Editor’s note: This is Part IV of a four-part series profiling unrestricted free agents the 49ers could pursue in 2018. Head to the home article for links to Parts I, II and III.
Brandon Boykin, CB
Age in 2018: 28
Last deal: 1 year, $775K (Ravens)
Boykin is an interesting case. The talented, once-in-demand cornerback missed the last two seasons before they even began, being placed on injured reserve by the Bears in August 2016 and then by the Ravens in September 2017. But he’s still young and he makes plays on the ball, and that’s an element the 49ers need more of on defense. Boykin had eight interceptions, four forced fumbles and a defensive touchdown over his last 48 games played. If he returns healthy, he could wind up being a value get in free agency.
Kyle Fuller, CB
Age in 2018: 26
Last deal: 4 years, $9.6M (Bears)
The 14th overall pick in the 2014 NFL Draft, Fuller had one of the brighter starts for a defender in recent memory, recording three interceptions and two forced fumbles over his first three career games. He’s been hot-and-cold since, with a lot of bad plays on tape, and hasn’t record a pick since December 13, 2015. General manager Ryan Paced announced this year that Chicago would not pick up Fuller’s fifth-year option. If the 49ers sign Fuller, it’s no sure thing he’ll be good – they’d be betting on coaching, scheme and a change of scenery. But it might be worth the risk given the potential he carried not that long ago.
Update: The Bears on Tuesday, March 6 before the deadline hit Fuller with the transition tag, and will reportedly work toward a long-term deal.
Malcolm Butler, CB
Age in 2018: 28
Last deal: 1 year, $3.91M (Patriots)
New England soured on Butler toward the end, and now the former Super Bowl hero is 100 percent leaving Foxboro. 49ers vets like Pierre Garçon and Joe Staley have already been seen recruiting the corner on Twitter, and ESPN writers like San Francisco as a favorite to scoop Butler up. With only Ahkello Witherspoon and K'Waun Williams on the roster, the 49ers stand to add another corner or two, and Butler makes sense as a versatile option that can play on the boundary and in the nickel.
Trumaine Johnson, CB
Age in 2018: 28
Last deal: 1 year, $16.7M (Rams)
Johnson has grown into a very reliable NFL cornerback. When targeted, he has allowed the fourth-lowest passer rating among cornerbacks since 2011, per Pro Football Focus. He’s also recorded 18 interceptions over his career. Given that Johnson has already been tagged twice by Los Angeles, and since he’ll be in high demand in the offseason, it’s quite possible the vet seeks a deal elsewhere. He’ll likely be among the more expensive free agents out there, demanding in the neighborhood of $16 million per year. But the 49ers have the money and need a CB1 to complement Ahkello Witherspoon, making them a top contender for his services.
Update: Reports are that the Rams are going to let Johnson walk, and the 49ers are already being widely discussed as a top suitor for his services.
LaMarcus Joyner, CB/S
Age in 2018: 27
Last deal: 4 years, $5M (Rams)
The playmaking DB from Florida State has broken through as a safety in Wade Phillips’ Rams defense. After failing to record a pick over his first three seasons, Joyner already has two, including a pick-six, through seven games in 2017. It wouldn’t be a surprise if L.A. prioritized his contract in the offseason. If no long-term deal is reached, it would cost around $10.89M~ to tag Joyner as a safety. If the 49ers don't feel they can rely on Adrian Colbert or pass on re-signing Jimmie Ward, they could try to steal Joyner from a division rival and hope he's the deep safety they've been looking for.
Update: After much deliberation, the Rams at the Tuesday deadline applied the tag to Joyner instead of receiver Sammy Watkins.
Kenny Vaccaro, S
Age in 2018: 27
Last deal: 4 years, $9.4M (Saints)
The Saints defense is finally, finally coming together – meaning there’s little to no chance they’re letting Vaccaro walk. But you can never rule out a player and a team not seeing eye to eye on value. If that happens, and Eric Reid is not retained, the 49ers could make a run at him. Midway through the 2017 season Vaccaro has already set a new career-high with three interceptions; his seven pass deflections also tie a career-best, and he recovered his first fumble for a touchdown this year.
Update: The Saints are surprisingly allowing Vacarro to walk, but with the emergence of Adrian Colbert, and Jaquiski Tartt returning, this would not be "prudent" spending by the 49ers.
Media courtesy Getty Images, USA Today Sports Images, CBS Sports, Los Angeles Rams