Defensive Priorities for the 49ers to Crush Free Agency
Image Credit: Andrew Giesemann
Aside from Christmas, free agency might be the favorite time of year for John Lynch and Kyle Shanahan. Since their first summer together in San Francisco they haven’t shied away from handing out big money contracts to bring players to the Bay.
Following their 31-20 loss in Super Bowl 54 the 49ers enter the offseason with one of the deepest rosters in the NFL, but also with a few key free agents on both sides of the ball. With expectations high next season free agency will offer the front office their first chance to reload for next year’s playoff push.
Currently, the 49ers have $13 million in cap space with large contracts for George Kittle and DeForest Buckner on the horizon. More moves will likely come to free up more cap space so that the team can sign some of their impending free agents; Arik Armstead and Jimmie Ward to name two. But projecting out what the free agent class may look like, who are some players the team might target?
While the pass rush was an improvement over last season, Dee Ford missed significant time with a hamstring injury and Ronald Blair and Damontre Moore were lost to season-ending injuries. Blair and Moore are both free agents and could walk this offseason, so adding a rotational defensive end would be paramount. While adding a player of Ford’s talent is highly unlikely, there are some pass rushers who should be available and would not break the bank. Dante Fowler Jr. and Michael Brockers from the Rams and Robert Quinn of the Cowboys are projected to hit the market this offseason. All three of these players have benefited from playing next to Aaron Donald at some point in their careers. Helping matters is that both the Rams and Cowboys have salary issues that would make retaining these players difficult. While a defense anchored around any of these most likely would fail, any would be more then adequate as a rotational piece behind Ford or Nick Bosa.
While the pass rush was dramatically improved from 2018, the secondary not only kept pace, but they may have exceeded their front four teammates. The 49ers’ defense allowed only 169.1 passing yards per game last season, the best mark in ten years. Anchoring the secondary was Jimmie Ward, an often maligned player who couldn’t stay healthy; the coaching staff felt confident that if Ward could stay on the field good things would happen, and they did. But after his most productive year of his career he hits free agency and may have played himself into a contract the Niners can’t match. While safety may be a target in the draft, new secondary coach Tony Oden may be more confident with a veteran at the position. Tre Boston and Ha Ha Clinton-Dix would both be viable options to bring in. Boston was a player much of the fan base longed for before the team re-signed Ward last offseason and he eventually signed a one-year deal with the Carolina Panthers. Clinton-Dix was a 2016 Pro Bowler and is coming off a one-year $5.5 million deal with the Chicago Bears. Under Joe Woods the 49ers played more two-high safety looks and both of these players have the skillsets to flourish in Robert Saleh’s system.
You can never have too many pass rushers or too many coverage guys. While the 49ers may be saying good-bye to some players on the defense, if the get the right signatures on the dotted line the defense may not miss a beat.
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