On Thursday, Field Yates of ESPN looked at 20 of the best potential free agents and their ideal fits next year. Yates notes that the list is not a free agency forecast, but a list of where each player fits based on skill set and the teams that could benefit the most from that player. It also factors in the salary cap space needed to sign each potential free agent, of which the San Francisco 49ers have an abundance.

We'll start with two of the 49ers' upcoming free agents.

Jimmy Garoppolo


2017 team: San Francisco 49ers
2018 team: San Francisco 49ers

The most significant name is newly acquired quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo. It is highly unlikely the 49ers allow him to flee to another team after starting just five games (one against the Chicago Bears and presumably the final four of the season).

San Francisco has two options to retain their new starting quarterback. They can either lock him up to a long-term deal or extend the evaluation period by a year with the franchise tag, which will surpass the $21.3 million value for the quarterback position in 2017.

This past Sunday, Garoppolo led the 49ers to their second win of the season. In the 15-14 victory against the Bears at Soldier Field, he completed 26 of his 37 passes for a career-high 293 yards and an interception.

"Let's not overthink this," writes Yates. "The 49ers didn't trade a second-round pick for Garoppolo and hold him off from starting for weeks only to let him walk, regardless of his performance this season. The move was about the bigger picture, and San Francisco has endless resources – including one of the biggest cap reserves in the league and the franchise tag – to keep him around."

Carlos Hyde


2017 team: San Francisco 49ers
2018 team: San Francisco 49ers

Much discussion has surrounded whether or not running back Carlos Hyde will return to the 49ers next season. He is in the final year of his contract and paying big money for a running back does not appear to be head coach Kyle Shanahan's M.O., especially with Bobby Turner as his running backs coach. Turner has made a career or helping mid-to-late-round draft picks flourish. His most notable might be former Denver Broncos Hall of Fame running back Terrell Davis.

The 49ers have liked what they have seen from undrafted rookie Matt Breida and were passionate about selecting Joe Williams out of Utah in the fourth round of April's draft. Williams started the season on injured reserve due to an ankle injury.

However, Shanahan and general manager John Lynch have praised Hyde whenever his name comes up. There was even a report that the 49ers were working on a contract extension for the running back. Hyde has 693 rushing yards this season, which puts him on pace for 924 through 16 games. That would mean the 49ers running back might once again fail to reach the 1,000-yard milestone, which he has never surpassed.

Hyde has contributed to the passing game as well. His 52 receptions for 307 yards eclipse his previous career highs in both categories.

"Before the season I would have forecasted 2017 to be Hyde's final year in San Francisco," writes Yates. "But there's little doubt to me that a return to the Bay Area is the best option. The 49ers did draft Joe Williams in the fourth round last year and have promising rookie Matt Breida, but Hyde is a back that an offense can be built around. He should stay going forward."

Sammy Watkins


2017 team: Los Angeles Rams
2018 team: San Francisco 49ers

Wide receiver Sammy Watkins will be just 25 years old when the 2018 season kicks off. The Los Angeles Rams traded for him just before the 2017 season. Through 12 games and 11 starts, Watkins has only 31 catches for 528 yards. However, he does have six touchdowns in the high-scoring Rams offense, which is two more than every 49ers wide receiver combined this season.

Watkins had his best game this season in a Week 3 contest against the 49ers when he caught six passes for 106 yards and two touchdowns during the Thursday-night shootout.

Yates believes that Watkins possesses all of the traits to be a number one receiver in an offense. He led the Buffalo Bills offense in receiving yards in 2014 and 2015. Pairing Watkins with Pierre Garçon next season could be an interesting scenario.

"San Francisco is flush with cap space and plenty of cash to approach free agency as it sees fit," writes Yates. "With Jimmy Garoppolo likely set in stone as the long-term starter at quarterback, addressing weapons around him is a must. Watkins, still 24 years old, would give the Niners their best talent at wide receiver and should pair nicely with veteran Pierre Garçon. Watkins' price tag will likely be steep."