5 players 49ers should have signed in free agency

Curtis Samuel #10 of the Carolina Panthers (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)
Curtis Samuel #10 of the Carolina Panthers (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images) /
3 of 5
Mike Hilton, Pittsburgh Steelers
Pittsburgh Steelers cornerback Mike Hilton (28) Mandatory Credit: Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports /

No. 3: Cornerback Mike Hilton

Make no mistake, the Niners retaining K’Waun Williams was easily the correct move to make, given the context at the time, with Williams still being available well after a week after NFL free agency kicked off.

Going back to the start of free agency, however, San Francisco might have been better off looking at a younger option than the soon-to-be 30-year-old Williams, who missed eight games last year with various injuries. And while it’s true, Williams was such an integral part of the 49ers defense the last four seasons, one can understand why taking advantage of possible upgrades at the nickel cornerback spot would have been a wise route to chase.

Perhaps the best available free-agent nickel back this offseason was former Pittsburgh Steelers corner Mike Hilton, who at 27 years old, has the age advantage over Williams and has been highly productive in his own right the last four seasons, netting a career line of seven interceptions, 32 passes defended and three forced fumbles.

Hilton ultimately signed a four-year deal with the Cincinnati Bengals worth up to $24 million, and the average annual value of $6 million is just a shade above what the Niners got on a bargain one-year investment for Jason Verrett. And while nickel corners almost always cost much less than boundary ones, Hilton could have been a wise long-term investment from San Francisco’s vantage point.

At least Williams is a good short-term contingency plan.