We are just mere days away from the start of NFL free agency. If you're not excited about it, be happy some of the endless guessing and wild fantasies that each free agent is the supposed savior of the San Francisco 49ers will soon cease.

As stated in two previous commentaries, the 49ers need high-end free agent talent to fill gaps in nearly every position group. Again, an edge rusher is the first priority, though it seems more likely general manager John Lynch will fill that need through the draft rather than skim the free agent pool.

Two years ago, the 49ers began to rebuild the linebacker position. On March 9, 2017, the team signed veteran linebacker Malcolm Smith to a five-year contract worth $26.5 million. Unfortunately, Smith injured himself during training camp and never played a down in 2017. He came back last season, though he missed the first two weeks due to injury.

A few weeks later, the 49ers stole Alabama linebacker Reuben Foster late in the first round of the 2017 draft. For a moment, it felt like the team had found a replacement for former linebacker Patrick Willis and a perfect counterpart to NaVorro Bowman.

Unfortunately, Foster dealt with a series of injuries, and his off-the-field issues ultimately led to the 49ers releasing him in late November 2018.

Foster's off-the-field struggles were one thing, but the 49ers' investment in Smith has been a colossal waste of money. Last season, Smith played in 336 snaps over 12 games and could only manage to tally 22 solo tackles. Smith has not registered a quarterback sack since the 2015 season.

Rookie Fred Warner, who played 1,060 snaps in 16 games, finished last season with 85 solo tackles and 39 assists. Warner is the shining star in a linebacker corps that does not strike fear in the hearts of men.

If the 49ers wanted to make a big splash on the opening day of free agency, signing free agent linebacker C.J. Mosley would make a significant upgrade on defense.

Mosley finished the 2018 season with a 73.6 grade from Pro Football Focus, including an 80.1 run defense grade.

His best performance came in Week 17 against the Cleveland Browns, and I reviewed his play to show why he makes an ideal 49er.

Week 17 Baltimore vs. Cleveland

First Quarter: 1st and 10 at the BAL 47. (13:40)
Cleveland opened the series with two runs that gained 19 yards. Rather than stick to a trap or a lead run, Cleveland opted for an end-around with the hope of catching Baltimore's defense off guard.



Mosley stayed at home, rather than pursuing the ball carrier to his left. His head was reading the receiver sneaking behind the line of scrimmage, and he planted his left foot to move quickly to the right.

Great linebackers are a mix of aggression, brains, brawn, and patience. Warner has these traits, which is why he had a successful rookie season; Malcolm Smith had aggression and brawn but was often out of position because he lacks patience.



End-around plays are successful if the offense can catch the defense sleeping or the runner's lead blocks can clear out any defenders in the open field.

Cleveland tight end David Njoku made a feeble effort to clear a running lane for wide receiver Breshad Perriman, but Mosley shoved Njoku aside with a forearm shimmy.

Mosley continued to pursue Perriman and stopped him for a five-yard gain.

What's more impressive about the play is Mosley's ability to cover nearly 70 feet of open turf and make the stop on Perriman. The 49ers need a sideline-to-sideline linebacker, and Mosley would be an ideal fit for that role.

Third Quarter: 1st and 10 at the BAL 35. (2:06)


Cleveland quarterback Baker Mayfield sent Perriman in motion to the right, which forced Baltimore cornerback Marlon Humphrey to take a long, looping way around the defense.

It looked as if Cleveland caught the Baltimore defense a little off-guard with the play, as the defense did not look like it was fully set at the snap.



Humphrey's deep drop, combined with an unprepared defense resulted in open turf for Perriman. However, Mosley was able to cover ground quickly, even after moving vertically toward the line of scrimmage.

Mosley made the initial hit on Perriman and then dropped Perriman for a two-yard loss.

Fourth Quarter: 2nd and 12 at the BAL 24. (15:00)


I loved everything about Mosley's fourth-quarter sack. I loved the design, the tackle-end exchange, the blitzing cornerback and Mayfield crumbling like an overpriced faux-marble statue.

Unfortunately, Mosley's sack didn't count because one of his defensive backs decided to commit a defensive holding penalty.



Cleveland running back Nick Chubb moved to his right to help pick up the Baltimore blitz. Mosley, mirroring Chubb's movement, saw that Chubb was not going into the field for a pass, and knew he had a chance to make a big play.



Mayfield could not roll out of the pocket, and with the blitz in his face, had no way to find any open receivers. These unfortunate circumstances allowed Mosley to destroy Mayfield.

Fourth Quarter: 4th and 10 at the BAL 39. (1:06)

Cleveland was able to hang around throughout the contest and was driving late in the game for a possible game-winning touchdown or field goal. Obviously, Baltimore's defense needed to make a play to seal the victory.



Baltimore sent six men to attack each gap on Cleveland's offensive line. Mayfield had an empty backfield and five-man protection, which meant he was going to have to get rid of the football quickly.

As Mosely attacked the A-gap, he noticed that Mayfield was staring down his intended receiver.



After engaging with the left guard, Mosely cut his stunt short and dropped into the open throwing lane. He tipped Mayfield's pass and intercepted the ball to help close the game for Baltimore.

Indeed, the 49ers cannot sign every free agent that hits the open market next week. The team needs a wide receiver, I'd love if Lynch signed guard Rodger Saffold, and needs to decide whether or not to keep defensive back Jimmie Ward.

The 49ers cannot afford to skimp on talent any longer. Mosely is worth the investment and is precisely what defensive coordinator Robert Saleh needs to continue improving the defense.

All screenshots courtesy of NFL.com.
All statistics courtesy of Pro Football Reference unless noted.
  • Bret Rumbeck
  • Written by:
    Bret Rumbeck has been writing about the 49ers since 2017 for 49ers Webzone and 49ers Hub. He is a Turlock, CA native, and has worked for two members of the US House of Representatives and one US Senator. When not breaking down game film, Bret spends his time seeking out various forms of heavy metal. Feel free to follow him or direct inquiries to @brumbeck.