NFL free agency: Why 49ers should sign inside linebacker Avery Williamson

NASHVILLE, TN - OCTOBER 16: Jack Doyle #84 of the Indianapolis Colts fumbles the ball as he is tackled by Avery Williamson #54 of the Tennessee Titans during the game at Nissan Stadium on October 16, 2017 in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
NASHVILLE, TN - OCTOBER 16: Jack Doyle #84 of the Indianapolis Colts fumbles the ball as he is tackled by Avery Williamson #54 of the Tennessee Titans during the game at Nissan Stadium on October 16, 2017 in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images) /

Following Reuben Foster’s recent second arrest, the San Francisco 49ers will likely seek other options as potential insurance policies. Among the inside linebackers set to hit the 2018 free-agent market, Avery Williamson is a player the Niners should target.

Linebacker Reuben Foster was arrested Sunday, Feb. 11, on charges relating to domestic violence, as reported by the San Francisco ChronicleThe San Jose Mercury News even added the 49ers linebacker was booked on suspicion of possessing an assault rifle.

This arrest follows Foster’s incident on Jan. 12 for second-degree marijuana possession in Alabama.

After two arrests in less than a month this offseason, Foster’s future with San Francisco suddenly raises concern.

San Francisco 49ers
San Francisco 49ers /

San Francisco 49ers

The 49ers have spoken over the phone and in person with Foster, according to NBC Sports Bay Area’s Matt Maiocco. While the organization is “gathering all the pertinent information,” San Francisco has not yet officially stated its disciplinary actions toward Foster.

The league will also investigate the situation, which may lead to a suspension for the troubled linebacker.

Because Foster will likely face severe consequences for his arrests, the 49ers must figure out a backup plan. More specifically, the team needs to find a replacement for Foster to anchor the middle of the field on defense.

Foster’s situation adds another hole to San Francisco’s list of positional needs heading into free agency and the NFL Draft. With Foster potentially out, the 49ers would lack depth to their linebacker corps, especially inside.

Losing Foster would be a huge decline for San Francisco’s defensive unit. Pro Football Focus gave the 49ers linebacker an overall grade of 90.7 for his rookie performance in 2017, proving how valuable he is to the team.

Therefore, San Francisco might draft a prospect such as Georgia’s Roquan Smith and Virginia Tech’s Tremaine Edmunds.

However, if the 49ers look into the free-agent market instead, they should consider signing 25-year-old Avery Williamson.

Williamson has just ended his rookie contract with the Tennessee Titans and might decide to play elsewhere in 2018. As one of the league’s formidable inside linebackers, Williamson may come at a larger price and it is still uncertain whether or not the Titans will re-sign him.

Especially with the rise of linebackers Jayon Brown and Nate Palmer, the Titans might consider letting Williamson test the market.

Among the linebackers hitting free agency, Williamson is rated the second-highest player, according to Pro Football Focus. Williamson had an overall grade of 85.6, which was 10th best among all NFL linebackers in 2017:

Throughout his career, the 6-foot-1 and 246-pound linebacker has gained success with his solid run defense and improving pass coverage. Most notably, Williamson recorded 92 tackles, three sacks and two forced fumbles during the 2017 regular season.

With a large cap space this offseason, San Francisco should be able to afford signing Williamson to the team. The 49ers still have about $74.5 million in cap space even after re-signing quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, according to Over the Cap.

Spotrac projects Williamson’s market value to be around $9.1 million per year. Williamson is expected to earn a four-year deal worth $36.5 million this offseason.

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Although San Francisco has other options such as Demario Davis and Paul Posluszny, Williamson is younger and currently in his prime. Williamson would be an excellent long-term solution for the 49ers to add more depth at the linebacker position.

Despite playing under a 3-4 base defense in Tennessee, Williamson has had experience under a 4-3 scheme in college at Kentucky. Thus, Williamson should be able to fairly quickly learn 49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh’s playbook.

Williamson has never made the Pro Bowl or the All-Pro team, but this 2014 fifth-round draft pick is a blue-chip player who would instantly impact a game at any given week.

Next: How Reuben Foster arrest affects 49ers’ plans in the 2018 NFL Draft

Especially with Foster’s situation, Williamson is an under-the-radar free agent who can bring similar levels of production and results to the team. If the Titans do not re-sign Williamson, San Francisco should not hesitate on picking him up.