Free Agency Primer: The Expected, Unexpected and In-Between

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The 2019 free agency negotiating period, which began on Monday at 12:00 pm, started off with somewhat of an unexpected bang. No, not Trent Brown’s crazy contract with the Oakland Raiders eleven minutes into that negotiating period. The 49ers agreed to terms with former Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ linebacker Kwon Alexander. This was surprising for the Twitter-verse, but also left that feeling in everyone’s stomachs; John Lynch is actually going to open the York family checkbook and collect a handful of starters.

Then there was static. At times, just dead air. Rumors flew about being in on ridiculous players like Le’Veon Bell and that Lynch hadn’t even reached out to Earl Thomas. Everyone held their breath for an Odell Beckham Jr. trade, and then their lungs exploded when he ended up in Cleveland instead.

No edge rusher signed. But the 49ers re-signed a long snapper who still has six games left on his suspension everyone kept seeing flash across their timelines. Then Dee Ford happened. By giving up their 2020 second round draft pick, the 49ers’ front office was able to acquire the best edge rusher the team has seen since Aldon Smith. After signing a five-year, $87.5 million dollar contract, Ford looks to wreak havoc next year in the NFC West.

So in two days the 49ers have signed the top edge rusher from a year ago and agreed to terms with a new 24-year-old pro bowl Will linebacker. What does this mean going into the actual free agency period? Well none of us really know, but looking at the team’s needs, who they reportedly went for in negotiations the last two days, and what is strong in the draft, we can make some educated guesses.

The 49ers were reportedly in on Bradley Roby and a couple of other cornerbacks, so it could be assumed that the team is not excited about starting Ahkello Witherspoon opposite Richard Sherman this upcoming season, or that they could be looking to add some more veteran depth at that position. Weaknesses in the starting lineup also persist at Sam linebacker, free safety, wide receiver, and guard. They could also use another edge rusher for passing downs, to use as a bookend with Ford. Looking at the draft’s strengths and where the team picks, there is a good chance the team leaves the edge market alone as is, and drafts Nick Bosa with the second overall pick. Wide receiver is also awfully deep in this rookie class, and is an easy target at pick 36 or 67.

So that leaves free safety, Sam linebacker, cornerback and guard left to fill in free agency. The obvious offseason long target at free safety, Earl Thomas, is reportedly close to agreeing to terms with the Cleveland Browns, which leaves only Ha Ha Clinton-Dix as the last remaining top-tier FS left in free agency. He isn’t a must-sign, but it sure would be a lot better than bringing back Jimmie Ward.

The 49ers were reportedly in negotiations with C.J. Mosley’s agent as well, meaning they are looking at possible Sam-linebacker options in free agency. One name that hasn’t been brought up at all the last couple days is Shaquil Barrett, formerly of the Denver Broncos. He could be an excellent pick up at Sam, and could also rotate in as an edge rusher on passing downs.

The big surprise is that the 49ers are working so hard in the cornerback market. The team has been very supportive of Witherspoon and has brought in six CB prospects in the last two years. It isn’t good for the front office to still be looking for cornerback depth at this point. There is a decent second tier of CBs in this year’s free agent class, and if the 49ers are going to sign a cornerback, it looks like that is the group they will be picking from.

So what exactly will the 2019 free agency period be like? Probably a lot like 2018’s, where Lynch and head coach Kyle Shanahan will prudently go after a few players they feel like they want and the team needs, and then try to continue to build the core through the draft. It would be wildly surprising for the team to overpay for a player like wide receiver Tyrell Williams, but they aren’t done spending yet.

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