2018 NFL free agents 49ers could add: Offensive weapons

Editor’s note: This is Part I of a four-part series profiling unrestricted free agents the 49ers could pursue in 2018. Head to the home article for links to Parts II, III and IV.

Dion Lewis, RB/R

Age in 2018: 28

Last deal: 2 years, $6M (Patriots)

Lewis is a compact runner with serious wheels that would be a fun and able playmaker in Kyle Shanahan’s offense. He’s a 10-carry-a-game tailback, but the five-year vet could man a full-time role by also operating as an outlet in the passing game for new 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, who he’d be rejoining from New England. Over his career, Lewis has averaged 8.5 yards per reception and has averaged around 5.5 yards every time he touches the ball. Not to mention, he brings above-average value as a returner, currently averaging a league-best 30.8 yards per return in 2017.

Le’Veon Bell, RB

Age in 2018: 26

Last deal: 1 year, $12.1M (Steelers)

The Steelers have franchised Bell before, which is why this is a discussion. Tagging becomes less likely year after year as the price increases, and at the same time, there are still no reported talks of a long-term deal. Now, it still seems highly unlikely Pittsburgh lets him get away — players will restructure deals and they'll find a way to fit him. But if there’s ever a window, the 49ers should take it and see if they can bring Bell to the Bay Area.

Update: Pittsburgh tagged Le'Veon Bell on Tuesday, March 6 before the deadline.

Jerick McKinnon, RB

Age in 2018: 26

Last deal: 4 years, $2.76M (Vikings)

The sharp-cutting scat back who split carries in Minnesota is looking for a larger role and starting money in free agency. While McKinnon seems like a Shanahan-style back, given that he doesn't bring anything different to the table from Matt Breida and Joe Williams, the 49ers could look elsewhere for the third back they want to be involved.

Paul Richardson, WR

Age in 2018: 26

Last deal: 4 years, $4.7M (Seahawks)

Lack of productivity is going to cause Richardson’s price to go down, which is a good thing, because he’s actually playing well and could be one of the steals of free agency. The 2014 second-round pick from Colorado has emerged as a downfield threat, and one to make really tough, contested catches. A guy with upside, Richardson could fill out the 49ers’ soon-to-be-remade receiving corps at an affordable price.

Update: Richardson is agreeing to a five-year deal with Washington.

John Brown, WR

Age in 2018: 28

Last deal: 4 years, $2.7M (Cardinals)

Brown doesn’t seem like a franchise tag candidate. With him, it’s either they get a deal done or they don’t. It’s also very possible Arizona is ready to move on from its struggling receiving corps as a whole, which could position Brown to walk in free agency. He’s had one 1,000-yard season in four years, his production has dipped and he has had a tough time staying healthy. If he gets free, though, Brown is worth a look. He’s incredibly gifted, owning one of the best packages of top speed and suddenness of offensive players in the NFL.

Sammy Watkins, WR

Age in 2018: 25

Last deal: 4 years, $19.9M (Bills/Rams)

The Rams traded cornerback E.J. Gaines and a second-round pick for Watkins, indicating they like him and are interested in getting a long-term deal done. However, the former top-five pick has displayed little chemistry with Jared Goff, and the Rams offense is still firing on all cylinders, leading the league in scoring, without much from Watkins. Coach Sean McVay and general manager Les Snead may evaluate if they even need him at all. While it's unlikely, if the opportunity arises, the 49ers should get involved in Watkins talks. He can be a dynamic downfield option for Garoppolo.

Update: The Rams on Tuesday elected to use the franchise tag on Lamarcus Joyner instead of Watkins, allowing the WR to hit the open market. Watkins then agreed to a deal with the Chiefs.

Allen Robinson, WR

Age in 2018: 25

Last deal: 4 years, $3.5M (Jaguars)

Health and state of mind are questions for Robinson. His season ended prematurely with an ACL tear and nobody knows how he feels about his team. There’s a lot of emotions flying around that building, no doubt due to dissatisfaction around the quarterback position. Robinson, though, is a model player, and a top-10 NFL receiver. He has to know the team is a quarterback away, and will address it. Even if he’s reluctant to sign, the Jags wouldn't think twice about hitting him with a $15.6M~ tag. So, he likely won’t get free, but Robinson needs to be on the 49ers’ radar until he’s officially under contract.

Update: The seemingly impossible happened when the Jaguars passed on tagging Robinson. The 49ers were reportedly interested, but the free-agent receiver got the deal he was looking for from Chicago.

Mike Wallace, WR

Age in 2018: 31

Last deal: 2 years, $11.5M (Ravens)

Don’t let the putrid state of the Ravens throw you, Wallace can still run and make plays. He has sporadically during his time there, despite a dearth of talent around him. And given that Wallace specializes in speed, it immediately makes him interesting in a Kyle Shanahan offense. This would be a low-risk signing given the amount of money expected for a receiver his age with low numbers.

Donte Moncrief, WR

Age in 2018: 25

Last deal: 4 years, $2.8M (Colts)

For a while there, all Moncrief did was catch touchdowns. He caught 7 in 9 games in 2015, including a stretch where he scored in five consecutive contests. The wideout cooled off the last two seasons, first due to injuries and then in 2017 with Andrew Luck sidelined. But there’s still a decent, young talent there. Moncrief may come as a bargain, too, as he’s never started a full season, getting the nod in roughly half of his career games.

Update: The Colts, as expected, did not tag Moncrief. The 49ers have not been mentioned as an interested team, but the Ravens and Jaguars were. Moncrief eventually agreed to Jacksonville.

Taylor Gabriel, WR/R

Age in 2018: 27

Last deal: 1 year, $2.7M (Falcons)

Gabriel played in two Shanahan offenses, one in Cleveland (2014) and one in Atlanta (2016), and had his two most productive seasons to date. The 5-foot-8 receiver had 1,261 yards from scrimmage and eight all-purpose scores in 29 games with the 49ers current head coach. What Gabriel offers is an explosive element—with 4.2 speed, he’s one of the league’s fastest receivers and one of its best runners in the open field. And it’d be a safe bet that he’d work out given his history with Shanahan.

Update: Benjamin Allbright on the 49ersHub Podcast with Evan Sowards reported Gabriel as a favorite to rejoin Shanahan in San Francisco. In building the offense around Mitchell Trubisky, though, the Bears swooped in and nabbed the game-breaking receiver.

Marqise Lee, WR

Age in 2018: 26

Last deal: 4 years, $5.1M (Jaguars)

The 39th overall pick from 2014 is averaging 3.2 receptions a game and 12.8 yards per catch over his career. Reason being, the Jags have had a QB problem and Lee hasn’t been the featured guy. In fact, 2017 marks the first season he’s started every game he’s played in. And while he’s doing his job, he can only show so much given the state of the offense. Lee is another receiver that needs to be freed from Jacksonville, and the Niners could potentially bring the USC product back home to California.

Update: By not tagging Allen Robinson, the Jags prioritized the retention of Lee.

Alshon Jeffrey, WR

Age in 2018: 28

Last deal: 1 year, $9.5M (Eagles)

Philadelphia is a euphoric place to be this season. And it would seem like Jeffrey would prefer to stay in an explosive Eagles offense with a quarterback playing at an MVP level in Carson Wentz. But what will Philadelphia want to do? Jeffrey is averaging a career-low 46.6% catch rate, and is on pace for less than 1,000 yards. Wentz is instead finding great success with Nelson Agholor and Zach Ertz. If Jeffrey finds himself talking to teams again, he would seem like a logical target for the 49ers.

Update: Alshon Jeffery was signed to a four-year, $52M deal by the Eagles on Dec. 2.

Jimmy Graham, TE

Age in 2018: 31

Last deal: 4 years, $40M (Seahawks)

Graham is back to being a football monster in what is his final contractual year with Seattle. Even on the wrong side of 30, it still looks like the 6-foot-7 tight end has some good years left. If stolen by the 49ers, Graham would take over as TE1 and instantly become a major chess piece for Shanahan, who could find ways to exploit matchups akin to Bill Belichick in New England. This would also take the pressure off George Kittle in the short-term, allowing him make a lot more plays with the presence and tutelage of Graham.

Update: Seattle allowed Graham to hit free agency, and the Packers made a shift on offense by signing the big tight end and releasing Jordy Nelson.

Tyler Eifert, TE

Age in 2018: 28

Last deal: 4 years, $8.2M (Bengals)

The dynamic receiving tight end has dealt with chronic back injuries dating back to his days at Notre Dame, and an inability to stay healthy can wear on teams, especially when they’ve invested a lot in them. Could the Bengals move on? It would cost at least $9.7M~ to tag Eifert if the two can’t agree to terms on a new deal. And despite the athletic 6-foot-6, 255-pounder being one of the better tight ends around, one has to consider his health in conjunction with a potential rebuilding offseason looming for Cincinnati. In this scenario, it wouldn't be hard to imagine Eifert switching teams in 2018. He'd be a risk, for sure, but maybe one worth taking if you're the offensively-drained 49ers sitting on a mountain of cash.

Update: The Bengals on Tuesday decided not to apply the franchise tag to Eifert.

Trey Burton, TE

Age in 2018: 26

Last deal: 1 year, $2.74M (Eagles)

Burton came on strong for the Eagles in 2017, just in time for the former undrafted free agent to hit the open market and demand a respectable contract. The 6-foot-3 move tight end impressively scored five touchdowns on just 23 receptions last year as the complement to Zach Ertz. If the 49ers elected to pair Burton up with Kittle, they'd have quite a tandem on their hands.

Update: Burton hit the market due to the reigning Super Bowl champs having to prioritize other players. While the 49ers were reportedly interested, Burton decided on a deal with Chicago.

Media courtesy Getty Images, USA Today Sports Images, AP Images

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