I am a firm believer in filling needs through free agency so you can go best player available in the draft. The 49ers need both the wide and slot corner spots, and filling at least one or ideally both with a veteran through free agency is the best possible outcome.
It appears my wish was granted as the 49ers made their first big splash of free agency by inking former Kansas City Chiefs cornerback Charvarius Ward to a three-year deal. While this was great, get by the 49ers and a move that should be applauded, it also doesn’t mean the job filling out the secondary is complete.
I still think there is room to continue to add to the secondary, and a name I would monitor is former 49er DJ Reed. I also wouldn’t rule out the return of Jason Verrett, which would likely come on a short-term incentive-laden deal, given Verrett’s unfortunate injury history.
Getting another veteran or two in the secondary alleviates the concern of dealing with growing pains from a rookie or second-year player at the position. It also frees the 49ers up to go the best player available when the draft rolls around, which could lead to the 49ers landing an impact pass rusher in the middle rounds considering how deep this edge class projects to be.
From Chandler Jones and Von Millers to the Uchenna Nwosus and Derek Barnetts, it’s a particularly deep free-agent class at edge. The top-tier guys might be a little too rich for the 49ers’ blood, but if they end up going for it with someone like Chandler Jones or Von Miller, I think it’s the kind of splash that can really make waves.
Jerry Hughes Jr seems more under-the-radar, and he’s pretty active on Twitter, considering how unhinged we Niners fans are whenever our players post a vague rap lyric or an innocent real estate question about realtors in South Florida, I’d like it just for the fireworks.
But really, I don’t particularly care who it is as he can take advantage of playing next to Nick Bosa. Much like the Warriors need another scorer/playmaker to take advantage of the double/triple-teams that get thrown at Steph Curry, the 49ers need somebody that can make offenses pay when they double Bosa.
If he’s good enough, this hypothetical edge can demand double teams of his own, and then Nick Bosa gets to shrug his way past some hapless tight end to even more QB pressures. An excellent edge can unlock new levels to our pass rush, which can then make life easier for our secondary. It’s not as much strengthening our strength as it is growing the tide that ends uplifting all the other boats.
I just hope it’s not Frank Clark.
Deep Threat Wide Receiver
As the 49ers enter a new era of quarterbacking, the threat and ability to take the top off the defense becomes an obvious need. He has tried to secure a legit burner several times throughout Shanahan's tenure with mixed results. Marquise Goodwin provided an early bright spot in the dark early days before injuries hampered his output, and Emmanuel Sanders offered veteran leadership but proved too expensive to re-sign. Most recently, the north-of-30 Travis Benjamin was the specified speed/special teams guy, who never ended up seeing the field all that much.
Honestly, given the roster makeup over the last handful of years, it’s easy to see why this hasn’t been an area of much importance. Jimmy G lived in the intermediate of the field, and his lack of arm strength will haunt fans for years to come. However, that’s all about to change. Even in his limited playing time, Trey Lance demonstrated just how special the Howitzer attached to his right shoulder is too spectacular results and much delight. Now that the entire field will be open for business, it’s time to sign a player who can run under his passes and catch them.
In light of the Christian Kirk deal, let’s clarify that an overspend for a WR3 would be foolish, but something at a reasonable price that adds a new element and veteran presence could unlock the new look Niners offense.
Trade Jimmy Garoppolo, target released/cheap veterans
I was worried the 49ers would overplay their hand with Garoppolo by waiting too long to pull the trigger on taking the best offer, and after the Steelers inked Mitchell Trubisky, it seems like they did just that. They are in a standoff with the Indianapolis Colts now and need to bite the bullet, even if it means they get a far lower return than they were offered less than a week ago. Besides the obvious cap reasons, it’s a necessary cleanse for the franchise that invested so much in Trey Lance.
Once they clear that cap space, then they have to fill the remaining holes on their roster. I didn’t think getting one of the top cornerbacks was in the cards for the 49ers, but inking Charvarius Ward changed that very quickly. Now that they’ve made such a big upgrade there, they should look to fill out their roster with quality depth, none of which will cost more than $6m a year.
I’m less focused on the 49ers addressing any one position than just filling some needs without overextending their limited resources. The Niners have the draft capital, even if they do not get much for Garoppolo, to solidify a couple of spots through the draft. The key is remaining patient and prudent, something Shanahan and Lynch have struggled to do when they have fallen in love with players in the past.
Since people want some names, though, I’d love to get one of Trey Flowers, Za’Darius Smith, Melvin Ingram, or Dante Fowler Jr. to solidify their edge depth. Sheldon Richardson would be my primary target to replace Jones on the interior defensive line. At running back, Marlon Mack or Raheem Mostert on a close to minimum salary contract would give the Niners some explosive upside next to Elijah Mitchell.
As usual, several solid safeties are hitting the market, and I’d try to wait out whoever is forced to settle for a smaller deal (like Tartt was last summer). The one hole I would not try to address through free agency is wide receiver. The Niners should add some depth at the position, hopefully, that addresses their issues on special teams, but adding another viable option behind Deebo Samuel and Brandon Aiyuk will likely be too expensive. With a second and two third-round picks to play with, San Francisco should be comfortable adding a pass catcher through the draft.
I’ve gone back and forth on what San Francisco need’s the most, and I still think cornerback is the position they need the most. My dream was to go after a young Carlton Davis, but he recently just re-signed to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Getting a lockdown corner will elevate the defense and help them get off the field on third down.
However, it’s natural to reach early in the free agency signing period, so I think the 49ers should target veteran outside linebacker Za’Darius Smith. Smith has been a consistent pass-rusher for the last three seasons, and his 272-pound frame helps him against the run. The 2021-22 second-team All-Pro will likely ink one of the higher paying deals out of all defensive linemen unless he wants to join a team that is in win-now mode and is a few pieces away from being a Super Bowl roster.
Obviously, the Niners are waiting to find the best trade partner to ship off Jimmy Garoppolo. Once that happens, John Lynch and Kyle Shanahan can become more aggressive in targeting high-profile free agents. Trey Flowers and Dante Folwer Jr. could also be other options at defensive end, like Marc said.
These players will be more affordable while still providing upside at the position. Jadaveon Clowney has had an underwhelming career after being the first overall selection in the 2014 NFL Draft. However, Clowney is still a good player with plenty of juice left in the tank at age 29. Health has been one of Clowney’s main concerns since he's been in the league.