San Francisco 49ers general manager John Lynch didn’t fully capitalize on the NFL’s $25.7 million salary cap increase from last year with Jimmy Garoppolo on the 2022 roster. However, Lynch did secure someone to bolster a position group that drastically needed a make-over.
The 2022 free agency period has been a frenzy with everything from overpays to trades of superstar players for low draft capital. San Francisco has seen other teams in the division implode while the Los Angeles Rams get stronger with the signing of wide receiver Allen Robinson.
I grade the three new San Francisco free agent signees below.
Charvarius Ward, CB, (3 years, $42 million) - Grade B+
Charvarius Ward was San Francisco’s splash signing as Ward received a whopping $42 million. Ward is a physical press-man corner that is sticky in coverage. He led the NFL in tight window rate (46.3%) and average target separation (2.0 yards.) Adding a cornerback with substantial coverage ability allows 49er fans to have a sigh of relief.
Personally, I think cornerback is the hardest position in football, and I understand that they will get beat. Ward is a balanced cornerback that is not afraid to tackle, his 67 total tackles ranked fifth on the Kansas City Chiefs last season.
Oren Burks, LB, (2 years, $5 million) - Grade C-
Oren Burks was a core special teamer for the Green Bay Packers since being selected by them in the 2018 draft. Burks saw a career-high 205 defensive snaps last year but will likely be a reserve linebacker this year. The linebacker group may be the strongest on the defense. All-Pro Fred Warner and Azeez Al-Shaair were at the top of the linebacker duos across the league. Third-year LB Demetrius Flannigan-Fowles was also brought back, providing the group with depth.
Ray-Ray McCloud, WR, (2 years, $10.4 million) - Grade C+
Ray-Ray McCloud brings an instant boost to the 49er special team unit. McCloud led the league in punt return yards with the Pittsburg Steelers last season, and we hope he can keep the same energy in San Francisco. Having a specialist that can constantly gain ground on punt returns is rare.
We’ve seen head coach Kyle Shanahan develop wide receivers that are not the sharpest route runners, i.e., Marquise Goodwin, Deebo Samuel, and Kendrick Bourne, to name a few. According to Pro Football Reference, McCloud was targeted the most of his career (66) last season, and he came away with 39 catches for 277 yards. He will definitely have to take the next step to get looks on offense during game day.
Trading Garoppolo will significantly impact how San Francisco moves toward a Super Bowl roster. Free agents are getting taken up quickly, but there are several players left that can help the Niners take the next step.
Za’Darius Smith was my dream signing, but I’m aware that Smith could be demanding top-edge money. Jadaveon Clowney could be a cheaper option while he provides physicality in the run game and pass-rushing upside.
I have no disagreements with the players Lynch chose to tender or extend. Azeez Al-Shaair was the most improved player on the team, and he could see himself with a major payday with another great year of play. Daniel Brunskill has been one of the more serviceable offensive linemen in the NFL. He can play multiple positions.
There are not enough picks to give this free agency period a grade as a whole, but Lynch is moving in the right direction. I will update the grades with new signees once they’re announced.
Vegas is confident in the 49ers as a team. Most of the teams that are spending a lot of money right now are filling holes in their roster — the Niners don’t have many to fill. DraftKings SportsBook predicts San Francisco to finish in second place in the NFC West and fourth overall in the conference.