The free agency period has hit a lull in terms of signings. There are a few impactful players have yet to sign deals, and the 49ers will likely sign players toward the end of the period to fill needs.
So, how do the 49ers’ free agency moves so far stack up against the NFC? For as much turnover as it feels like, there will be 19 returning members from the 22 starters in the NFC Championship.
Let’s start with who improved in the NFC:
The low-risk/high-reward addition of Stephon Gilmore was a savvy move from Stephen Jones. Gilmore is a veteran who can guide the youth in the secondary and provide valuable depth. Sending a compensatory fifth-round pick for one of the better man coverage cornerbacks in football, even at age 32, is a steal.
Landing Brandin Cooks for a fifth and sixth-round pick in 2024 is theft. Last year was a down year for Cooks statistically, but that is attributed to poor QB play. Dallas realized the mistake of giving away Amari Cooper to the Browns and upgraded their WR room with a proven commodity.
Hate to say it, but these moves aren’t normal for Dallas. As of today, they have improved.
The Lions are a fun story. Last year, Dan Campbell’s team had one of the more explosive offenses in football. Detroit nearly clinched a playoff berth and knocked off the Packers in Green Bay in Week 18 to end their playoff hopes.
Jamaal Williams has moved on to New Orleans, but the team replaced him with David Montgomery. Jameson Williams will be ready for Week 1 with no injuries and will pair with Amon-Ra St. Brown to form one of the most intriguing WR duos in football.
The only question about Detroit was their defense. Enter Cam Sutton, Emmanuel Moseley, and CJ Gardner Johnson. The secondary returns Jeff Okudah and Kerby Joseph also. Aaron Glenn’s unit is vastly improved, and the Lions will be a sexy pick to make noise in the NFC.
Daniel Jones is back. Saquon Barkley has been franchise tagged. Darius Slayton and Sterling Shepard were re-signed.
The additions of LB Bobby Okereke, DT Rakeem Nunez-Roches, WR Parris Campbell, and TE Darren Waller (via trade) filled the Giants’ needs and upgraded their receiving core.
The draft will help fill other needs.
The Vikings are a difficult situation to read. On the one hand, it seemed like the team was destined to blow things up with Harrison Smith, Adam Theilen, Dalvin Tomlinson, and Eric Kendricks departing. There are rumors of Dalvin Cook being on the move. Za’Darius Smith wrote a goodbye tweet but is still on the roster
However, Byron Murphy and Marcus Davenport are big additions. The WR2 spot will need to be addressed in the draft or free agency, but I wouldn’t argue with anyone who believes Minnesota has improved.
Derek Carr is an instant upgrade over Andy Dalton. Losing DT David Onyemata and DE Marcus Davenport isn’t easy to stomach. Michael Thomas is a wild card due to his injury history, but if he can stay on the field, Chris Olave and Thomas will form a formidable duo. There’s also Alvin Kamara’s legal situation and a possibility he misses games due to suspension.
DE Nathan Shepherd, DT Khalen Saunders, RB Jamaal Williams, and DT Shy Tuttle round out the new faces for the Saints.
Upgrading at QB means your team improved. By how much? I wouldn’t call it drastic, but improved.
Seattle improved with the addition of Dre’Mont Jones, Jarran Reed, and Julian Love.
The Bears have improved with their draft haul for the number one pick and free agency spending, but could be a year or so from contending.
The same goes for Atlanta. Tons of money tossed around in free agency, and the team has absolutely improved, but isn’t in the hierarchy of the NFC.
Teams that haven’t improved:
The Eagles will return James Bradberry, Darius Slay, Jason Kelce, Fletcher Cox, and Boston Scott. That’s the good news.
The bad news is Javon Hargrave, Andre Dillard, Miles Sanders, Issac Seumalo, T.J. Edwards, Marcus Epps, Kyzir White, CJ Gardner-Johnson, and Gardner Minshew are all departing.
This tweet from Mike Clay sums it up:
Nine Eagles played at least 700 defensive snaps in 2022.— Mike Clay (@MikeClayNFL) March 20, 2023
5 of the 9 signed with a new team this offseason (Epps, Edwards, White, CJGJ, Hargrave).
The team did add Marcus Mariota, Rashaad Penny, and Greedy Williams. They also have two first-round picks in the draft. The team hasn’t improved with all the losses in free agency.
Green Bay Packers
Aaron Rodgers is still a Packer, for now. All indications are it’s Jordan Love’s time. No matter how you slice it, the Packers are taking a big step back at quarterback.
Allen Lazard is a Jet, presumably to appease Rodgers, and the only additions have been Tarvarius Moore with the re-signings of CB Keisean Nixon and S Johnathan Ford.
Oh, I forgot, they locked in their long-snapper Matthew Orzech to a three-year deal from the Rams.
Arizona and the Rams certainly didn’t improve.
All of this to say, the 49ers are still at the top of the NFC roster-wise. Hargrave turns a question mark into a strength. While the team still has question marks at RT, EDGE, and secondary depth, it’s still early in the process, and the team will make veteran additions as the market settles.
The NFL draft is the final piece that will decide overall rosters.
Two things can be true, the NFC has teams that are improved “on paper,” and the 49ers are still at the top of the conference. The fact that teams have improved means the gap is closing, but it still has the 49ers ahead.