Image Credit: Associated Press
With only six weeks until the free agency frenzy begins, the 49ers enter the offseason with a lengthy shopping list. Last offseason’s motto was “aggressively prudent” as the team added depth and shored up a barren offensive line. Internally the team’s brass must have had realistic expectations heading into this season, because the team clearly did not live up to the hype that was generated after Jimmy Garoppolo took the league by storm. This upcoming offseason is going to be very different for many reasons. With the pressure on to win and compete in 2019, the front office is aware that they need to drop the “prudently” and just focus on being aggressive. What will be Year 3 of the Lynch and Shanahan era, everyone around the league is expecting the Niners to take a big step into contention.
One thing to remember from last offseason is that they front-loaded a lot of the contracts they handed out. They spent wisely and saved some money for a rainy day, and that day has come. With the defense riddled with holes and the offense lacking elite weapons other than George Kittle, the Niners have a great opportunity to get very good, very quickly.
With huge holes at edge rusher, safety, corner and wide receiver, the team has to get better on defense so that Kyle Shanahan’s offense isn't always playing catch-up.
Earl Thomas, Safety, Seattle Seahawks
His last year in Seattle was a disaster. Upset with the front office, Thomas held out all throughout training camp. He played in just four games, at an elite level: with three interceptions and five pass break ups, Thomas proved that he can still play lockdown defense for a team with his scheme fit. After breaking his leg during a game against the Cardinals, Thomas expressed his frustration with the Seahawks by flipping off his own sideline as he was carted off. It’s safe to say that Earl Thomas has both feet out the door and is looking for a change of scenery. With a chance to play against Seattle twice a season and plenty of money to spend, the Niners could end up as one of the most desirable destinations for Earl Thomas.
Dee Ford, Outside Linebacker, Kansas City Chiefs
Aside from drafting your own edge rusher, the availability of these kinds of players is few and far between. Dee Ford is likely to be slapped with the franchise tag, and is not expected to hit the market this offseason. If by chance he does, he’s going to be a very hot commodity in a market where edge defenders are heavily sought after. Ford racked up 13 sacks while pressuring the quarterback 78 times while playing in all 16 games. Ford not only can create pressure, but can also force turnovers. He ranked first in the NFL in fumbles forced (7) while hitting the quarterback the fifth most in the league (29). The Niners absolutely have to draft a stud edge rusher, but they can certainly use more than one and if Dee Ford is available, they need to throw money his way.
Anthony Barr, Linebacker, Minnesota Vikings
The Minnesota Vikings usage of Anthony Barr has been surprising. Barr was known for putting up outstanding numbers in college when he rushed off the edge, but the past couple of seasons the Vikings have not utilized his pass-rush potential as many thought they would. Since his All-Pro season in 2015, Anthony Barr has not graded out higher than 70 in coverage the past few years and could potentially return to form with a change in his usage.
Demarcus Lawrence, Defensive End, Dallas Cowboys
Probably the best edge defender in this year’s free agent class is DeMarcus Lawrence. Being franchised last offseason, the Cowboys challenged Lawrence to prove to them that he’s worth the money he commands, and he did that. It’s very unlikely that Lawrence hits the open market, but if for some absurd reason he does, the 49ers need to jump all over him. Lawrence has collected 25 sacks the past two seasons combined, and given he’s only 27 years old, his price tag is expected to be very high.
Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Safety, Green Bay Packers
Clinton-Dix has been known as one of the more consistent safeties over the course of his career. He is averaging almost three interceptions a season throughout his career, so you’re almost guaranteed a few picks from him, something the Niners had very few of in 2018. Playing in all sixteen games in each of the past four seasons and playing at an above-average level, Clinton-Dix might be an attractive player to the Niners for his durability alone. Availability is the best kind of ability, and while health is going to be very important to the 2019 49ers, Clinton-Dix would be a nice piece to add to the team’s defensive backfield if they are unable to land Earl Thomas.
The common theme for this year’s free agency is clearly defense. There’s really no need for the Niners to dump a lot of money into any high-profile offensive players, so defense should see the most attention. If we’re ranking the 49ers needs, it's probably something along the lines of:
1). Edge Rusher
4). Wide Receiver
6). Offensive Line
Your list might look a little different, but that’s most likely the general consensus in terms of what positions need the most attention, and defense reigns supreme. It's going to be an exciting offseason full of signings and trade rumors and just like last year, the Niners will be attached to most of them. Come March and April, the Niners will have a good sense of what their team will look like as the hype train will be moving at full speed towards another playoff-hopeful season.
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