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Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Free agent targets for the 49ers offense

Brian Renick
Mar 12, 2021 at 2:53 PM0

The 2021 offseason officially starts on Wednesday, March 17th. The "legal tampering" period, which is when teams can start contacting and negotiating with players, begins Monday, March 15th.

According to Over the Cap, the 49ers will have $24.85 million in cap space when the league year starts. There are some cost-cutting maneuvers they can make (such as cutting Weston Richburg and Dee Ford) to add roughly $10 million more in additional space, for a total of $34.85 million. Based on the current draft picks the 49ers own, they need $9.71mil to sign their draft class.

With all of that calculus, the effective cap space the 49ers have for this exercise is $25.14 million.

Let's take a look at some possible free agent targets on the offensive side of the ball. For each position, I'll list a "Big Splash" move, and then follow that up with some smaller or more under-the-radar moves.

*The age listed for a player is his age as of Week 1 of the 2021 season.

H/T to David Lombardi and Matt Barrows of The Athletic for the projected 2021 cap hits (where applicable)


Big Splash: Ryan Fitzpatrick, MIA, 38 years old ($9 million)

At this point in his career, "Fitzmagic" seems a bit like a mercenary, taking one-year deals all over the league to mentor and challenge younger QBs. Fitzpatrick had an impressive 2019 campaign, including a game against the 49ers that saw him throw for 350 yards with 3 TDs and 0 INTs. On the season, he completed 68.5% of his passes for 2,091 yards, 13 TDs, and 8 INTs. This move would be more in line with drafting a QB in the first round and moving on from Jimmy Garoppolo either through a trade or his release.

Alex Smith, WFT, 37 years old ($3 million)

Smith is likely looking for a landing spot where he can compete for a starting position. However, there don't seem to be that many for a 37-year-old with the type of devastating leg injury that Smith had. John Lynch has stated that the team is focused on upgrading the backup QB position behind starter Jimmy Garoppolo, and there is not a better option on the market than Smith for what he brings both as a player and a mentor for the QB room.

Andy Dalton, DAL, 33 years old ($3 million)

The "Red Rocket" completed 64.5% of his passes, for 2,169 yards, 14 TDs, and 8 INTs while starting 10 games for the Dallas Cowboys last season. If Dalton was on the 49ers in 2020, he likely would have led the team to a playoff berth with numbers like that. For comparison, in the eight games that Nick Mullens started, he threw 12 TDs and 12 INTs with an almost identical 64.7% completion percentage. Dalton would be an excellent security blanket if Jimmy Garoppolo cannot stay healthy for the full season.

Running Back

It seems unlikely that the 49ers will sign a running back in free agency outside of re-signing fullback Kyle Juszczyk, but there are a couple of intriguing names that they could look at if they decided to go that route.

Big Splash: Chris Carson, SEA, 27 years old

At first glance, this does not seem like a good fit for the 49ers and their zone-heavy run scheme, but according to Pro Football Focus, of the 157 attempts that Carson had in 2020, 122 of them were zone runs. Carson had a down year in 2020, missing four games and totaling 758 yards on the ground with 5 TDs. However, the previous two seasons saw him surpass 1,000 yards. He also is a reliable receiver out of the backfield, with 38 receptions last season, and 37 receptions the previous season. With some injury concerns, as well as a depressed market, Carson may not see the payday he envisions and could be a nice addition to the running back room.

Gus Edwards, BAL, 26 years old

Edwards is a big, bruising back at 6'1" and 238 pounds, and would be far and away the biggest running back on the team if signed. All three seasons he has had in the Baltimore offense have seen him average 5+ yards per attempt, and last season he scored 6 TDs. Baltimore doesn't run much zone in its running scheme, but Edwards could come in and provide insurance to a running back room that was injured a lot in 2020.

Wide Receivers

Big Splash: Corey Davis, TEN, 26 years old ($5.3 million)

Davis has yet to top 1,000 yards in his four seasons in the NFL, and as a former number five overall pick, he hits the open market because Tennessee did not pick up his fifth year option. Davis must have used that as motivation last season, because it was his best as a pro, recording 65 receptions for 984 yards, 5 TDs, and five 100+ yard games. Davis is likely to command more money than the 49ers are willing to pay, but he would provide something the team doesn't currently have: a big-bodied red zone and outside target.

Emmanuel Sanders, NO, 34 years old ($2.5 million)

Sanders had a massive impact on the 2019 49ers after coming over in a trade from Denver. He was a mentor in the WR room, and he produced on the field. The 49ers are receiving a 2021 fifth-round pick for losing Sanders last offseason to the New Orleans Saints. The Saints recently released Sanders in a cost-cutting move, so if a reunion happens, the signing would not count in the calculus for 2022 compensatory picks. It would be some impressive roster-building on the part of the 49ers front office if it happens.

Curtis Samuel, CAR, 25 years old ($4 million)

This signing could be considered a "big splash as well," but I think Davis is going to command more on the market than Samuel. He is the type of player who needs to be employed in the right scheme to maximize his ability, and the 49ers happen to run one of those schemes. Curtis Samuel has a very similar skillset to Deebo Samuel, but Curtis is faster and Deebo is more punishing. Combining the two players could create matchup nightmares all over the field for the opposing defense, especially if WR Brandon Aiyuk and TE George Kittle are on the field at the same time as well.

John Brown, BUF, 31 years old

Brown was released by Buffalo on March 10th, 2021. The former Baltimore Raven and Arizona Cardinal has long been known as a "deep threat," but his route running acumen shows a much more polished receiver than that. In 2019, Brown racked up 76 receptions for 1,110 yards and 6 TDs for the Buffalo Bills. In 2020, his role in Buffalo's offense was usurped by the arrival of Stefon Diggs, but he still managed 43 receptions for 544 yards and 3 TDs. Brown has played the majority of his career outside, but I believe he could be moved inside as an incredibly deadly weapon from the slot.

Tight Ends

Big Splash: Jonnu Smith, TEN, 26 years old ($3.24 million)

Smith is hitting free agency after a career year that saw him haul in 43 receptions for 457 yards and 8 TDs, with over half of his receptions resulting in a first down. The 49ers need to find a move tight end to pair with George Kittle to take some pressure and attention off of The People's Tight End. In the TE market, Smith is the best available combo of young, durable, and accomplished.

Gerald Everett, LAR, 27 years old

The Rams drafted Everett in the second round of the 2017 NFL Draft out of South Alabama. His role in the offense has steadily increased, and he had his best year with the team in 2020 with 41 receptions for 417 yards and 1 TD. Those numbers aren't eye-popping by any means, but the 49ers are only looking for a complement to George Kittle, not somebody to replace his production. As a second TE, Everett could be a versatile weapon in the passing game, but he'll have to work on his 10% drop rate from 2020, plus it's always nice to make a rival weaker by signing one of its players.

Jordan Reed, SF, 31 years old ($1.3 million)

Reed was good when he was on the field for the 49ers in 2020, especially in Week 2 against the NY Jets and Week 10 against the New Orleans Saints. However, he only accounted for 231 yards and 4 TDs. As a fan, I feel like I was robbed from watching Kittle and Reed on the field at the same time due to injuries to both players. I could see the team bringing back Reed and trying to pair the two together again. Reed could be a monster in the red zone in two tight end sets and his reliable hands could be useful on third downs as well.

Offensive Tackle

Trent Williams, SF, 33 years old ($8 million)

There is no need for analysis here. The entire offseason for the 49ers hinges on re-signing Williams to man the left tackle position. Two of the top targets to replace him (Taylor Moton in Carolina and Cam Robinson in Jacksonville) were already franchise-tagged by their respective teams, leaving the market pretty bare in terms of viable replacements. If Williams leaves in free agency, look for the team to draft his replacement with its first selection in the 2021 draft. The 49ers have done a great job of structuring their contracts with cap-friendly first-year numbers. Expect the same in a contract for Williams if they get it done.

Interior Offensive Line

Big Splash: Corey Linsley, GB, 30 years old ($5 million)

Part of the struggle that the 49ers offensive line had in 2020 can be attributed to a lack of stability at the center position. Weston Richburg never returned from his 2019 knee injury, and there was a revolving door of Ben Garland, Hroniss Grasu, and Daniel Brunskill due to injuries and poor play. Linsley has excelled in Green Bay's zone blocking scheme for the past two seasons and would be a long-term answer at the position moving forward. Signing both Linsley and Trent Williams would likely cost between $13-$15 million in cap space in 2021, but it would instantly give the 49ers one of the best offensive line groups in the NFL, a must for Jimmy Garoppolo or whomever else the 49ers have under center next season.

Austin Blythe, LAR, 29 years old ($3 million)

Blythe was moved to center halfway through the 2019 season and was the starting center for the Rams for all of the 2020 season. This move seemed more out of necessity for the Rams rather than Blythe being a good fit because each of the past two seasons has seen a dip in his performance compared to the 2018 season when he was exclusively at RG (a Pro Football Focus pass-blocking grade of 75.0 and run-blocking grade of 70.3). If the 49ers can't figure out the center position or need to move Daniel Brunskill there permanently (definitely not the best option), then bringing in Blythe and moving him back to RG could help solidify that position.

Ben Garland, SF, 33 years old ($1.5 million)

Many analysts have suggested that Alex Mack may bring his talents to San Francisco, but the problem with Mack is that he is likely only going to play one or two more seasons, which makes a contract for him a bit difficult to fit under the cap in 2021. Ben Garland, while not as talented as Mack, could be more of a value signing as he is already familiar with the team and to the coaching staff, and he has played well when he has been in. A familiar problem to 49ers fans, though, is that Garland has battled injuries the past two seasons. If he can stay healthy for all of 2021, he would be an average to above-average starter at the center position.
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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