In only three weeks, the new NFL year will begin, and teams can start signing free agents. Although teams can begin negotiating with free agents on March 14, contracts can’t be signed until Wednesday, March 16.
The San Francisco 49ers are expected to be active, especially considering they have several pending free agents of their own. Don’t expect them to be one of the teams that sign the top-tier free agents. They rarely do so. And they have their own star players they need to sign to big contract extensions, namely Deebo Samuel and Nick Bosa.
The team has a few holes to fill, especially if some of its own free agents sign elsewhere. In most offseasons, the moves I believe the 49ers should make differ from the moves they actually make. For example, for years I have wanted them to target at top cornerback. But this regime has a different strategy. They prefer to build from front to back, putting together a dominant defensive line.
There are multiple ways to build a championship team. The 49ers may not always make the move I think they should make, but I trust they will make the right decisions for the team. With that in mind, here are five players the 49ers could target once free agency begins:
Laken Tomlinson- Guard
The 49ers need a left guard to pair with all-world left tackle Trent Williams. And they would prefer to have one that is reliable and doesn’t miss games. Enter Laken Tomlinson.
Tomlinson, who has spent five seasons in San Francisco, has been the definition of reliable. The 49ers are most likely trying to re-sign him before free agency begins. Tomlinson is a pro bowl guard who will draw interest from other teams. It is safe to say the 49ers need him as much as any other team does, if not more.
The 49ers don’t usually spend big free-agent dollars on guards, so I wouldn’t expect Washington guard Brandon Scherff to be an option. Hopefully, the 49ers can get something worked out with Tomlinson. If he ends up going somewhere else, you can expect left guard to become an immediate priority in free agency.
And considering how the 49ers’ right side of the offensive line is unstable, it’s all the more reason to ensure they bring back Tomlinson.
Marcus Mariota- Quarterback
Count me as one who believes Trey Lance will be the starting quarterback for the 49ers in 2022. I’m excited about Lance. But he is young, and also dealt with two injuries last season. He will need a veteran backup who can help him develop, and who can win a game or two, if needed.
While most are predicting Tyrod Taylor to be signed in free agency (due in part to his relationship with new offensive coach Anthony Lynn), I think Marcus Mariota would be a more exciting backup. Taylor has more experience, and will likely be a target for the 49ers in free agency, but Mariota, in Kyle Shanahan’s offense, might be too exciting to pass up.
Mariota has the kind of arm talent and ability to run that had many believing he would be a star in the NFL. That hasn’t happened. Mariota is a backup quarterback. But he has enough talent and experience to win some games. I would be excited if the 49ers signed Taylor, but I think Mariota might be an even better choice.
Haason Reddick- Edge Rusher
The 49ers need an edge rusher who can take the pressure of Bosa, and free up Arik Armstead inside. Haason Reddick might be able to do just that. Reddick has double-digit sacks both of the past two seasons and holds up well against the run, as well.
Another option might be Emmanuel Ogbah. Ogbah had nine sacks in 2020 and 2021. He isn’t going to excite the fanbase, but perhaps the 49ers defensive line coach Kris Kocurek can get more out of him, as he has other defensive linemen.
Don’t expect the 49ers to pursue Von Miller, Chandler Jones, Jadeveon Clowney, or Randy Gregory. Miller and Jones will likely be too expensive. Clowney is expensive and always hurt (just like the guy he’d be replacing, Dee Ford). Gregory has a history of off-field issues but has stayed out of trouble the past couple of seasons.
DJ Reed– Cornerback
It’s time to undo one of the 49ers’ past mistakes, letting DJ Reed get away by waiving him in August 2020. Not only did the 49ers lose Reed, but the Seattle Seahawks also picked him up. Color me shocked.
Reed has become a solid cornerback and has some experience as a nickel corner, which is why I included him on this list. With K’Waun Williams potentially leaving in free agency, the 49ers need a veteran corner who can play nickel. Second-year corner Deommandore Lenior will get a chance to prove he’s ready, but we’ve seen how a thin secondary can cost you.
There are a lot of free-agent corners on the market, and the big names like JC Jackson and Stephon Gilmore will be too pricey. Bringing back Jason Verrett might be a good idea if it’s a “prove-it” type contract.
Cordarrelle Patterson- Running Back
Imagine Shanahan scheming up Cordarrelle Patterson to go along with Samuel. What he could do with those two in the lineup, at the same time, could be electrifying. I could really get excited about this potential signing. With all the misdirection, pre-snap movement, the combination of speed and power from those two players is enough to at least make you consider signing Patterson. Not to mention the potential mismatches defenses would have to deal with.
That said, I think there’s a chance the team re-signs Raheem Mostert, and if they do, Patterson will likely not be a target. It is possible that Mostert prices himself out of range for what the 49ers want to pay an oft-injured running back. Or maybe Mostert’s rare speed is enough to make the team bring him back.
Those are the five (or so) free agents I believe the 49ers could target in a few weeks. There are some positions I think they need to target, but didn’t list. For instance, I’d love to see the 49ers get a shifty slot receiver, someone who can quickly get open when you need to pick up one or two yards. And safety might be a position they need to look at, as well, especially if Jaquiski Tartt doesn’t return.
Who do you think the 49ers might target in mid-March?
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