The immediate free agency flurry is now over, and the San Francisco 49ers were among the most active teams by initially adding 11 players, trading for Pro Bowl C Jeremy Zuttah, and continuing to bolster their special teams (they added special teams ace Dekoda Watson just yesterday). GM John Lynch has already been lauded for his activity, simply because his proactive mentality in overhauling the formerly depleted roster is a welcome change for Niners fans, when compared to former GM Trent Balke’s free agency approach. However, according to Spotrac’s NFL Team Salary Cap Tracker, despite all the moves the 49ers still lead the league in cap space! I would imagine Lynch, having been so active recently, is not going to simply sit on roughly $71MM. Let’s check out how he can allocate the surplus funds.
Sift through the Remaining Free Agents
The top 5 remaining free agents (full list here) are RB Adrian Peterson, DT Johnathon Hankins, S.S. T.J. McDonald, LB Zach Brown, and QB Jay Cutler. Cutler being the 5th best free agent left shows that the cream of the crop free agents are mostly accounted for. I would expect John Lynch to steer clear of Peterson and McDonald as they would block two of the 49ers’ best youthful starters in Eric Reid and Carlos Hyde, respectively. If the team truly does switch to a 4-3 under new DC Robert Saleh, then Hankins would be a great fit, especially considering how he and Damon Harrison wreaked havoc on offensive lines last year for the New York Giants. He will also likely come cheap, considering the moderate prices for defensive linemen this free agency. Brown probably isn’t the best fit since the team has already added LB Malcolm Smith for a chunk of change, and I’d rather have the Niners draft a third QB than bring in another former Chicago Bear signal-caller in Jay Cutler.
There are other sleeper options further down that Lynch should investigate, such as WR Michael Floyd, FS Bradley McDougald, and OT Ryan Clady, each of which may be had for a one-year contract and would immediately command a significant amount of snaps.
Acquire Bad Contracts with Draft Picks
The Cleveland Browns recently made headlines with their acquisition of Brock Osweiler, a 2018 second-round pick, and a 2017 sixth-round pick from the Houston Texans. What did they give up for a quarterback that had shown promise, failed last year, yet still on the books for about $16MM? A fourth round pick. The Browns used their ample cap room in a way similar to how rebuilding NBA teams do, by acquiring busted contracts from cap-needy teams if they package them with draft picks. With the slim pickings left in free agency, Lynch could use this approach to both brighten up the 49ers future draft picks and bring in veterans that have something to prove. Some options could be Miami Dolphins CB Byron Maxwell, Kansas City Chiefs OLB Tamba Hali, or even Dallas Cowboys QB Tony Romo if the Cowboys cannot find a team willing to give up assets to take on his large contract and prefer not to cut him.
Extending Current Players
Granted, there may literally be no players on the roster right now that truly deserve an extension, but there’s always the chance that extending the young players who have breakout potential would save the team money for future offseasons. Currently, the only options I see for extensions are Hyde, Reid, and perhaps DB Jimmie Ward; so it’s not as if Lynch can splurge on the current roster. Other players such as DL Arik Amstead and DeForest Buckner, and OL Joshua Garnett and Trent Brown are not quite established enough to warrant an extension just yet, especially under a new regime.
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