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5 free agents the 49ers should sign or bring back

Marc Adams
Mar 9, 2024 at 8:53 AM--

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Hope will soon be reborn for NFL fans everywhere. In only a couple of days, the pain of a long and disappointing season will have fallen out of sight, and a new energy will emerge. I'm speaking, of course, of the start of NFL free agency, when even fans of bad teams can feel optimistic again. It's a time of excitement as your team can begin working toward getting better.

The San Francisco 49ers came within one play of winning Super Bowl LVIII. And even though they still have perhaps the best roster in football, they do have some holes to fill, especially with several scheduled free agents of their own. And when you factor in what looks to be a tight salary cap situation a year from now, the 49ers have to be smart about what moves they make this offseason.

Next offseason, the 49ers may have to make some painful cuts. But this offseason, they should be able to retool and make their team better. Can they make any big moves this offseason? I believe they can if they restructure some contracts and get creative.

Here are five (actually six) free agents the 49ers should look to sign or bring back:

1. G Jon Feliciano

How much did the 49ers miss Jon Feliciano when he was injured and left the game during the Super Bowl? Just go back to overtime, when on the 49ers' final offensive snap, his replacement missed his assignment and failed to block Chris Jones. As you may remember, Jones came unblocked at QB Brock Purdy, who had to release the ball before his receiver could get open.

But even if you don't include Spencer Burford's Super Bowl blunder, Feliciano was much better than Burford all season. The year before, as a rookie, Burford had to share snaps with veteran offensive lineman, Daniel Brunskill. So either he still hasn't developed into a quality starter at right guard, or the 49ers still don't trust him enough to let him grow. Either way, the 49ers need a better option at the position than Burford.

The right side of the offensive line has to be better in 2024. If the 49ers can't replace Feliciano with someone better than Burford, they may end up with yet another heartbreaking end to their season. Feliciano knows the offense and should be the right guard in 2024.

2. DT D.J. Jones

I realize that D.J. Jones is still with the Denver Broncos, but some believe he will be cut. If that happens, the 49ers must find a way to get Jones back in Santa Clara. Jones provides that run-stuffing force inside the defensive line that the 49ers have been missing.

Last season, the 49ers had issues stopping the run, at times. When that happened, it was often because the defensive tackles weren't effective enough at keeping blockers away from linebackers Fred Warner and Dre Greenlaw. Jones can do that, and he can do it well.

Bringing Jones back to San Francisco would help the team's run defense. And that's one area they need to improve.

3. DE Clelin Ferrell

The 49ers need defensive linemen, particularly on the edge. Not only is Clelin Ferrell a free agent, but so are Chase Young and Randy Gregory. That leaves Drake Jackson and Robert Beal, Jr. as the two remaining edge rushers not named Nick Bosa. Jackson has yet to show he can be the guy worthy of starting opposite of Bosa, and Beal, Jr. barely played his rookie season due to injuries.

I'd love to see the 49ers bring Ferrell back. He started all 17 regular season games for the 49ers in 2023. And while he only had 3.5 sacks, he was strong in the run game. When he was injured in the playoffs, Young became the starter, and the run defense was noticeably worse. The 49ers need a better edge rusher opposite of Bosa (more on that below), but they also need someone like Ferrell to help the run defense.

4. LB Oren Burks

The injury suffered by Greenlaw in the Super Bowl puts his 2024 season in jeopardy. If he can play in 2024, it may not be until later in the season. And with second-year linebackers Dee Winters and Jalen Graham still unproven, it leaves the 49ers with some question marks at the position.

Oren Burks and Demetrius Flannigan-Fowles are both free agents. If GM John Lynch were to ask for my opinion, which he's never done, I'd tell him to bring back Burks. I realize he wasn't good in the Super Bowl once Greenlaw went down. But he's a good backup and a strong special teams player.

49ers fans would love to see the team bring back Azeez Al-Shaair. But he will be paid like a starting linebacker (because that's what he is). And I doubt Al-Shaair will want to go to San Francisco to be a starter until Greenlaw returns. So as much as we'd like him to return, Al-Shaair will likely be signing elsewhere.

5a. Edge Jonathan Greenard

Everyone wants Minnesota Vikings edge rusher Danielle Hunter. But that's the problem—everyone wants him, and he will be very expensive. Hunter has been extremely productive, but he's not getting any younger. He'll turn 30 during the 2024 season. So his age and price make him more of a dream than anything.

Because of this, I'm going with edge rusher Jonathan Greenard, of the Houston Texans. Greenard will be expensive, as well, but doesn't have the name or body of work that Hunter has. That said, Greenard has still been productive, recording eight sacks in 2021 and 12.5 sacks last season.

Greenard is not yet 27 years old and should have several years of productivity remaining. And he played last season for DeMeco Ryans, so he is very familiar with the 49ers scheme.

5b. Edge Bryce Huff

If the 49ers don't want to pay for Hunter or Greenard, they should consider edge rusher Bryce Huff. The soon-to-be former New York Jets defensive end will be cheaper than the other two, as he hasn't been a starter.

But Huff has been in the same system the 49ers defense run. And although Huff didn't start any games last season, he played in all 17 and had 10 sacks to go along with 21 QB hits. Huff also had the highest pass-rush win rate (22.9%) of any edge rusher in the league.

Each week, I do a podcast with Anthony Robertson, of 49ers Cutback, called The Red and Bold Show. Robertson had some interesting thoughts on what might be the 49ers' approach to this free agency. He wondered if instead of making any big splashes in free agency, the team might make a few smaller moves. So instead of paying Hunter the $20 million per year that it will likely take to get him, they might sign someone like Carl Lawson for much less, and then be able to grab some other players like that, who can make the 49ers better. You can see what he said in the video below.

It could be the approach they decide to take. Or maybe the 49ers surprise us again and go big. We may start hearing whispers about what they're doing very soon. Happy free agency!

The opinions within this article are those of the writer and, while just as important, are not necessarily those of the site as a whole.

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