The San Francisco 49ers were not going to be big-time players during the first wave of NFL free agency. They had just north of $30 million to spend under the estimated $182.5 NFL salary cap and a bunch of core players to re-sign.
More than anything, the focus was on what general manager John Lynch and Co. would do with their internal free agents. Primarily, cornerback Jason Verrett and Pro Bowl left tackle Trent Williams.
Those close to the 49ers were also paying close attention to the contract situation of injury-plagued edge rusher Dee Ford after he played all of one game a season ago. Something needed to be figured out on that end.
Well, two of three is not bad on the opening day of free agency. The third? That’s a different question.
Meanwhile, the 49ers added a productive under-the-radar pass rusher who might be able to line up opposite Nick Bosa moving forward. Below, I recap Day 1 of NFL free agency through the lens of the San Francisco 49ers.
San Francisco 49ers Re-Sign Jason Verrett
This is a move the 49ers needed to make during Day 1 of the free agent period. Even after re-signing Emmanuel Moseley recently, Verrett became an absolute necessity for San Francisco.
Despite receiving at least one multi-year offer on the market, Verrett opted to return to the 49ers on a mere one-year, $5.5 million contract with Pro Bowl incentives that could push the deal to $6.5 million. That’s surprising given just how good he played last season in Northern California.
The breakdown of said deal includes a $5.31 million hit against the 2021 NFL salary cap with Verrett earning a $2 million signing bonus. San Francisco’s ability to retain the 29-year-old Verrett on the cheap is no small thing given its cap situation.
However, it does come with a little bit of a risk. A Pro Bowler with the Chargers back in 2015, Verrett ended up playing a total of six games over the next four seasons. That’s not a typo. He dealt with numerous injuries, forcing the former first-round pick to take a one-year, $1.05 million contract last offseason.
Boy, did things pan out for both sides. Verrett started all 13 games in which he appeared, recording 60 tackles, seven passes defended and two interceptions. He also yielded an incredibly low 77.5 passer rating when targeted. To say Verrett played at a Pro Bowl level would be an understatement.
Despite this, the 49ers are nowhere done tackling the cornerback position. They still have impending free agents Richard Sherman, Ahkello Witherspoon and K’Waun Williams.
San Francisco had shown interest in unheralded Los Angeles Chargers cornerback Michael Davis on Monday before he opted to return to Southern California. Depending on the Williams situation, the 49ers could be looking for help in both the slot and on the outside moving forward in free agency and/or the draft.
San Francisco 49ers Sign Pass Rusher Samson Ebukam
Admittedly, I did not know much about Ebukam heading into the NFL free agent tampering period on Monday. He was not among the pass rushers I expected San Francisco to target to help out behind Nick Bosa.
Once doing some digging (and with the help of social media), it became apparent that the 49ers might have found a gem in the former Los Angeles Rams fourth-round pick. The Eastern Washington product put up a 14.7% pressure rate for the Rams last season compared to 12.6% for current 49ers free agent Kerry Hyder. He also recorded seven quarterback hits and 4.5 sacks in 14 starts.
The two-year, $12 million contract offers San Francisco a nice amount of upside on the relative cheap given what other bigger-name edge rushers received in free agency on Monday.
Is it an earth-shattering move? No. But there’s the possibility of more consistency from Ebukam given that he has not missed a game in four seasons. Remember, the 49ers were without Bosa for all of two games last season while Dee Ford suited up in one game. Availability and upside are the two big keys here.
The expectation is that Ebukam will suit up in Ford’s role on obvious pass-rush downs. It should give the team more flexibility heading into 2021. However, it won’t prevent San Francisco from addressing the edge position in the 2021 NFL Draft or doubling down during the remainder of free agency should another bargain option arise.
Dee Ford Gets Contract Restructure
Ford agreed to a new two-year, $24 restructured contract with San Francisco on Monday. It’s not yet known what the value of said restructure will bring the 49ers in terms of cap relief this season. But the number shouldn’t be lower than $10 million. Remember, Ford was set to count north of $20 million against the cap in 2021.
Whether this means the former Pro Bowler even fits into the 49ers’ plans next season remains to be seen.
One of the biggest free-agent busts of the Kyle Shanahan and John Lynch era in San Francisco, Ford played in just one game last season due to ailments with the back and neck. He also recorded a mere 6.5 sacks in 11 games with San Francisco back in 2019, immediately after signing a five-year, $85 million contract following a trade from the Kansas City Chiefs.
At issue here is the guaranteed money Ford still had on his contract ahead of Monday’s restructure and his continued injury issues. The 49ers would have saved just $5 million by releasing him outright, and couldn’t wait for a post-June 1 cut designation.
All of this is financial. San Francisco can’t rely on Ford to make an impact next season. Heck, there’s no guarantee he’ll play for the team again. Hence, why the 49ers added a potential replacement in Samson Ebukam on Monday. We’ll have to wait some time for more clarity on this situation.
Trent Williams Situation Remains Unsettled
This was obviously the biggest story outside of quarterback for San Francisco heading into free agency. Expectations were that these two sides might be able to get something done before the legal tampering period. That never came to fruition.
The 49ers are said to be willing to offer $20 million annually on a long-term deal. An eight-time Pro Bowler, Williams is probably worth more than that on the open market.
Either way, it’s something the 49ers’ brass must work out if they have any hopes of returning to Super Bowl contention in 2021. Williams, 32, was absolutely tremendous in replacing a recently-retired Joe Staley as the 49ers’ blindside protector last season after he came over in a draft-day trade with the Washington Football Team. He remains the best left tackle in the game.
Given how we’ve seen San Francisco’s front office structure contracts thus far this offseason, it has more than enough room to re-sign Williams. In fact, a four-year deal worth $88 million likely wouldn’t cost much more than $8 million against the cap in 2021. San Francisco just needs to get this done.
New England Patriots Sign Kendrick Bourne
The market was always going to dictate whether Bourne returned to San Francisco in free agency. Once the receiver-needy Patriots offered him a three-year, $22.5 million contract, it became clear that the former undrafted free agent wouldn’t return to the 49ers.
Bourne, 25, has morphed into a pretty quality receiver since San Francisco plucked him from Eastern Washington back in 2017. He recorded 49 receptions for 667 yards while catching 66.2% of his targets a season ago. That’s some solid production.
As for the 49ers, they have other options to replace Bourne. Former San Francisco receiver Emmanuel Sanders was released by the New Orleans Saints earlier this offseason. The veteran might be a cost-effective option behind Brandon Aiyuk and Deebo Samuel.
Other San Francisco 49ers Free Agent Rumors
The 49ers have been linked to Chicago Bears quarterback Mitchell Trubisky during the early stages of free agency. Said interest would be to at least back up Jimmy Garoppolo next season. It remains to be seen how strong the interest is at this point. I am hearing it’s mutual.
Other indications are that there’s mutual interest between free-agent receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster and the 49ers. While this would make sense on the field, San Francisco’s finances might prevent that from happening. There’s also a decent chance that Smith-Schuster’s camp is using the 49ers as leverage to get a better offer from a team like the Las Vegas Raiders.
Surprisingly, San Francisco was in on All-Pro center Corey Linsley before he signed a lucrative free-agent contract to join the Los Angeles Chargers. The former Green Bay Packers star was the top center on the market. With Weston Richburg’s career likely over, this is a major need for the 49ers. Perhaps, they now kick the tires on Alex Mack.