5 free-agent 49ers who can now be re-signed on cheaper deals

San Francisco 49ers defensive end Arden Key (98) Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports
San Francisco 49ers defensive end Arden Key (98) Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports /
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With the opening wave of NFL free agency coming to a close, the 49ers should now look at bringing back these five players on team-friendly contracts.

For the most part, the San Francisco 49ers avoided making many of the blockbuster signings that often take place during the opening phase of NFL free agency.

Sure, there was one high-profile addition the Niners made, inking former Kansas City Chiefs cornerback Charvarius Ward to a three-year deal worth as much as $42 million. But for the most part, most of general manager John Lynch’s moves have been for supplementary players.

San Francisco has also watched some key free agents depart, namely running back Raheem Mostert, left guard Laken Tomlinson and nose tackle D.J. Jones.

However, there are still a number of players who suited up for the 49ers last year who remained unsigned.

Right now, according to Over the Cap, the Niners have $9.15 million in cap space, although that number doesn’t account for Ward just yet, and it certainly doesn’t account for the pending trade of quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, which will free up $25 million in additional space.

However, Lynch and Co. can look at their own list of team free agents and consider bringing these five players back on cheaper contracts, as those players haven’t exactly been getting a lot of interest elsewhere.

49ers free-agent No. 5: EDGE Arden Key

San Francisco has arguably benefited from a deep class of outside pass-rushers in free agency, and the 2022 NFL Draft is also chock full of attractive edge-rushing prospects.

While some big-name EDGEs have already been signed, including Chandler Jones by the Las Vegas Raiders, one of the 49ers’ own top performers from last year, defensive end Arden Key, remains a free agent despite setting a career-best mark of 6.5 sacks in 2021.

Key, whose own tenure with the Raiders flamed out in a relative hurry, found success under defensive line coach Kris Kocurek, and it might be hard for him to replicate that somewhere else.

And while the 49ers are keeping oft-injured EDGE Dee Ford around another year, his injury history still mandates the need to have a complementary pass-rusher to pair with Pro Bowler Nick Bosa.

Key was that player a year ago and should be again. The longer he remains unsigned, the better the leverage the Niners have with a new deal.