SF 49ers: 5 older veterans team should add in NFL free agency

Atlanta Falcons center Alex Mack (51) Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports
Atlanta Falcons center Alex Mack (51) Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports /
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Ross Cockrell, Carolina Panthers
Ross Cockrell #47 of the Carolina Panthers (Photo by Jacob Kupferman/Getty Images) /

The SF 49ers won’t be able to afford up-and-coming standouts in NFL free agency this offseason, but some older veterans may be possible.

Early in 2018, the SF 49ers took something of a flier risk on veteran cornerback Richard Sherman once he hit the open market after being let go by the Seattle Seahawks.

The gamble was twofold. For starters, Sherman was hitting the wrong side of 30 years old. And he was also coming off a serious Achilles injury the previous season. But the move worked out well enough, as Sherman became a mainstay of the Niners secondary for three seasons and proved to be an effective mentor to younger players and a team captain.

Sherman is one of nearly 40 players set to hit the NFL free agency market this offseason. With just over $12.5 million in cap space, per Over the Cap, it’s likely Sherman joins the ranks of many players who won’t return to San Francisco in 2021.

Likewise, the SF 49ers probably won’t be able to target too many younger players coming off their respective rookie contracts. In most cases, those players will prove to be too expensive, meaning the Niners will have to resort to bargain-basement deals, reclamation projects or less-expensive veterans to round out their roster this offseason.

Here are five players over 30 years old who could be on San Francisco’s free-agent radar.

No. 5: Cornerback Ross Cockrell, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

The SF 49ers are going to be awfully shorthanded at cornerback, and Sherman’s likely departure is only part of the issue.

Joining Sherman as potential free-agent players signing elsewhere this offseason are corners Jason Verrett, Dontae Johnson, Ahkello Witherspoon, K’Waun Williams and Jamar Taylor. Even if the Niners re-sign one or two of those names, they’ll still need to take some action to round out this portion of the depth chart, and adding a longtime veteran or two wouldn’t be a bad move.

Thankfully, someone like the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ Ross Cockrell wouldn’t be too expensive an option.

Cockrell, who’ll turn 30 years old before the regular season begins, found himself more of a depth piece in Tampa Bay’s Super Bowl-winning defense last season yet has been a regular starter for much of his seven-year career, including 11 games started with the Carolina Panthers in 2019. He also had 44 passes broken up between 2015 and 2019, too, so one could assume he has a knack for getting in between the ball and its intended receiver.

Still, last season’s use and the fact Cockrell has been something of a journeyman corner likely reduces his asking price, and getting some championship pedigree on the roster should help transition San Francisco’s secondary.