Support this writer and shop Amazon

With the NFL franchise tag deadline passing yesterday, that means the beginning of free agency on March 13th is the next important date to kick off the 2019 season for the San Francisco 49ers. Free agency has been a time when John Lynch and Kyle Shanahan have made their most significant impacts revamping the 49ers roster. They've done so by bringing in some impact players on the offensive side of the ball like Jerick McKinnon, Kyle Juszczyk, and Marquise Goodwin.

Over their first two offseasons, they've preached being "aggressively prudent" with their salary cap space even though they arguably overpaid for McKinnon and Juszczyk. This offseason they have the seventh most cap space according to Overthecap.com, with over $68 million available. With $68M in flexibility and glaring holes on the roster, it's time for Lynch and company to take a new approach and invest on the defensive side of the ball. Last offseason, the 49ers' biggest defensive acquisition was signing Richard Sherman, and boy did Sherman pay off for the 49ers. Per ProFootballFocus, Sherman "ranked first in coverage snaps per reception and fourth in yards per coverage snap."


So it makes sense for Lynch and the front office to go back to the well and bring in some defensive impact players to help get this team back into the playoff discussion. So I've outlined the perfect offseason scenario for the 49ers to help replenish their defense, and it starts with signing Earl Thomas.

Safety


Earl Thomas headlines a stacked class of safeties this free agency. Thomas along Landon Collins, Adrian Amox, Tyrann Mathieu, Lamarcus Joyner, Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, and, most recently, Eric Weddle are all players that would help solidify the 49ers secondary, which ranked dead last according to PFF last season.

Although Earl Thomas only played in four games last season before breaking his leg, Thomas proved once again that he is one of the best safeties in the league, with three interceptions and grading out as the 2nd best safety through the first month of the season.



There's no doubt that Thomas comes with some risk for the 49ers. He will likely be one of the highest paid safeties this offseason, he'll be 30-years old, playing in his 9th season, and has missed a few games due to injuries over the past three seasons. However, Thomas is the ideal fit for the scheme Robert Saleh has been trying to employ during his brief tenure as defensive coordinator. He and Sherman are the prototype secondary combination of the physical style that Saleh wants to adopt from his time in Seattle.

Thomas' ball-hawking style over the middle of the field could be precisely what the 49ers need to improve their defensive turnover numbers, of which they only had two last season.

Edge Rusher


The next move the 49ers should look to make during free agency is addressing their weak pass rush by signing one of Trey Flowers, Ezekiel Ansah, Dante Fowler, or Justin Houston.

The only reason this isn't number one of their ideal offseason moves is because of the depth this draft class has with edge rushers. With the growing rumors of Kyler Murry potentially being selected number one overall by the Arizona Cardinals, it seems as if the 49ers' ideal draft scenario is playing out perfectly, with the 49ers in potentially prime position to land the best prospect in this year's draft, Nick Bosa.

Obviously, neither Lynch nor Shanahan can predict what the Cardinals will do with the first pick, so signing one of the premier pass rushers would help keep all their options open with the draft come April. The hype around Nick Bosa is immense, and if he were to fall to the 49ers at the number two pick, the 49ers would have found more gold at the Bay Area. But, just because this draft is deep with edge rushers doesn't mean the 49ers shouldn't kick the tires with one of these already established edge rushers available.

Out of the three top available edge rushers, I'd say the 49ers should prioritize Justin Houston, Dante Fowler, Ezekiel Ansah, and Trey Flowers in that order. Justin Houston is the oldest of the four but is by far the most established.

Houston is unique in that he is excellent at both getting pressure on the quarterback and stopping the run. Should Bosa fall to the 49ers in the draft, Houston would serve as a great mentor to Bosa, while also assisting Deforest Buckner and Solomon Thomas stabilize the run game.

Trey Flowers is the most talented edge rusher available. At 25 years old, I believe he will set the market for the defensive ends and could be a little too expensive for the 49ers. The main reservation I have on the 49ers shelling out tons of cash for Flowers is that his game is geared toward stopping the run as opposed to getting to the quarterback. The 49ers have enough interior linemen with Solomon Thomas, Arik Armstead, and Deforest Buckner that they should shift their attention to the edge of the defensive line. Flowers is without a doubt the edge rusher with the most promise and track record; I just don't see it playing out for the 49ers.

Cornerback


The final player that would complete the ideal 49ers offseason would be again addressing the secondary. Now you can go back and forth on which corner you think is best of this class, which many would answer is Jason McCourty after back to back good seasons with the Cleveland Browns and the New England Patriots.

However, because McCourty is turning 32 next year, pairing a 32-year-old McCourty with a 30-year-old Sherman doesn't seem the like the most optimal strategy to build a secondary. I don't see a pairing of McCourty and Sherman as ideal for the 49ers. Yes, the 49ers need plenty of secondary help, and a corner of McCourty's caliber would fix the problem momentarily. However, if Lynch were to build a secondary with McCourty, Thomas, and Sherman, that wouldn't solve the problem long term.

I see Lynch and Shanahan addressing the cornerback position in the draft as well as free agency. That's why I could see them taking shots on young cornerbacks like Ronald Darby (25), Bryce Callahan (27), or Steven Nelson (26). Each player has his pros and cons.

Darby has shown that he is a proven starting corner; however, he's coming back from an ACL injury. Callahan had a very good past two seasons, but the majority of his snaps come in slot coverage, and while he's one of the better slot corners in the league, the transition to the outside could be difficult.

Nelson is perhaps my favorite of this group. The Chiefs were comfortable trading away Marcus Peters last season because they felt they wouldn't miss his production because of Steven Nelson, and that turned out to be the case. Nelson, like Peters, takes a lot of risks and often gets burned deep, but that risk sometimes comes with its upside as he had four interceptions and ten pass breakups, while only allowing a 53% catch rate.

If the 49ers could sign a top ball-hawk safety like Thomas, Nelson would have protection over the top and could be a perfect fit for what the 49ers' secondary needs.