The 49ers in the 2017 league year will have over $80 million in available cap space(!), $95+ million if Colin Kaepernick opts out - what to do ... what to do ...
To be straight forward, there are no players currently under contract with the assumption that they'll be cut or traded on this list. It is purely a collection of unrestricted free agents. And while the omission of Kirk Cousins may be a noteworthy one, it was due to Washington's likeliness to apply the tag or reach a long-term deal.
And the fact that the 49ers should not overpay.
This ultimately helped whittle our list down to a more realistic crop of plug-in players.
One pattern here worth mentioning: There are three above-average offensive linemen listed; reason being, the draft is not a great place to address the need this year. There are proven vets on the market, and at decent ages. It's a great opportunity to patch a hole on the roster and also raise the bar in Santa Clara by bringing in a first-tier player.
Without further ado, here's a list of seven free agents the 49ers' new coach-GM tandem should pursue come March 9:
Melvin Ingram, LB, Chargers
Type: Scheme versatile, pass-rush
Ingram in 2016 graded out as the league’s sixth-best EDGE defender, according to Pro Football Focus. He compiled 72 QB pressures last season, establishing a real pass-rush presence. And with Ingram’s package of athleticism, coordination and instincts, he also excelled in coverage. He’d be a great option to slot into one of the OLB spots in the team’s new 4-3. And perhaps most importantly, NaVorro Bowman would get someone else to help carry the weight of the linebacking corps.
T.J. Lang, OG, Packers
The 49ers need to find another zone-friendly guard that’s ready to start opposite second-year pro and 2016 first-round pick Joshua Garnett. In this case, Lang wouldn’t just be ready to start, he’d be able to help bring Garnett along as a pro. The Packers guard in 2016 did not allow a single sack or hit on quarterback Aaron Rodgers, per PFF, making him an exceptional candidate to keep San Francisco’s next passer upright and un-rattled. This would be a bar-raising signing.
Kevin Zeitler, OG, Bengals
Zeitler, a 2012 first-rounder, is the prize of the free-agent interior line group, perhaps the entire O-line crop as a whole. With his combined talent and age, he’s an A+ free agent. And with the 49ers’ cap surplus, and hole in the interior line, they should make as strong a run at Zeitler as any team in the league. He’s a proven commodity that would reinvest in both Carlos Hyde and the team’s next QB, serving as a building block for the future.
Alshon Jeffrey, WR, Bears
Type: Jump-ball playmaker
This really is a “take it or leave it” free-agent suggestion from me. Jeffrey has struggled mightily to stay healthy, missing 12 of a possible 32 starts the past two seasons. He's also missed games due to a suspension. Overall, he’s put together just one full 16-game campaign as a starter since entering the NFL back in 2012. On the other hand, rarely does a receiver of this caliber hit the open market, and the 49ers certainly have the need and money to spend. And when he suits up and is full strength, Jeffrey is a stud WR1.
Ronald Leary, OG, Cowboys
Leary is a fine player from Dallas’ lauded offensive line who lost his starting job to LSU product La’el Collins, which, if we’re being honest, would happen to most guards in the league. But the Cowboys’ overflow at the position could be the 49ers’ gain. Leary could be a tone-setter in the run game, as he displayed in Dallas.
Charles Johnson, DE, Panthers
Type: Balanced EDGE
This wouldn’t be a sexy addition by any means. Johnson is not the dynamic EDGE defender he was a few seasons ago when he was registering double-digit sack seasons for the Panthers, but he remains a solid veteran that could help the 49ers ease the growing pains of switching to a 4-3 defense. A short-term deal buys San Francisco time at the position, while upgrading the EDGE from what it was a year ago.
Steven Hauschka, K, Seahawks
Hauschka looks to be free from Seattle with the signing of Blair Walsh. He’s had a down year, most notably missing six XPs in 2016, but this is a high volume kicker that's put a lot of points on the board for the Seahawks, and been clutch from distance. And the unfortunate truth is, at 42 years old, Phil Dawson isn’t getting any younger. If the 49ers aren’t willing to take Zane Gonzalez out of Arizona State in the late fifth or sixth, they may want to bring in Hauschka for insurance.
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