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Did the 49ers get better in the first week of free agency?

Marc Adams
Mar 16, 2024 at 8:21 AM--

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It's been less than one week since the free agency rumors started swirling. The San Francisco 49ers have been busy, from restructuring contracts to seeing some of their own sign elsewhere to bringing aboard new players. They even pulled off a trade. But have they improved their roster this first week of NFL free agency?

Let's take a look at which additions and returning players help, and which losses hurt.

Additions that help

The addition that helped the most is likely edge rusher Leonard Floyd. The veteran pass rusher played in all 17 games last season and hasn't missed a game since 2017. The 49ers have been searching for that edge rusher opposite of Nick Bosa since Dee Ford. Floyd very well could be that guy, finishing with at least nine sacks in the last four seasons. In 2023, Floyd had 10.5 sacks to go with a forced fumble and pass defended. If he can get double-digit sacks in 2024, the 49ers' pass rush will be dominant once again.

The biggest addition (literally) is DT Maliek Collins, who was acquired in a trade with the Houston Texans. He will help the 49ers defensive line and is a good replacement for long-time defensive tackle Arik Armstead, who signed with Jacksonville. Collins is probably not quite the player Armstead is, when healthy, but he's very effective, especially as an interior pass rusher. In 2023, he finished with five sacks and 18 QB hits. And Collins doesn't miss many games. Last season, he played in all but one.

DT Jordan Elliott isn't going to torment quarterbacks like Collins will, but he will be effective in stopping the run, something the 49ers struggled with last season. He's a big body that can take on double teams and tie up blockers. He won't be a starter but will be a solid rotational piece, which the 49ers needed after losing multiple defensive linemen from last year.

DL Yetur Gross-Matos played in only 12 games last season, but figures to be another good rotational player. He not only can line up on the edge, he can move inside and play defensive tackle on obvious passing downs. In 2023, Gross-Matos had 4.5 sacks, even though he only played in 12 games, and started only six. He wasn't one of the top additions, but he may have the highest ceiling of all the signings.

CB Isaac Yiadom played last season with the New Orleans Saints. He took over as an outside corner halfway through the season, due to injury. And he was good the rest of the way, finishing with 14 passes defensed and one interception. He also held quarterbacks to a completion percentage of 48.9 percent when targeting him. Pro Football Focus gave him a rating of 81.1. Yiadom, who seems to have a nose for the football, will likely compete with Darrell Luter, Jr. to start on the outside, freeing up Deommodore Lenoir to focus on playing nickel corner.

LB De'Vondre Campbell only played in 11 games last season, due to multiple injuries. He started all 11, had one pass defended, and one fumble recovery, to go along with 75 tackles. He will likely fill in for Dre Greenlaw until the former Arkansas Razorback can return. Second-year players Dee Winters and Jalen Graham will compete with Campbell.

Returning players that help

Kevin Givens played in all 17 games for the 49ers last season as part of the defensive line rotation. He is a welcome returnee who helps keep the starting defensive tackles fresh but also makes his presence known when he's in the game.

Jon Feliciano will start at right guard. He had a good 2023 season, starting seven games, including the postseason and Super Bowl. The veteran guard left the Super Bowl with an injury, and that injury may have cost the team the championship. That's how well Feliciano was playing. Bringing him back for another season will help solidify the right guard position.

Chris Conley made some huge plays in the playoffs, as well as in the Super Bowl, not only as a wide receiver but on special teams. While he only played in eight regular season games, Conley played in all three postseason games. And he made the most of his time on the field in those three games.

George Odum is perhaps the best special teamer in the NFL. Although he can play safety on defense in a crunch, his best work is on special teams. He is a welcome return for a special teams unit that needs him.

Demetrius Flannigan-Fowles can play linebacker on defense, but, like Odum, his best work is on special teams. The 49ers don't want to have to count on Flannigan-Fowles to play on defense, but they need him on special teams. That's why he's returning to San Francisco.

Losses that hurt

Armstead is the biggest loss in free agency. He had been the longest-tenured player on the team and was a well-respected leader on and off the field. But Armstead played in only 21 games the past two seasons, and his production no longer matched what he was being paid (Armstead only had five sacks in 2023, and none the year before). So the 49ers cut the nine-year veteran, ending his tenure in San Francisco.

Clelin Ferrell wasn't the edge rusher that the 49ers wanted on the opposite side of Bosa, but he was solid in the run game. Ferrell played in all 17 regular season games but was unavailable in the postseason because of an injury. The 49ers would have liked to have had him back but were unable to work it out.

Did the 49ers get better this first week of free agency? It appears they did, especially at edge rusher. If Collins can replace Armstead, and if Campbell can hold down the fort until Greenlaw returns, this defense has a chance to be better in 2024 than they were in 2023.

We'll see what the 49ers do next.
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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