49ers' Top Players to Avoid in 2021 NFL Free Agency

Kristopher Knox@@kris_knoxFeatured ColumnistMarch 1, 2021

49ers' Top Players to Avoid in 2021 NFL Free Agency

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    Eric Christian Smith/Associated Press

    The NFL offseason is a time for excitement and hope. The San Francisco 49ers can put their disappointing 2020 campaign behind them and believe in a return to Super Bowl form. The 49ers know that the foundation of a Super Bowl team is there and that with a few additional pieces, they could be right back in contention.

    While the focus of the offseason will be on improving the roster, San Francisco must also be careful to avoid potential mistakes or mismanaging the salary cap. The 49ers are projected to have roughly $11.9 million in cap space, but they also need to address the futures of players like Trent Williams, Jason Verrett and Jaquiski Tartt.

    Spending valuable cap space on the wrong free agents could hurt San Francisco's bid for a resurgence in 2021. Based on factors like cap space, roster construction and player potential, here are three pending free agents the 49ers should avoid chasing this offseason.

RB Todd Gurley

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    Kevin Sabitus/Associated Press

    With Jerick McKinnon, Tevin Coleman and Kyle Juszczyk scheduled to hit free agency this offseason, the 49ers could be in the running back market. Keeping a stocked backfield has been part of head coach Kyle Shanahan's game plan in San Francisco, and several quality running backs are likely to be available in free agency.

    Among them is Todd Gurley, a three-time Pro Bowler and two-time first-team All-Pro who is still just 26. On paper, Gurley might appear to be a prime free-agent target. When looking at his recent production, however, he seems like a player best avoided by the 49ers.

    Gurley played the 2020 season with the Atlanta Falcons. He averaged just 3.5 yards per carry despite having players like Julio Jones and Calvin Ridley keeping defenders out of the box. He also added a career-low 164 receiving yards despite having a high-end quarterback in Matt Ryan under center.

    He wasn't much better in 2019, either. In his final year with the Los Angeles Rams, Gurley averaged just 3.8 yards per carry, though he did manage to top 1,000 scrimmage yards for the season.

    While Gurley remains a notable name in the NFL world, his best days appear to be far behind him. The 49ers would be better served by targeting a younger—and cheaper—runner in the draft than by chasing this former NFC West rival.

Edge Bud Dupree

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    Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press

    Under normal circumstances, Pittsburgh Steelers pass-rusher Bud Dupree might be one of the top free agents available on the open market. He's just 28 and has amassed 19 sacks over the past two seasons.

    Young players who can get to the quarterback are typically coveted free-agent targets.

    However, Dupree is coming off a torn ACL that he suffered in Week 12. With the injury coming late in the season, Dupree may find it difficult to get back to 100 percent early in the 2021 season—even if he is optimistic about an early recovery.

    "Man, I'm feeling great right now," Dupree told NFL Network's Good Morning Football (h/t Frank Carnevale of TribLive.com. "I'm ahead of schedule in rehab."

    The reality is that any team looking to invest heavily in Dupree is likely to get its biggest returns after 2021. San Francisco should be looking for a quick bounce back into contention and targeting players who can contribute right away.

    Given the 49ers' relatively tight cap situation, Dupree shouldn't be on the wishlist.

Edge J.J. Watt

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    Eric Christian Smith/Associated Press

    From a win-now standpoint, three-time Defensive Player of the Year J.J. Watt is a more enticing potential target than Dupree. He's still a productive defender and isn't coming off a significant injury. His ability to pressure opposing quarterbacks would be an asset for virtually any Super Bowl hopeful.

    However, cap constraints would still be an issue with Watt. According to ESPN's Dianna Russini, Watt has already received offers in the $15 million-16 million range. That's a price tag that the 49ers simply cannot afford to match.

    Even if the 49ers could snag Watt at a more team-friendly price, they shouldn't. With Nick Bosa, Arik Armstead and Javon Kinlaw headlining the group, San Francisco is deep along its defensive front. Assuming Bosa is back to 100 percent following his torn ACL—which occurred in Week 2—adding a pass-rusher like Watt would be a pure luxury move.

    It would be wiser for the 49ers to use their money to re-sign Williams or to reload their secondary than it would be to double down on a position of strength this offseason. Watt is a spicy name to consider, but he shouldn't be a 49er in 2021.


    Cap information via Spotrac.