Free Agents 49ers Should Pursue After 2021 NFL Draft
The San Francisco 49ers spent the weeks leading up to the 2021 NFL draft trying to determine which quarterback they would select at No. 3. Now that they've settled on Trey Lance and the draft is over, it's time to focus on winning in the upcoming season.
Lance has been tapped as the future, but he isn't likely to start in Week 1.
"It's going to be very hard for a rookie to come in and beat Jimmy Garoppolo out," head coach Kyle Shanahan told ESPN (h/t Michael David Smith of Pro Football Talk).
According to Spotrac, San Francisco has an estimated $17.8 million in cap space with the top 51 player salaries included. This means that the 49ers can still be players in the post-draft free-agent market, and here we'll examine three free agents it would make sense to target.
Edge Justin Houston
The 49ers have a quality pass-rushing rotation in Arik Armstead, Nick Bosa and Dee Ford. However, it never hurts to have depth on the defensive edge, as evidenced by San Francisco's 2020 campaign.
With Bosa and Ford playing just three combined games last season, the 49ers pass rush suffered substantially. In all, San Francisco generated 30 sacks, 18 fewer than in 2019.
Justin Houston may no longer be an elite pass-rusher, but he's arguably the best still on the market. At 32 years old, he would probably only be a short-term addition, but he might also be a cap-friendly one. He isn't going to command the sort of money guys like Bud Dupree and Matt Judon got on the open market.
And while Houston is nearing the back end of his playing career, he can still be an effective rotational rusher. He logged eight sacks with the Indianapolis Colts last season while only playing 59 percent of the defensive snaps, per Pro Football Reference.
With a 17-game season looming and the 49ers eying a deep playoff run, a seasoned sack artist like Houston could prove extremely valuable.
CB Richard Sherman
Bosa and Ford were far from the only notable 49ers to suffer injuries in 2020. Starting cornerback and current free agent Richard Sherman missed 11 games. While Sherman is 33 years old and may not be a bargain-basement target, there are a couple of reasons why bringing him back would make sense—and according to Chris Biderman of the Sacramento Bee, the 49ers have discussed the possibility with Sherman.
"A signing is not imminent, but discussions could accelerate in the coming weeks," Biderman wrote.
For one, Sherman is already very familiar with San Francisco's defensive concepts and personnel. Secondly, when Sherman was healthy in 2019, he was fantastic. He allowed an opposing passer rating of just 63.0 that season.
While Sherman may not be an All-Pro-caliber cornerback anymore, he could be a fine fill-in as San Francisco looks to develop younger players like 2021 third-round pick Ambry Thomas.
TE Tyler Eifert
The 49ers have one of the game's best tight ends in George Kittle. However, Kittle missed eight games in 2020, and it wouldn't hurt to have a little insurance at the position other than Ross Dwelley and Charlie Woerner—who combined for 22 receptions last season.
Jordan Reed was second after Kittle among 49ers tight ends with 26 receptions. However, Reed announced his retirement this offseason.
With the 49ers not taking a tight end during the draft, it would make plenty of sense to target a veteran pass-catching tight end now. This is where the 30-year-old Tyler Eifert enters the equation.
Eifert, who was a Pro Bowler back in 2015, has had his own injury issues over the years. Over the past two seasons, though, he has appeared in 31 of 32 games. He hasn't played at the Pro Bowl level he did early in his career, but Eifert did have 36 catches and 349 yards in a bad Jacksonville Jaguars offense in 2020.
The market is thin for experienced pass-catching tight ends, but Eifert would a be solid replacement for Reed in a reserve role behind Kittle.
*Advanced statistics from Pro Football Reference