The San Francisco 49ers had quite the fall off from their Super Bowl run in 2019 to the 6-10 finish they recorded at the end of 2020. But their record certainly wasn’t all on the decision-makers. Unfortunately, there was plenty of bad luck that went into that equation.
The 49ers’ best pass rusher, Nick Bosa, went down with an ACL injury early in the year. This was a defense that was already trying to make up for the loss of DeForest Buckner, who they traded away during the offseason. On the offensive side of the ball, quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo only played in six games, tight end George Kittle only played in eight, and wide receiver Deebo Samuel only played in seven. It’s no stretch to say most of the 49ers’ best players weren’t on the field for them for most of the season.
Going into the offseason, the 49ers certainly hope luck and health will be on their side moving forward—or at least not against them. But the 49ers are also facing the loss of their defensive coordinator Robert Saleh, who is now the head coach of the New York Jets. However, the 49ers promoted their linebackers coach DeMeco Ryans to their defensive coordinator position, and with Ryans previously working under Saleh, the defensive likely won’t change too much in emphasis and structure.
Looking to the start of the new league year and some potential moves the 49ers can make on the defensive side of the ball, we have to start with their projected cap space, which is about $20 million. But the defense will have some important names they either need to retain or replace.
Cornerbacks Richard Sherman, Jason Verrett, Ahkello Witherspoon, Dontae Johnson, Jamar Taylor, as well as free safety Jaquiski Tartt are all pending free agents. Along the defensive line, Solomon Thomas, Ziggy Ansah, Ronald Blair, and D.J. Jones are on the unrestricted free agent list as well. Those are a lot of names to potentially replace.
With all that said, here are three defensive free agents the 49ers should keep their eye on, and maybe even make a run at.
Haason Reddick, OLB, Arizona Cardinals
Projected AAV: $11.5 million
The 49ers need an edge rusher opposite Bosa, but who that will be and how they will mainly rush the passer remains to be seen. They already have versatile size on the interior with Javon Kinlaw and Arik Armstead. If the 49ers want to go for a more stand-up rusher, Reddick could be had at a decent price. Reddick had a career-high 12.5 sacks in 2020, including an insane five-sack game against the New York Giants late in the season. Depending on the kind of pass rusher the 49ers want to bring in, he could be a fit.
Michael Davis, CB, Los Angeles Chargers
Projected AAV: $5 million
Davis improved as the year went on for the Chargers. He seemed to be much more confident in himself and his responsibilities, and that yielded much better play as the season unfolded. The 49ers will have to bring back some of their cornerbacks, but they may not be able to bring all of them back. Davis could be a potential starter for them.
Gareon Conley, CB, Houston Texans
Projected AAV: $3 million
Conley has not been the stud starting corner many thought he could be during the 2017 draft process, but he has shown promise in man coverage. If the 49ers can cater to what he does well (man) while trying to get his confidence up in a new surrounding to improve upon what needs work (zone), this could be a bargain for a talented player. If they’re tight on money, I like this risk.