49ers Free Agency: 5 Players SF Should Target This Offseason
Nov 22, 2015; Atlanta, GA, USA; Indianapolis Colts linebacker Jerrell Freeman (50) celebrates after recovering a fumble in the third quarter of their game against the Atlanta Falcons at the Georgia Dome. The Colts won 24-21. Mandatory Credit: Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports
Jerrell Freeman – Indianapolis Colts ILB (UFA)
The 49ers inside linebacker group took a massive blow when Patrick Willis retired. That, in addition to NaVorro Bowman missing all of last season due to his torn ACL, led one of the strengths of the team to a quick weakness.
Michael Wilhoite will be a restricted free agent, but he shouldn’t be back next season. His production is not great (zero sacks and one interception), and per Pro Football Focus he ranks dead-last at 94th out of 94 qualified linebackers with a plus-33.1 grade. Gerald Hodges has looked OK (but not much impact overall), and Shayne Skov and Nick Bellore are primarily special-teams players.
Inside linebacker Jerrell Freeman would be a big upgrade to this unit, and would slot in nicely next to Bowman (who is getting better every week, and should be fully recovered from his injury by the start of 2016). Hodges could move to the primary backup.
Freeman ranks at No. 7 out of the 94 qualified ILBs at a plus-88.7, and his run defense is outstanding at a plus-98.4. With the hit-and-miss nature of the 49ers run defense (great against the Cincinnati Bengals and Atlanta Falcons, pathetic against the Seahawks and the Cleveland Browns), Freeman would greatly help this area of need. He is a tackling machine with 309 career tackles to his credit in four NFL seasons.
At 29, Freeman also has several good years left in him. His 2015 cap figure is only $2,356,000, which is not a big hit to absorb even if his number goes up for 2016.