When looking at free agency, it's easy to focus on the flashy big-name stars who will command top dollar. That's not how the San Francisco 49ers attacked the market last year during general manager John Lynch and head coach Kyle Shanahan's first offseason together.

The 49ers were aggressive last March, but they were also patient and methodical in their approach. They targeted players that fit Shanahan's system and not just players that produced significant numbers in a contract year.

An excellent example is wide receiver Marquise Goodwin, who, while in Buffalo, was used almost exclusively as a speedster outside of the numbers. His best season was his last with the Bills when he caught 29 passes for 431 yards and three touchdowns in that role.

"It sickens me that people would think I'm just this fast dude who can't run routes or can't catch," Goodwin said last offseason.

In one season with the 49ers, he more than doubled the production of his best year in Buffalo, proven to be more than a role player, and shown he can fill in as a quarterback's primary target if needed.

Fans should probably expect the same approach to free agency this year. Before looking at who the 49ers might target, it is important to examine who they stand to lose this offseason.

Running back Carlos Hyde is scheduled to become a free agent. Should he garner any genuine interest, the 49ers are unlikely to enter a bidding war for the running back. Last year represented the first season Hyde started 16 games since becoming a starter in 2015. While his production as a receiving threat significantly increased in 2017, he has yet to reach the 1,000-yard milestone while rushing.

During last year's draft, the 49ers appeared to be sending Hyde a message by adding competition to the running back position. He emerged as the clear-cut starter for the 2017 season.

"Carlos Hyde is probably the best sort of name on the free agent market in terms of running backs," Zain Naqvi said on the latest "No Huddle" podcast. "And he's going to get paid by somebody because teams like to overpay on the free agent market. And I think some team will throw a lot of money at him and it's going to be hard for him to say, 'No.' And I don't think the 49ers want to get into that bidding war."



While the 49ers possess one of the most significant salary cap surpluses in the NFL, the team has committed to spending its money wisely. That means getting into too many bidding wars for players whose production is replaceable is likely out of the question. Does Hyde fall into that category? We'll find out as free agency approaches.

Behind Hyde is Matt Breida, who will be entering his second NFL season. The 49ers also have Joe Williams, who spent his entire 2017 rookie season on injured reserve. If Hyde is no longer with the team, adding another running back through the draft would create a very young group.

San Francisco may be in the market for another running back via free agency – perhaps one already familiar with Shanahan and his offense. While the Niner Faithful might be salivating at the prospect of adding a big name like Le'Veon Bell, so are the fanbases of nearly every other NFL team. Spending top dollar on a running back doesn't feel like something the 49ers would do when there are so many other positions to address.

Isaiah Crowell, 25, is one of four Cleveland Browns scheduled to become unrestricted free agents and, as discussed during the "No Huddle" podcast, he may be a good fit within Shanahan's offense.

"He actually had a pretty good year when was under Kyle Shanahan's offense in Cleveland," Naqvi said. "I think that would be a good addition to this squad ... Crowell makes a lot of sense because he knows the system."

Shanahan was the offensive coordinator in Cleveland during Crowell's rookie season (2014). During that year, he appeared in all 16 games, started four, and carried the football 148 times for 607 yards. His eight touchdowns that season remain a career-high.

While 2017 was Hyde's first season as a starter without missing games due to injury, Crowell has appeared in 16 games during each of his four NFL seasons. Over the past two seasons, he started all 32 games for Cleveland.

"Crowell, the last two years – and Cleveland obviously has had their issues the past couple of years – he had 198 carries for 952 yards, 4.8 (yards) per carry, in 2016," said Al Sacco. "This year, it was 206 for 853, 4.1 yards per carry, and he's caught 68 balls combined in the past two years. So, he's a pretty good player and if they can get him cheap. Like you (Zain) said, he's been in Shanahan's system. He may be a guy that you could see the Niners go after."

In 2016, Crowell ranked third in the NFL in average yards per carry after contact and first among running backs in the percentage of runs that went for 15-or-more yards, according to Pro Football Focus. His 4.8 yards per carry in 2016 ranked seventh among running backs with more than 150 attempts.

"Crowell can do damage in a more efficient offense, with an NFL caliber quarterback, and with more volume," wrote Dan Schneier of Pro Football Focus back in December.

San Francisco is likely to have a more efficient offense than Cleveland in 2018, (hopefully) has an NFL caliber quarterback in Jimmy Garoppolo, and Hyde-like use by Shanahan would give him more volume.

Over his four-year career, Crowell has carried the football 737 times for 3,118 yards (4.2 per carry average) and 21 touchdowns. He also has 96 receptions for 770 yards and a touchdown.