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1 player from each team the 49ers should be interested in: NFC South edition

A pass rusher, wide receiver, kicker, and a cornerback

Tampa Bay Buccaneers v San Francisco 49ers Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images

With free agency looming, we’ll continue to get familiar with unrestricted free agents around the NFL. Today, we’ll head to the NFC South, where Kyle Shanahan has an opportunity to sign Julio Jones.

Tampa Bay - CB Jamel Dean

Do you think Julio will be a 49er by the end of the first or second day of free agency?

San Francisco hit the cornerback lottery last year during free agency. Mooney Ward was trending upward, despite off a season where he missed a few games, but had the on-field traits you seek at the position.

Ward didn’t miss a game in 2022, and played like a top-10 cornerback. Jamel Dean feels like a similar story this offseason.

The Niners have around $8 million in cap space, per Over the Cap. If the plan is to take a swing on a Tier 2 player, I’d shore up my secondary for the next few seasons and sign an ascending cornerback for the second consecutive offseason.

Dean’s build is similar to Ward’s. They’re both 6’1 and around 205 pounds. Dean, 26, allowed a 46.6 completion percentage with seven pass breakups and a pair of interceptions on 58 targets last season in 15 games.

Dean is a willing tackler, and would allow Talanoa Hufanga to roam even more in his second full season as a starter. The former third-round pick is a superior athlete to the 49ers incumbent starter, Deommodore Lenoir, who played admirably down the stretch.

The question is whether the 49ers believe in Emmanuel Moseley or Lenoir as the starter opposite of Ward. Continuing to invest in your strength will help the 49ers remain contenders.

Spending on an established player who hasn’t reached his ceiling went well an offseason ago. Dean will command a pretty penny, but the front office has found ways to spread out the money over multiple years to make players affordable.

Brandon Aiyuk ran a double move against Dean that resulted in a touchdown in Week 14. Dean only allowed one other touchdown all season, while surrendering only 5.9 yards per target (11th best) on 58 passes in his direction.

Carolina Panthers - K Eddy Pineiro

Pineiro was one of the best kickers in the NFL in 2022. If the 49ers elect to move on from Robbie Gould, or Gould gets paid elsewhere, Pineiro could be considered an upgrade.

The 28-year-old to be made 33 of his 35 attempts last year, including 13 of 14 between 40–49 yards. That was an area where Gould struggled, as he missed seven of 11 kicks between the same distance.

Not only in Pineiro a fantastic kicker, but half of his kickoffs resulted in touchbacks in 2022. Instead of placing the franchise tag on Gould, the 49ers could use that money and get a younger, bigger leg who's proven to be effective.

Steve Wilks knows the Panthers roster better than anybody, so it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him recruit his former players to the Bay Area. A Pineiro endorsement could go a long way with Shanahan.

Saints - WR Jarvis Landry

Jordan Elliott included two free agents on the Saints defensive line for his wishlist. So, we’ll pass on Marcus Davenport and defensive tackle David Onyemata. Cornerback Bradley Roby would be intriguing. Andy Dalton would be a veteran presence for Trey Lance and Brock Purdy. But I’m going another route.

Landry only appeared in nine games last season due to injuries, including a knee sprain. It was evident his play was affected by injuries. Landry wouldn’t be brought in to be a 1,000 yard receiver.

This signing would be to show your younger wideouts how to be professionals on and off the field. Landry wouldn’t demand a big contract after a season where he had 25 receptions for 272 receiving yards. His guaranteed salary in 2022 was only $1.1 million.

Landry would bring the best out of Deebo Samuel, Brandon Aiyuk, Jauan Jennings, and Danny Gray. Their habits would improve, which would lead to more consistent play. Landry’s also an excellent blocker and would thrive as an intermediate threat in this offense.

Falcons - Edge rusher Lorenzo Carter

Lorenzo Carter is a high-effort player who is hyper athletic. He’s not the most polished pass-rusher, but he’d give the defensive line another cost-effective rotational player. We’ve seen Kris Kocurek turn water into wine, year after year, and Carter would be his latest reclamation project.

Carter would be a fallback option if the team couldn’t afford to bring back Samson Ebukam and Charles Omenihu. While he’s a class below Ebukam and Omenihu has a football player, these are the types of athletes you bet on along the defensive line:

Carter had nine tackles for loss in 2022 with four sacks and 27 total pressures. That production is sure to increase, playing alongside Nick Bosa and Arik Armstead.