Even when they don’t have ample funds to spend, the 49ers find ways to be aggressive in free agency. Their definition of ‘aggressive’ might differ most.
The 2022 free agency class didn’t feature any prominent signings, but wound up grading out well — especially on the special teams front.
How different will this year’s class look? San Francisco has the cap space to sign at least one big name if they choose to do so. If the front office feels like they need to create more room, they could always restructure one of the veteran’s contracts — like Trent Williams.
Let’s go through each division in the NFL to determine if there are any fits in free agency, starting with the NFC West.
Arizona Cardinals - C Rodney Hudson
This could be wishful thinking on my part, but Hudson, who turns 34 in July, may present value in March. Hudson only started the first four games of the season after going on the injured reserve due to a knee issue that bothered him back in training camp.
2022 was the second consecutive year Hudson missed at least a quarter of the season. In 2021, he missed three games due to a rib injury and another two after testing positive for COVID-19.
That recent injury history will scare some off, and nobody would fault you. But, as the 49ers discuss potential options at center this offseason, Hudson will be difficult to top.
Hudson has been one of the best centers in the NFL when he’s on the field. If you’re going into a season with an inexperienced quarterback, wouldn’t you be willing to spend more on a veteran such as Hudson?
Hudson has rare processing skills in pass protection, which might be worth the extra couple of million when you’re debating between him, re-signing Jake Brendel, or relying on an in-house option.
Hudson only missed one game from 2016 to 2020. Perhaps a deal with incentives to protect yourself from injury would make the most sense. But Hudson is worth a gamble for a team that hasn’t shied away from risks during the Kyle Shanahan/John Lynch tenure.
Rams - DT A’Shawn Robinson
It took time for the 49ers defensive line to adjust to life without Arik Armstead when he was out for several games during the middle of the season. Robinson would serve has a de facto Hassan Ridgeway replacement.
Ridgeway (unrestricted free agent), Kerry Hyder (UFA), Akeem Spence, T.Y. McGill, Michael Dwumfour, Kevin Givens (restricted free agent), along with Armstead, were all used along the interior rotation. Robinson, who is 330 pounds, is the interior run stopper the 49ers defense covets and could allow the team to allocate resources at other positions.
So, two potential signings at positions where the 49ers love to invest — in the trenches. Robinson wouldn’t require more than a veteran minimum, so he’d have little impact on the salary cap.
Seahawks - DT Poona Ford
Ford may not qualify as a splash signing, but he’s a perfect fit for what the 49ers ask of their defensive line. He’s 5’11, 310 pounds, but is the type of athlete who excels at the different types of games and stunts Kris Kocurek likes to run and is durable in good enough shape where he doesn’t have to come off the field on obvious passing downs.
Above all, Ford is a good football player. He has the awareness to sniff out screens, the strength to hold up against double teams, and doesn’t have a history of missing games. Ford just turned 27 and could easily be Javon Kinlaw’s replacement in the lineup for the next three to four seasons.
If I could ask Shanahan to sign one player in the NFC West, it’d be Ford.